Thursday, 6 December 2012

On @JenClone

Sunday, 11 November 2012

On Skeptics in the Pub

Been meaning to write this for a few days, seems lazy Sundays are actually for something!

Glad to see the return of the Portsmouth Skeptics (@sitpPortsmouth) that Trish (@cherryblack) and I started in January 2011! (I have your portable PA system and will return it soon!)

Inspired by Heather Stevens (@AbrasiveShrub) recent blog post about running Oxford Skeptics I thought I'd mash together some of my thoughts, feelings and a bunch of stuff I just wanted to say and attempt to carefully craft them into some words on the internet.

Kingston Skeptics (@KingstonSITP) has been running for a number of months now. I love the evenings and it's been wonderful to hear so much positive feedback from so many people who have enjoyed attending. I am also aware that I'm probably the worst possible person to be doing introductions and announcements - I mean, does anyone remember me telling them where the fire exits are? Of course not. Unfortunately I have a long-standing fear of speaking a room of people that moments before I'm very happy chatting away to. My mind goes blank and suddenly I am struck down with a panic that, quite honestly, baffles me. It's probably my fault and the result of deliberately avoiding any opportunity my educators presented to gain confidence and hiding in the computer lab or going down to the park to smoke cigarettes with the slightly-cooler-than-me kids instead of performing my drama homework!

I'd also been meaning to apologise at the November meeting for my complete failure to organise or actually attend an October meeting. So, sorry. I honestly hope it doesn't happen again. This was completely my fault - I wasn't feeling great and the speaker had been forced to cancel, giving me plenty of notice, some time before. Both of these things  lead me a begging slot - if you're at all interested in helping out with the evenings, booking speakers or anything else it would be very much appreciated and should prevent a repeat situation. Two (or more) heads/bodies are definitely better than one when it comes to running a SITP.

The next meeting is on the 6th December at the Ram Jam Club/Grey Horse in Kingston. The speaker is Matt Parker (@standupmaths). Matt a is simply brilliant comedian, entertainer and communicator and I, for one, can't wait :)

The venue capacity is not anywhere close to the audiences that Matt normally attracts in London so I've had to make this a ticketed event. I want Skeptics in the Pub to be open to everyone as much as possible but I also think I have a responsibility to ensure the experience is as enjoyable as possible. There will be as many tickets as the room is legally allowed - I'll confirm this week and make the remaining tickets available. The price for the Early Bird tickets has been set at £3.50. This is higher £2 suggestion I've been asking at previous events because I don't want to be in the position where I am paying the difference between donations and the speakers expenses - I want Kingston to grow and have the resources to invite new speakers.

The limited number of tickets are available here:

I really don't want anyone to miss out. Please feel free to contact me - email gileswendes AT hotmail DOT com or comment on any of the above - I've thrown Kingston Skeptics together but it really is yours so get involved!

PS. I'm working with @OliCollett and @JustTheWilliam to start the Ealing Skeptics in the Pub that was sadly never born. Watch this space (and @EalingSITP)

Thursday, 3 May 2012

On the Occupy movement and protesting

Occupy may not have clear or concise goals but the problems aren't simple, so why should the solutions be?

For decades governments have 'at war' with the drug trade. The cost of this is immense and the war is not one that will ever be won. People take drugs, therefore other people will supply them.

Most recently we are now 'at war' with the concept of terrorism. This is almost as stupid as establishing yourself as 'at war' with war (although I understand the subtle differences).

These are both examples of horrific cost and waste. If I don't want my tax money spent in a particular way I have the right to make a fuss about it.

On the 31st August 2011 I was made redundant as a direct result of international public funding cuts that weren't the fault of myself or faults of my colleagues. The fact that I have a new job is not an argument or testement to the fact that things are okay. Yes, problems are worse elsewhere in the world but that's also not an argument against kicking back at the system that thinks it's reasonable to seemingly raise and cut funding recklessly. We are still paying our armed forces salaries to fire bullets (we've paid for) overseas and, at the same time, our Police to storm the peaceful protests against this of, what the media is calling, middle-class hippies. Madness.

15 October 2011 and we took to the streets. We shouted, we waved banners, we directed a message of what we thought was wrong, why and what we wanted to change. The message wasn't always concise but it was one of freedom, liberty and equal rights. End corruption, make the rich pay for their mistakes and stop ignoring us. If it had ended there we would probably have been ignored. This time we had a strategy.

The initial plan was to enter the Paternoster Square, put up tents and stay. Keep the message strong, amplify our words with each day we stayed. A permanent reminder and constant presence right in the heart of the City's financial centre. However this was not possible due to Police and security protecting the entry points to the London Stock Exchange so the group gathered at St Paul's discussed alternatives and reached consensus. We would Occupy the site outside St Paul's cathedral. The rest is history, endless court cases fighting over ownership of what is essentially public land in order to formally serve an eviction. We were forced to leave but the seeds had been sown and we knew what was possible. A community can be formed and thrive on bare paving slabs.

