Archive for November, 2009

Google Wave

November 29th, 2009 1 comment


Thanks to an invite from Kieran today, I have just started looking into the world of Google Wave – the real-time collaboration and communication application from Google. It is still in beta form and as such does not have all the features you would expect from the full commercial product. It is missing a lot of the customisation options that Google tends to include with its offerings.

Having only used Wave for a about an hour, I really can see some great potential in what it can do. I think this application will totally change the way that A-Soc and maybe the AHS can do business and conduct meetings, increasing participation and allowing a far more flexible approach to committee meetings in particular. Combining video and voice conferencing with the ability to attach documents, links and other bits to each thread in real-time is soemthing that I think will be of great benefit.

Of course, I do not have that many contacts to share with at the moment to test out a lot of the features and to see if this kind of application is something I would use on a regular basis. Potential is one thing, actually using it daily is another. I am a signed up user of Google Docs, Spotify, etc and barely use them (witht he exception of when on the train).

If you want an invite to join me on Google Wave then contact me with your email and how collaborating with me would be useful to us both. If you are already on Wave and want me to add you to my contacts, again contact me with your details.

I hope to let you all know how using Wave fares as I am really quite excited about it.

What I have been up to this week 2009-11-29

November 29th, 2009 No comments
  • Finished at the MEN. Had a great time at Classical Spectacular, although too much last night of proms for my taste. #
  • On the train to Manchester to see the Halle, Leeds Festival Chorus and my mum. #
  • Just watched a girl cross the road who was not wearing anything on the lower half of her body, save underpants! #GirlsAreWeird #
  • Why is it that the less I can be arsed with work, the more idiots seem to pester me at work? #
  • Still think axl rose and elton john duet at the freddie mercury tribute concert is just weird!! #
  • Another long day at work. At least there's only a couple of hours left! #
  • 3am bed times don't mix well with 8am training sessions. #
  • – Back on dual screen :-)#
  • Back at work today and probably a day too early :-(#
  • Still weird seeing people I went to school with playing premiership rugby. #

What I have been up to this week 2009-11-22

November 22nd, 2009 No comments
  • Playing Wow when ill sucks ass! #
  • This is funny…RT @RichardWiseman: Just heard a talk by a creationist. He said 'the average animal is the size of a sheep'. #
  • Bah, not feeling so bright today :-( feels like my face has been smashed in with crowbar! #
  • Just won 2 tickets to see Manchester Halle at the MEN :-)#
  • I didn't win the free holiday at work :-(#
  • RT: @RichardWiseman Just walked past a bra shop called 'boobytrap'. Made me smile. Lol #
  • Totally out of it today, seriously foggy head! At least I now know how it feels to be blonde! #
  • Nothing like a bit of overtime to flex those procrastination muscles that have been resting all weekend. #

What I have been up to this week 2009-11-15

November 15th, 2009 No comments
  • Back in Leeds, clashing with night out peeps and rugby fans! #
  • Final trip on the DLR for this trip :-( just heading for Bank, then Northern Line to Kings Cross. #
  • At the Imperial War Museum in London, not sure its quite as good as the one at Duxford. But then I am a plane fan boy. #
  • – Score, not just a @muse gig, but also featuring Queen! #
  • – I might not be a @muse fan but lasers are always cool #
  • – @muse live at the O2 #
  • – The Big Pink, supporting @Muse #
  • – @lizziemoogle showing the @O2 arena how to smile! #
  • – The O2 filling up for @muse #
  • At The O2 Arena in London. One comment so far…they don't cater for the portly gent at all! #
  • Day 1 of my holiday for this year :-) off to London! #
  • So ngog has been attending the gerrard/ronaldo school of penalty winning. Cheating b@!tard! #
  • What. A. Goal. #
  • Why does god always need to be invoked when remembering the fallen? #

Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies – a history.

November 13th, 2009 No comments

I was invited to speak at the Humanist Society of West Yorkshire last night on my experience with Leeds Atheist Society and the AHS. This is my first real public speaking engagement since stepping down as AHS president in June this year. Below is an excerpt from the lecture that focusses on my own personal history with these organisations, although my lecture went into a bit more detail about the general history and possible future too.

I want to talk to you about the current burst of enthusiasm amongst students to take on religious societies at their own game and build student societies based around atheist or humanist or secularist principles.

There has been a great flurry of activity over the past two or three years with regards to getting young people, especially students, involved in these societies. Much of this activity has been instigated and masterminded right here in Leeds.

Before I go on to talk about the bigger picture, or even the local picture I want to introduce you to my own personal picture.

It all started when a when an enthusiastic first year friend of mine approached me in a bar to ask if I would sign a petition to request the formation of an Atheist Society at the University of Leeds Student Union. I declined the offer. I wasn’t an atheist, at best I was agnostic. How could I sign the form?

