Who and what a person is is more than just what they look like and where they live. It is made up of a collection of things they like and are interested in and what they think about. The topics below are the things that keep my attention – the order is not significant as what I am most keen about changes from day to day and sometimes more frequently.
- Computers: It would be tragic not to be interested in what you do for a living, so I suppose I have to be interested in computers. I was an active member of the Australian Computer Society and I was a member of the NSW Branch Executive Committee for several years.
- Writing: A collection of things that I have written can be found here
- Committees: Sometimes you just have to get involved as more than just a spectator. I have at various times been President, Vice President and a general committee member of Australian Skeptics, and until the end of 2003 I was a committee member for several years of both The Western Sydney Business Connection and the Australian Computer Society, NSW Branch. I was on the board of Electronic Frontiers Australia from 2005 to 2007.
- Scepticism: Marvin Gaye sang: "Believe half of what you read, and none of what you hear". You may believe in UFOs, psychics, astrology, spoon benders, water dowsers and other such flim flam. I don't. I believe that the power of rational thought is diminished by the acceptance of irrational beliefs, so I am one of those people who likes his facts to be correct. I have seen UFOs and other things which I did not understand, but I have taken these events as evidence that there were things which I just did not know, rather than as matters which could only be explained by some supernatural, paranormal or pseudoscientific means. I am also a liberal (in the sense that would be understood by Mill and Bentham) in that I don't care what you believe as long as it harms nobody. Teaching creationism in schools and feeding children on nutrient-deficient vegetarian diets are examples of where it can not be said that the practice "harms nobody". I have been on the committee of Australian Skeptics since 1999.
- Health fraud: This goes beyond scepticism into the area where real harm is done. Put simply, "alternative medicine" is neither medicine nor an alternative. The Internet seems riddled with liars and thieves offering guaranteed cures for everything from hangnails to AIDS, all using "traditional" or "natural" or "alternative" methods and potions. It would be bad enough if these vermin just emptied their victims' wallets and gave them false hopes, but there are people who are actively campaigning to kill and maim children. Some of the most depressing and offensive sites I have ever seen on the Internet belong to organisations which wants to stop people vaccinating their children. (One of these sites was the trigger for the creation of The Millenium Project.) By the way, when the Chinese swimming team were in Australia for the 1998 World Championships, the drugs they brought with them were not the traditional crushed beetles, bird's droppings and herbs, but plain old made-in-a-factory human growth hormone. Even the most traditional of people know what works when they really need it. In late 2003 I established the Australian Council Against Health Fraud to formalise the fight against quackery. (ACAHF was closed in 2011 because I had to devote my time to other things. The fight against pseudomedicine goes on elsewhere.)
- Multi-level marketing: The newspapers regularly carry stories about thieves who defraud shareholders or scammers who sell faulty or nonexistent products but an even greater fraud is committed in lounge rooms across the nation each night as conmen claim that unlimited wealth can be gained through pyramid selling schemes. Of course they don't call them "pyramid schemes" because the law defines such schemes and lawyers have been paid to make sure these scams don't fit the legal definition. Someone once told me that anybody could sign up 5 people per month; if each of those 5 also signed up 5 per month and the thing continued, in the 10th month 48,828,125 people would be added to my downline. This is two-and-a-half times the entire population of Australia. When I asked why the oldest MLM operation in Australia had only 80,000 people in the pyramid (sorry, network) after 25 years, I was given some claptrap answer. If it works, it takes 40 weeks to saturate Australia and eight weeks later the entire population of the USA has to be added. Sure, people are making money, but they aren't those coming in at the bottom. You can read more of my opinions on this by clicking here. I wrote an article for the local newspaper poking a bit of fun at the pyramidiots, and the editor received some savage phone calls in response. Funnily enough, none of the complainers bothered to ring me directly. Perhaps they didn't want to talk to a negative loser.
In September 2005 my interest in the activities of MLM operators was heightened because one of them dragged me into court because they didn't like criticism. You can see some details here.
- Free Speech: I have always believed in Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr's concept of the market of ideas, where the answer to speech is more speech, and one of the policies that I have had for my hobby web site since its inception is that anyone can say anything they like about me and my only response will be words. One of the greatest positives about the Internet is that it allows anyone to publish anything and allows anyone who complains the same right to publish rebuttal. Like most people I talked the talk and it was all rather academic, until, as Pastor Niemöller said, "Then they came for me", and I was sued by someone who didn't like what I had to say about them. This experience made me want to be more actively involved in gaining and keeping for everyone, not just me, the rights of free expression that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights supposedly endows on the citizens of every country, so in November 2005 I nominated (successfully) for a position on the board of Electronic Frontiers Australia and served for two years. Like all rights, freedom of speech can be abused, but freedom of speech is an example of Pascal's Wager – the cost of choosing suppression and being wrong is far greater than the cost of choosing freedom and allowing the occasional mistake.
- Motor Sport: Everyone has to have some sport they are interested in, and mine is motor sport. Over the years I competed in just about everything you can do in a car except open racing, drag racing and speedway. My main interest for many years was rallying where I had reasonable success as both driver and navigator, and I also organised a few events. Time and money finally caught up with me, but if I win Lotto there will be something very fast with a roll cage in my garage within a week.
I used to think that age caught up with me too until I was an official on a rally about ten years after I had given up regular competition. Three times during the event I had to traverse a competitive section to get from one place I had to be to another. On one 32 kilometre section I was two minutes faster than the fastest competitor and on another (an eleven kilometre hillclimb in the wet) I equalled the fastest time. On one section where I didn't get timed I caused a competitor (who claimed to be a contender for a state rally championship!) to complain to the organisers that I harassed him by sitting behind him flashing my lights until he pulled over and then I blew dust at him as I went by. I was driving a standard automatic Falcon with road tyres and execrable brakes at the time. While I think that these results probably say more about the level of competition in the event than they do about my ability, they show that the skills learned in motor sport don't necessarily fade away completely after you stop using them every weekend. And did I boast and rub my performance in the face of the supposed experts who were slower than me? Of course I did! Especially the "championship contender" who didn't like my dust. (Here's something I wrote in 2016 about how handy the skills from motor sport can be, even long after you stop playing the game.)
My current involvement is as a journalist doing media things at rallies. You can see some stories here.
|Out the back of Taree somewhere, setting up for a left-hand hairpin turn||Surfing near Oberon||Mrs B with the hammer down in Vulcan Forest.||Mrs B flogging The Snail around Amaroo Park.|
|Click pictures to see larger versions.|