On the 1st May I headed into the city to show my support on the first day of planned action from a number of trade unions, UKUNCUT, Annonymous, Occupy and other campaigns. Twitter was alive with suggestions of movement, where protests were happening, what was happening. Eventually I caught wind that a core of the original 15th October occupation were on their way to the London Stock Exchange! We made it! Tents up, megaphones with messages of hope in poetry, song and rap. The theme to 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' blaring from somewhere and around twenty people singing along. One protester had somehow scaled the monument in the middle of the square WITH A TENT! Police showing up in small numbers, generally asking people to leave and chatting when we refused. The LSX security were amazing fun - really interesting conversation with everyone and a festival atmosphere. We'd done it! Although we all knew this wasn't going to last on that evening, we'd sent a message!

I'm not an unresonable person. I'm not aggressive and I think clearly. Something is very wrong when young working people can't afford more than small properties without affluent relatives dying. There's no longer a property 'ladder'. It was a concept that is currenly denying a generation reasonable prices on a basic human right. However, everyone seems to have the same attitude which generally runs something along the lines of, "Well, we're not going to change anything, so... dot dot dot.".

I can't be the only person to think that is utterly idiotic. This is our country. This is our world. We own it. We can change it.

Okay, I'm not going to change anything as a direct result of joining those that are sleeping outside in the various captial cities but what people seem to fail to understand is that this is a seed and it's not going away. We're not doing anything by Occupying, it's a tactic that gets us heard, allows us to organise and share. As one of the campaign slogans goes: 'You don't need a tent to OCCUPY'.

It's sick to strip pensions, health care, education and other public services from a population when headlines are annoucing, just days before, that the FTSE 100 CEOs have secured a 49% pay rise this year.
Very few involved want to 'topple capitalism'. There are generally reasonable, intelligent people. They are very worried and so are most of the people in the UK. There is no anarchy at #OccupyLSX. They don't want to take away your money, house or any of the other ridiculous claims like to convert the UK, Europe or anywhere else to communism.

I urge you, before you tell the world how misguided the activists are, to go to the nearest protest, meet the people and find out how consistant (however varied) the aims are and how much they depend on, and defend the way you live your life. Engage in the debate without forming your ideas based just on the media.
When banks are bailed out they should become national property - anything else encourages risk.
This is just the start of a better world for everyone. It hasn't worked before because mass communication wasn't in the hands of the people - we've seen massive change in the world recently. Don't be convinced your voice doesn't count.

On the 12th May join local action. Make a banner with your personal hopes and dreams. What do you want from the world? How would you change things?

Engage, meet people, enjoy, shout, discuss, share, love, believe and never give up.

I am very proud to be one of the 99%.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

On Skeptics in the Pub.

It's been hard to contain my excitement about announcing this.

I promised it at #QEDCon (still using the hashtag?) and I now offer to the world:

Kingston Skeptics in the Pub.

A little over a year ago a small group of self-confessed 'skeptics' met in a very 'local' pub in Portsmouth and since then various venues have hosted some absolutely amazing speakers on everything from philosophy to cosmology, time travel, crypozoology and juggling. Yes, mathematics through juggling.

Unfortunately, I then took the decision to accept a job in South West London and, well, it needs one here too!

The venue is:

Ram Jam Club

46 Richmond Rd
Kingston upon Thames

We will be meeting on the first Thursday each month from 7th June 2012.

Check out the website for full details of speakers:

Of course, we're also on Twitter and facebook

I am looking for anyone else, ideally local to the Kingston area, who would be happy to help in the running and organisation. There are lots of things that people can help with and it won't take a huge amount of your time. It really is worth it.

Monday, 26 March 2012

On the power of prayer.

Do I really have to spell out that God doesn't heal?

I mean, it's obvious. Right? However, Twitter lit up today with this article:

"MPs try to overturn 'God can heal' ad ban.

Soccer star Fabrice Muamba's recovery has sparked a group of Christian MPs to try and reverse an ad ban on saying that worship works"

Oh please (stop the planet and let me get off).

Prayer doesn't work. It may well make people feel better or like they're making a difference but it doesn't.

Monday, 12 March 2012

On #QEDCon 2012 :D

Wow. QEDCon finished for another year and Twitter server admins can relax.

For the uninitiated, this is QEDCon:

There are few things in life that can put a smile on your face for an entire weekend. QEDCon is, and certainly did.