Luckily, that wasn’t the end of story. Whilst I had felt unable to literally sign up as an atheist there and then, it did inspire me to look at the matter in far more detail then I ever had previously. It was with this new found desire to understand atheism that within a month I was standing front and centre at the Atheist Society launch party in January 2007, fully signed up as a proverbial card carrying atheist. By the April of 2007 I was elected Secretary and had taken on a central leadership role within the Society.

This is probably a good time to speak about the growth of the Leeds University Atheist Society, seeing as much of the rest of the talk will branch off from this history as we go on.

As I mentioned before, Leeds Atheist Society was created in December 2006 as the brainchild of Chris Worfolk and quickly established itself as a society of big ideas when it announced that less than six months after forming it would put on a week long awareness event. This event was known as Rationalist Week and is now an annual flagship event for the society and has even been adopted by a number of other student societies and inspired the recent creation by the British Humanist Association’s Humanist Week.

Rationalist Week 2007 was the catalyst that allowed a small group of dedicated members to turn Leeds Atheist Society into the largest and most active student atheist society in the UK.

The society grew from a dozen members in 2006-2007 to fifty members in 2007-2008, making the society one of the fastest growing groups on campus. This growth in popularity did not go unnoticed and the society narrowly missed out on winning “Best New Society” at the annual Students Union awards.

As we moved in to our first full year we put on our first weekend away, taking 12 members to London for a weekend of debate, history and partying. We also ran a constant stream of events ranging from simple talks and lectures through to interfaith debate.

A real feather in the society’s cap was the introduction of the One Life course – a secular look at the important questions in life. The course is aimed at non-atheists and is designed to let them explore the meaning of life and the question of ethics without the need for a god.

I was elected president shortly after Rationalist Week 2008, a week that played host to over 40 events, saw us introduce a more spacious marquis and allowed us to reach in excess of a thousand students.

As president of the society, I helped steer us towards our current vision of education and enlightenment. This means a focus on teaching atheists as well as religious people what being an atheist or a humanist or a secularist really means. The launch of Perspective course also allowed us to teach atheists about other religions.

The society continued to grow and by the end of the 2008-2009 academic year we could boast a membership of just over 100. We also continued to develop Rationalist Week, with the 2009 event going 24/7 with events all day every day for a week. Answers course was also launched in March, aimed at developing our own members’ ability to express themselves and their atheist ideas.

In April 2009, a brand new executive committee took over the running of the society with a new brand of the education vision. The focus of the society is about not just educating our members but helping them to enrich their lives by providing opportunity for charity and helping them discover a way to live a more positive life based on humanist philosophies.

The growing popularity and the ever increasing range of events started to get the attention of other faith groups on campus. A screening of the documentary “What Muslims Want” developed into a heated debate, but nothing compared to some of the difficulties we were to encounter.

During Atheist Week in November 2007 we had our banners stolen in broad daylight and in February 2008 during the run up to my lecture on freedom of speech entitled “We will mock Muhammed if we want to…” I received personal death threats from anonymous Muslims. The society also received several threats from various quarters and in the end I took the decision to self-censor and remove some of the more controversial material from the presentation. Whilst running Rationalist Week 2008, we again had problems with our banners – this time seeing them defaced and covered in religious graffiti.

This problem was highlighted during Rationalist Week 2009 during a debate between Leeds Atheist Society and the Islamic Society. Not only was the atmosphere in the marquis highly charged with personal and religious insults flying around, but a group of Asian men sabotaged our generating equipment and physically threatened a number of our members.

So, I have regaled you with the saga of Leeds Atheist Society and many of you might wonder what this has to do with the growth of the student movement nationally. Well, the reasons that drove our society’s formation are behind many of the societies springing up across the UK.

There are several factors that have been suggested as causing, or helping to cause, this recent phenomenon. The ones I want to look at are the “Atheist Superstars”, the rise of religious fundamentalism and the encroachment of religion into our daily lives.

The deluge of publications that have erupted over the past decade or two has literally swept atheist and humanist ideas into the forefront of the public consciousness. People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens and Arianne Sherine have rarely been out of the bestseller lists or off the pages of newspapers since the turn of the century.

Atheism is no longer confined to the meeting rooms of community and education centres, it is no longer associated with dusty tomes and leather patched philosophy teachers. It is part of pop culture now and as such is part of youth culture. I know that several of my friends, and even me, would say that the availability of this material has played a significant role in our taking up of the atheist battle standard.

Another factor is the rise of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and the USA. It is virtually impossible to watch the news or read a paper or magazine without some reference being made to religious terrorism or some form of extremism – whether it be suicide bombs in Kabul or imprisoned school teachers in Sudan.

