Bear Grylls Facing Up – Review

Bear Grylls Facing Up

Bear Grylls Facing Up & Succeeding

The name Bear Grylls is synonymous with adventure, danger, survival, and eating & drinking things you wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole! Would you drink your own urine from a gutted snakeskin? I suppose the only thing worse would be drinking someone elses, lol. Like about 1.2 billion other people who watch Bear Grylls Born Survivor (aka Man vs Wild), I wanted to know more about this seeming daredevil adventurer. Was he too good to be true? I hoped not, but I have a healthy scepticism…

So in an attempt to get to know the man Bear Grylls a bit better I bought his book “Facing Up” which tells the story of his attempt to climb Mount Everest; which I discuss below. I also bought his autobiography “Mud Sweat And Tears” which I’ll discuss in my next blog post. You can follow Bear on twitter @BearGrylls

Rating: 90% (that’s pretty dang good!) Continue reading

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To PhD or not to PhD, that is the Question.

This morning I wrote an email to a Professor at my local University informing him that regrettably I won’t be pursuing a PhD there. It was not an everyday email to write, but in the last 12 years it was the fifth time I turned down a PhD opportunity. Two were in Physics, and three were in Computer Science, and the offers came from three different Universities.

It may seem I don’t want to do a PhD, but I do, kind of. So why all the refusals, you may well ask? The reason has always been financial. And it’s the same reason that in all likelihood I won’t be pursuing a PhD anywhere anytime soon. Maybe the much vaunted Irish “knowledge economy” isn’t targeted at thirty-somethings, but who would find these figures attractive? …

This particular PhD programme was structured over 4 years. The first year has a tax free stipend of €16,500, with the subsequent three years at €19,000. This is reasonably generous as PhD programmes go. If you’re a young free and single undergraduate you may look at those figures and be happy; but if you’re a postgraduate with a family and bills to pay you will probably look at those figures with dismay and derision (your bank manager certainly will, and your spouse may even hit you).

Let’s put those figures in context. The minimum wage in Ireland at the time of writing is €8.65 per hour [1]. At 35 hours per week (9-5 job) for 52 weeks that’s an annual income of €15,743.

An average family (2 parents and 2 children) where both adults are unemployed will get welfare from the state of €372.40 per week [2] (188+124.80+2(29.80)), or €19,364.80 annually.

A Computer Science or ICT graduate can have a starting salary of roughly €30,000, and with 4 years experience can be anywhere north of €60,000.

Taking on a PhD is a long term commitment and it comes at a severe financial strain. There’s also the uncertainty, you’re guaranteed nothing – many a fine prospect floundered on their PhD. You could spend four years or more and come out of it with nothing to show except a gaping hole in your CV.

And there’s the life postponement: You won’t buy a house on a PhD stipend (although with the housing market on its knees that may change, lol kind of). You won’t support a family on a PhD stipend. You won’t be buying a car or going on any holidays. The net result is that you end up postponing the rest of your life for 4 or more years. These are the sacrifices I haven’t been willing to make, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be willing to make.

I think the government should seriously re-evaluate what price they are willing to pay for a PhD graduate. It’s particularly nauseating when you consider the millions wasted in FAS (the corrupt and defunct state training agency); and the billions wasted in NAMA (the borrowing of billions to repay the loans of reckless free-market capitalist companies, and then passing that debt onto the Irish taxpayer).


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BBC Horizon – Do You See What I See. [Nope!]

I just finished watching the first episode in the new BBC Horizon series, it was entitled “Do You See What I See“. It was interesting but at the same time disappointing. I would summarise the subject matter in general terms as What you perceive is subjective, what actually exists is objective. In this episode they talk about colour, but it can be equally applied to light/dark, pain, temperature, taste, loudness/quietness etc.

One thing I didn’t like was when Dr Beau Lotto makes statements like: colour is an illusion, colour doesn’t exist. Ok, it’s a popular science program not an academic conference, but FFS get the simple things right and be clear about them. If you want to assert that each individuals perception of colour is different – that’s fine. If you want to say that colour is a human construct of language that describes a perception – that’s fine. But be clear about what your saying. Assertions like colour doesn’t exist can only be designed as headline-seeking-soundbytes, and they do a disservice to science and otherwise respected programmes like Horizon, imho.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

Electromagnetic Spectrum (Image:

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Amy Winehouse – The lesser of two Tragedies

Amy Winehouse - dead at 27

The sudden and untimely death of 27 year-old singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse is a tragedy. I wasn’t sure “tragedy” was the correct word, but it is. One definition of “tragedy” is “a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction.” She was a great talent, and she had a flaw (substance abuse) which ultimately destroyed her life; indeed a tragedy.