I'm going to make a lot of mentions. QEDCon is about the people. The science, skepticism and other fascinating stuff is a delicious bonus :)

Kicked off with the Mixer evening on Friday night. We arrived early but the party was already in full swing, Who would have thought that skeptics were such a sociable bunch? Much cider and chatting was enjoyed by everyone. I took a few time lapse videos. One is particularly amazing as the bar staff asked that it was moved, and in the another I spotted that it had attracted the attention of Tom (@skepticCanary) and includes his successful attempt to feature is right at the end. Here they all are:

Last year it was sometimes impossible to choose which room to go to, this year was no different. So many wonderful speakers on stage and interesting discussions around the bar it was always hard to know where to be or go. Everywhere I went I found the atmosphere to be welcoming and open. Deborah Hyde (@jourdemayne) gave a brilliant morning talk on werewolves, the InKredulous recording was hilarious. Evening comedy from Robin Ince and Alun Cochrane from the best seats in the house :) Can anyone explain the hell was going on with the mechanical baby and theremin though?

Apologies to Trish (@cherryblack) for offending her with the sight of my bare, naked feet.

@EmmaJaynewithaY sent me this tweet: I've got my fingers crossed for next year LOL

Mr Ash Pryce (@AshPryce) is not only thoroughly charming company he is also an epic dancer/ pillar-hugger. Nothing else is bloggable I'm afraid :D

Hayley (@HayleyStevens) is a blogger, paranormal researcher and confirmed ghost and was someone who I'd chatted to online on a number of occasions and I was delighted to finally get a chance to meet her in person. What a genuinely lovely human. She was even up for me photographing her '42' tattoo next to @gellerby's 'don't panic' AND it was what would have been Douglas Adam's 60th birthday. Therefore, empirically, this is one of the finest images ever captured.

Quite, quite perfect. Inspiration hit me and I had to create this and put it in one of the lifts. I'd like to thank everyone for the love it got, anyone know who the proud owner is now? @Arakwai? (You may have spotted other references around the hotel... ta to the staff that provided the Post-Its!). QEDCon is the perfect place to find and share random snippets of comedy.

Also, great to chatting to DJ Grothe (@DJGrothe) and all the Dublin Skeptics, Steve (@66Steve) in particular deserving a mention just for lending me his hat for the below, yesterday evening:

Rhys (@RhysMorgan), sorry. Just sorry. I'll keep Jen and George away from you next time :P For hilarity go and check out Rhys's tweets (inc. @gellerby/@gwendes/@LudditeWebDev and the, only occasionally, terrifying @JenClone!)

Delighted to have the chance to go and personally thank Richard Wiseman (@richardwiseman) for writing '59 Seconds' which found me at exactly the right time in my life. It's quite, quite brilliant and a must read.

#nerddancing? Well, there was plenty. Sorry I was a little late for the first but I got sidetracked by George (@gellerby) and ended up discussing Darwin with Robin Ince (@robinince). Everyone that made it will no doubt agree I arrived in style and 100% redeemed myself with the selection of Frank Turner's wonderful 'Glory Hallelujah'. Spontaneous jazz hands at the end was one of my personal highlights! #There is NOOOOO God, so clap your hands together. Oh yes!

The second bout of #nerddancing happened in conjunction with #nerdkaraoke had the additional fun factor as a result of featuring a very dangerous dance floor. #nerdsliding? Of course we did!

I was very proud that #QEDConAdvice got a mention at the end. This is our community to own, it's not run from the top-down and that's so important. I do have a very, very important addition to make though:

#QEDConAdvice: Book the Monday off work. 

Most people will be aware that I was pretty efficient at losing my possessions but hopefully you'll be glad to know that everything has been located now and I'll be in contact with Keir (@endless_psych) to sort out the return of my Kindle. I can highly recommend making a stencil and spray painting your laptop:

A lot of love for my t-shirts so I've decided to offer them up as vector images, here's the first few of them including the ones I didn't actually print! Right-click on the links and save, then open with Inkscape if you want to do any editing.

What next? Well I'm currently investigating running a summer skeptical mini festival, codename #Skeptival in the south, probably London. Anyone interested in getting involved or speaking please get in contact - it will happen if the community is behind it.

I'm also aware that Tannice (@Tannice_) and Brighton Skeptics (@BrightonSkeptic) are looking at arranging a southern QEDCon-esque event of some kind. I am 100% behind that and sure other groups in the south will be too (@sitpPortsmouth). Kingston-Upon-Thames #SitP will be born eventually too... give me time to settle back into reality first! Again, any offers much appreciated :)

Finally, sadly, QEDCon has decided that it is unable to marry me :( I am crying.

Massive, massive amounts of love to you all and thank you for making this weekend one of the best I've ever had.