Whilst many students do not link their lack of belief directly to fundamentalism, there is a clear link between the religious rhetoric of Western leaders and the growing feeling amongst young people that they need to have their say about religion. This means that religion is no longer something that can be ignored and whispered about every now and again when some story slowly filters into the public domain. These days every religious story is in the public domain and moreover it is right in the middle of the public consciousness.

Finally, the most student orientated factor is the presence and power of religious societies on campuses across the UK. These societies represent less that 10% of the student population but many have a disproportionate amount of power and influence not only within Students Unions but also on higher education policy in general.

Many student atheist societies form to act as a counterpoint for these organisations, a way of forcing debate and critical thought amongst the student population. Religious societies have national representational bodies; some are even governed centrally too. It is this national influence that sparked the idea of a national atheist organisation specifically for students.

This national organisation started out as a single online resource centre for student atheists to use and a forum for them to share ideas and best practice, this hub was called Secular Portal. It was on a discussion thread on Secular Portal that an idea was floated to hold an atheist student conference. Several weeks later, representatives from six student societies along with advisers from the BHA, NSS and HSS sat in a lecture theatre at the University of Edinburgh and formed the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies. That was June 2008.

My role moving forwards from the creation of the AHS was to write the constitution. My remit was simple; write a comprehensive, democratic and sustainable constitution that allowed for the AHS to work towards charitable status within a few years. If any of you have had to write this kind of document will know, turning a simple remit into a workable document is not the simplest task. Nevertheless, by the November of 2008 we were ready to ratify the constitution and officially form the AHS as a legal entity.

It was decided to host the ratification conference in Leeds, the largest and most active of the founding member societies. At the conference, the constitution was ratified and I was elected its first president. My manifesto was clear, I was to lead the AHS to a national launch within six months and build membership to a sustainable level by our first AGM to be held in June 2009.

The first part of that manifesto was probably the easiest, although not without glitch, as we had a venue we could use for free in London and a host of press pulling speakers we could enlist to help us out. The only problem was ensuring that enough students would attend to help us gain members so we could really push on and move forwards.

The launch event itself was a massive success. Held in Conway Hall, home of the South Place Ethical Society, with guest speakers Richard Dawkins, Polly Toynbee and Anthony Grayling we managed to attract a sizeable audience and getting some fantastic press.

I stepped down as president in June 2009 to hand over to the next executive and the AHS has continued to build its national presence and develop its policies and procedures to continue to work towards a charitable status.

It is still vitally important that student atheist, humanist and secularist societies continue to thrive and that they are continued to be supported by a national organisation that aims to help out individual societies in a practical and meaningful way. This means supporting the development of new societies, provided guidance and resources to existing societies and also providing practical training to the committees of those societies to ensure sustainability and longevity. A national voice only works well if the4 focus is on the people it claims to speak for and not if its priorities lie in press coverage and campaigning.

What I have been up to this week 2009-11-08

November 8th, 2009 No comments
  • 2 live games of rugby, some fa cup action and the leicester V SA game on sky+ :-)#
  • Back at work after my day off yesterday. Still feel quite rough tho. #
  • Lol, live seance by derek acorah who will try and talk to michael jackson! #
  • What's with being ill on my day off?! #
  • Last day of the work marathon! At 9pm tonight I will have 35hrs off :-)#
  • Not long left at work now :-) only 4 more days until my next day off! #

Overtime doesn’t pay

November 1st, 2009 No comments

I hope my weekly Twitter updates have been keeping you up to date on what I have been up to over the past few months whilst I have been up to my ears in overtime at work? If not, then you will be please to know that there will be plenty of substantial posts hitting the site over the next few weeks!

I have managed to squeeze in over 100 hours of overtime over the last 2 months. The proceeds from which were supposed to be funding my holidays, both here and abroad, seeing as I havnt been on holiday since going to Prague several years ago! The problem is that overtime never seems to work out that profitable! By the time the tax man and student loan company have had their share I’m rarely left with anything at all. Annoying.

What I have been up to this week 2009-11-01

November 1st, 2009 No comments
  • Working on a Sunday. Take that Jesus! #
  • Right, off out to a party :-)#
  • – Liz and her massive drink! #
  • Carragher makes it 4 red cards in the prem and 2 for liverpool. He joins degen in the dressing room for an early bath! #
  • How many players are going to get sent off today – that's 3 so far! #
  • Just watched some of the BBC's coverage of the Leeds EDL protests and I have decided that I prefer them to UAF!! #
  • Half way thru my 6th day at work on the trot. Only 5 more to go! #
  • Catching the bus to work! Don't think I've done that for nearly a year! #
  • Why is it always bad news at the other end of the phone? #
  • Just installed twitterberry on my blackberry #