Where does your drug money go?

But as tragic as Amys untimely death is, it’s not the real tragedy here. The real tragedy is the lack of awareness, or worse, the callas disregard of how substance abusers actions impact other peoples lives; and the failure to accept responsibility for their actions. I’m talking about the impact the illegal drugs industry has on the lives of millions of people who are caught up in it – innocent farmers whose land is taken; those who are killed because they spoke out against drug barons; the drug mules forced to carry their deadly cargo internally or externally; those who live in constant fear in communities ravaged by drug addiction and attendant crime. These people are the real victims of drug abuse. The sad fact is substance abusers like Amy Winehouse fund this tyranny.

Substance abusers should recognise and accept they are a root cause of this misery. Without the purchasing power of willing substance abusers there would be no market for the drug barons. It’s a law of economics “supply and demand”. So the next time you or someone in your social circle buy or use some drugs (regardless of how small) be aware of where and to whom the money for those drugs is going; it’s going to drug gangs in poor neighbourhoods, to drug barons in your city, and drug cartels internationally. And be aware that your drug-funding impacts massively on the real victims of drug abuse. Then make an informed and conscious decision about whether or not you really care one iota about the misery the drug industry you fund has wrought on individuals, families, communities, and societies all over the world.

Innocent man murdered in drug-war crossfire

One such example is the callous murder of an innocent young man, Anthony Campbell a 20 year old apprentice plumber who was but murdered simply because he was a potential witness to a gangland murder. Here’s an excerpt from the Coroners inquest as reported by the Irish TimesDetective Inspector Kieran McEneaney told an inquest into the double murders that Mr Campbell was killed to eliminate any risk of Hyland’s [a known criminal and target of the hit by other criminals] killers being identified at a later date. “Sinister criminal elements of a serious criminal persuasion were involved in the deliberate and violent murder of Martin Hyland and in the ruthless taking of the young life of Anthony Campbell,” he said. Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty said Mr Campbell was a “hard-working and innocent young man who was callously and brutally murdered.”

And while some might claim their individual drug use makes no difference, they probably buy fair-trade coffee and recycle their waste because they believe that does make a difference. And it does, because a group of individuals acting collectively will make a difference.

The death of Amy Winehouse (and many more like her)  is a tragedy. But the real tragedy is that Amy and all drug-abusers fund a drug-industry that destroys the lives of millions of truly innocent victims.

Update: 26-Oct-2011. The inquest into Amys death concluded that on the balance of probabilities she died from misadventure. The medical evidence presented showed that she had prescription drugs in her system including librium (used to counteract the effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome); the levels of alcohol in her system were over 5 times the drink driving limit (80mg alcohol per 100ml blood), she had 416mg per 100ml blood. It is perhaps ironic, given the hard core drugs she had used, that it was the good old reliable alcohol that got her in the end.

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Chemistry Jokes, My wife is a chemist…

First of all why do Chemistry graduates typically work in the Pharmaceutical industry, while Pharmacy graduates typically work in a Chemist shop? Anyway, the missus and I are both science graduates, Chemistry for her, and Physics and Computer Science for me. So typical conversations might be…

I told her I didn’t know the symbols for the elements Lithium and Argon. She said “Li Ar”

I asked her to tell me the chemical symbol for nitrous oxide. She said “NO”

I proudly told her I knew the chemical symbol for a hydroxyl. She said “OH”.

I asked her to briefly tell me something about Oxygen and Potassium. She said “O K”.

I asked her if I mixed Nobelium, 2 parts Boron and Erbium what would I get? She said “NoBBEr”.


Post your own chemisty jokes below, let’s face it, I’ve generously set the bar low 😀


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TimErodes – a poem about age & growing older



Time Erodes

When youth gives way to age

Naivety gives way to Cynicism

Expectation gives way to disappointment

Idealism gives way to reality

Hope gives way to dread

Life gives way to dead.


The title of this poem is a portmanteau of Time & Erodes: TimErodes

Author: althinking; penned (typed actually) on 28-Aug-2010

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Professor Brian Cox – Wonders of the Universe – Stardust

professor brian cox

Professor Cox - We are all Stars

Wonders of the Universe started with a bang and so it continued with ‘Stardust’, episode two of Professor Brian Cox’s stellar science series. Some viewers found episode one, ‘Destiny’, a bit of a downer as it mapped out the life and death of the universe, you can read my blog post on ‘Destiny’ here. But episode two was positively more upbeat, mapping out how we’re all born from stars – how cool is that! As Cox puts it himself “Every mountain, every rock on this planet, every living thing, every piece of you and me was forged in the furnaces of space. … Every atom in our bodies was formed not on Earth, but was created in the depths of space, through the epic lifecycle of the stars“. Now, before you read on, pause and consider the implications of that statement. Continue reading

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Professor Brian Cox – Wonders of the Universe – Destiny.

Prof Cox Popularising Science

Professor Cox – Popularising Science

Professor Brian Cox brings a fresh face to popular science. His new TV series “Wonders of the Universe” will only add to his growing popularity. There’s no question his first TV series “Wonders of the Solar System” paved the way; and the subsequent series “Stargazing Live” consolidated Cox in his position as a star [pun] of popular science.  Suffice to say that science needs people like Cox, a look at his facebook or twitter pages will show the interest he’s stirred amongst everyday people. Don’t worry, in this post I’m going to talk physics not personalities, science not social networks 🙂

Sir Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore

Last Sunday it seemed a torch was being passed. As “The Sky At Night” celebrated it’s 700th episode, over 54 years under the stewardship of the legendary Sir Patrick Moore; the pretty-boy of physics (myself excluded of course), Professor Brian Cox was beginning his new series “Wonders of the Universe”. The first episode is entitled simply, “Destiny”.

Cox shared some very interesting numbers with us and I’m going to list some of them here for your delectation:

  • The Universe began about 13.7 billion years ago
  • The Universe currently has over one hundred billion (100,000,000,000+) galaxies.
  • Each galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars
  • A day on Earth is the 24 hours it takes our planet to rotate once on its axis
  • Our months are based on the 29.5 days it takes the Moon to wax and wane across the night sky
  • One year is 365.25 days it takes Earth to orbit once around the Sun (every four years we take the 0.25 days and add them to the end of February – leap year!)
  • It takes our solar system about 250 million years to orbit once around our galaxy. My Aside: Our galaxy is sweetly named “The Milky Way”, and if you live in a city you’ve probably never seen it 🙁 Head away from the city lights one clear night and you’ll be amazed at the night sky 🙂
  • There’ll be some more (big) numbers later… Continue reading
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Which came first the chicken or the egg? Solved!

Chicken or the egg? Chicken! Egg! No wait, chicken!

Do you know the answer? Do you think it’s an intractable question? It still causes confusion and is considered by some people as an intractable mystery of the Universe. It’s not. The logical analysis of the problem is quite simple, and the answer is even simpler.

The insight is thanks to Darwins theory of evolution. Then it’s simply a case of clarifying what we mean by a ‘chicken’.

Simple Answer

Most people (myself included) would say that a ‘chicken’ was laid as an egg, and the chicken is capable of laying eggs (of the same species). By that definition, the egg came first.

Alternatively, you could say that a chicken lays eggs but that the chicken itself didn’t have to come from an egg; by that definition, the chicken came first. My answer equally explains this definition of chicken, but it’s not the one I use in the explanation below.

Continue reading

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Podcasting – The Ultimate Starter Kit, Reviewed

podcasting - the ultimate starter kit

Podcasting was something I hadn’t delved into but in anticipation of a course I was doing on Publishing Digital Media I decided to find out what was involved in setting up and publishing a podcast. Here I review the following book:

“Podcasting – The Ultimate Starter Kit”, Author: Steve Shipside, Publisher: Infinite Ideas; ISBN: 1-904902-73-1

Rating: 10% (that’s pretty dang bad!)

Essentially this book is nothing more than a list of online podcasts with a brief description of the podcast contents.

It might make a useful sticky on an internet forum (if it was frequently updated), but imho in book form it’s a waste of paper. Won’t someone please think of the trees 😀

If you don’t know how to use a search engine then maybe this book is for you, you can read it under the Moonlight in the cave you live in while you feast on Dodo eggs and bat droppings :D. If you do know how to use a search engine, do so, and the results will be more up to date and relevant to what you want.

On the up side, there will no doubt be a few links of interest contained in the book. But the most interesting bits for me were the ‘famous quotes’ at the start of each chapter by other authors. These are something I usually enjoy in any book that has them. You know things like quoting Oscar Wilde: “I can resist everything, except temptation”. But it’s a reflection on how bad this book is, that the best parts are the quotes from other authors :/

And don’t be suckered by the “52 brilliant ideas” label, that’s mere marketing guff. Each chapter ends with a brief “Here’s an idea for you” paragraph. Usually the idea is to check out some podcast or other. Well…

Here’s an idea for you

Do save your money, do save your time, do save some trees, do use a search engine, don’t bother with this book.

  • You can get a free podcast hosting service from PodOmatic.
  • And here’s a great free audio editing software program called Audacity.
  • I learned more in the first 30 minutes of the podcasting element of the Digital Media course than I learned from this book.


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