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History of the Torpedo Lecture

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In February I delivered my history of torpedo technology lecture for the second time. This time to the IET retirees in Portsmouth/South Hampshire.

The talk seemed to go reasonably well, though I have difficulty telling as I get carried away with what I am saying to be certain of the audience staying with me. Even including the time lost before I started and the questions afterwards it ran to two hours rather than the one scheduled. Though with 40+ slides there was no way I could have finished in an hour!

One thing that did bother me though was after the talk I was approached by one of the audience and asked how I felt about the morality of designing/building weapons (a similar question was also asked by a student at Southdowns College where a was supposedly talking about careers for maths graduates – and not pushing the Aerospace and Defence sector at all). Trying to be polite I batted the question away observing that since the probability our product being used in its service life was so small such projects should be regarded as government financed industrial training schemes for new STEM graduates who will go on to work on projects that are less morally dubious, like financial engineering and fracking.

This is not my real justification, which is certainly more complex, starting with in my questioners terms; I do not pretend to be moral. Followed up with an acknowledgement that even if the present crop of governments seem keen to undertake less than justifiable military adventures, sometimes there are wars that have to be fought. In a functioning democracy working on systems for this eventuality is not intrinsically immoral. The decision to use weapons is at the discretion of our supposedly democratic institutions and so in the end our collective responsibility.

Also; it feeds, clothes and houses my family and pays for the education of my children.

The only people who I consider have grounds for criticizing my attitude are Quakers and their ilk who’s views I respect but don’t share. I have no respect however for those who in normal times look down on the military and defence contractors but are gung-ho for some pretty dubious wars when they occur. The problem I have is with the very large proportion of the British population that seem to fall into this category.


Written by CaptainBlack

April 26, 2014 at 10:40

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Randal Rausner’s claim that most atheists don’t know what atheism is.

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In The Incredible HallQ blog over on FreeThoughtBlogs we read that Randal Rausner on his blog argues that most atheists don’t know what atheism is and so should stop calling themselves such.

The argument goes something like this (please don’t bother correcting this if you think otherwise, it is considered rude on-line to demolish someone else’s straw-man): Rausner writes:

“To be sure, they are able to say in a piecemeal fashion “I don’t believe in Yahweh, Thor or Allah…” but they can’t get down to the essence and provide a succinct definition of the type of which each of these is a token”.

He then proceeds to enlighten the self styled atheists with:

“But don’t ever say I only curse the darkness. Let me light a candle by helping the confused atheists out there. Theism is minimally the position that the ultimate cause of everything that contingently exists is an agent cause. Thus, God is minimally the ultimate agent cause of everything that contingently exists.”

and so by his definition the one true atheism is the denial of this.

Unfortunately language (other than in France) is defined by its use not by a dictionary. Dictionary definitions follow usage not the other way around. Rausner’s definition is close to that of Deism and in fact I have no argument with Deists, and I believe that most atheists would have no argument with them. We might argue about what exactly we mean by a first cause, or if the concept even makes any sense and/or whether we need one or not, but this is a friendly argument among friends.

The trouble starts when using just the assumption of a first cause you attempt to deduce the “truths” of an allegedly revealed religion. Especially those revealed religions that have when they could (or still can) resort to such arguments as threats backed up by beatings, torture, beheading, burning-at the-stake, stoning …

I describe myself as an atheist, but in reality I could also be described as a deist; I think there is some ineffable mystery about existence (but I don’t know any more about it: that’s what ineffable means, and nor do I believe you when you claim you do). But the difference between these positions has no practical consequence, so I stick with the more commonly used term (possibly because is pisses-off so many followers of revealed religions). The source of knowledge claimed by the main religions is unacceptable, and as far as I can see cannot be made so.

We may observe that Rausner does not subscribe to the minimal theist position but as a follower of some evangelical version of Christianity hence subscribes to some baroquely embroidered theist position.

Truth claims must be backed up by convincing arguments, revelation and warm feelings are not good enough, nor are arguments from common belief, authority, …

It is often asked why secularists are so angry, well one answer is that our predecessors lived in a world where freedom of though and speech were forbidden, and we are not going back.

Written by CaptainBlack

April 9, 2012 at 07:54

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Atheist Morals

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We continually see reference to the idea that you can be moral without god in atheist blogs etc. I think this is just propaganda for the benefit of a religious audience. It seems to me that a more plausible position is that you aren’t “moral” even with your god!
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by CaptainBlack

February 10, 2012 at 05:59

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Resumed Painting

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I have recently been clearing our garage. It had been filled from front to back with rubbish and the children’s old toys. Now it is clear and so I have some work space I decided it was time to resume painting.

The current project is to do a series of head and shoulders portraits of historical figures, starting with Admirals (I will later diversify, I suspect initially in the direction of the Philhellenes: Lords Byron and Cochrane , ..). The plan is to keep the pictures small, initially ~150 x 150 mm (6 x 6″) so that they can be displayed anywhere.

The first is now complete, it is of Admiral George Brydges Rodney, victor of the Saintes (1782).

George Rodney

Admiral George Rodney, acrylic on board 150 x 150 mm

This was based initially on the Gainsborough portrait of 1782, but that was rather anodyne and so I modified the face more along the lines of the Reynolds portrait of 1784.

There are four main distinct portraits of Rodney from the period after the Saintes that I am aware of the two mentioned above another from about 10 years later by Mosnier of 1791 which sort of bears a resemblance to the Reynolds portrait and a print from the 1840’s. The latter bears no resemblance to any of the other three or to the portraits of Rodney when he was younger.

The evidence from these portraits on what Rodney actually looked like is poor, I’m inclined to go with the Reynolds, to which I hope mine bears a vague resemblance.

I painted a pair of these, the above is the second, the first gives Rodney a rather fuller face and so I am not so happy with.

Written by CaptainBlack

November 16, 2010 at 13:44

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Stories from the job wars: Company IT Policy

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Reading the company IT fair use policy this morning I discovered (I knew it already but had conveniently forgotten, a bit like the rest of the rules in the policy) that I am not allowed to mention who I work for on any web page of mine (?!)

Strange but I had thought mentioning them would not reflect to my credit. I suppose they really have my interests at heart.

They would not like to see me harassed over allegations against them for corrupt business practices. Which they swear they no longer employ, but never did anyway and have rolled out an ethical behaviour policy for the common staff so they won’t bribe anyone again (not that they ever did).


Update, as of late 2011 the company now wants us to say who we work for!

Written by CaptainBlack

August 10, 2010 at 16:37

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Employer black-list and other stories from the job wars

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I have an employer black list. These are companies that I would never consider applying to for a job (again). The list has two entries:

1. British Aerospace (BAe) – in 1982 I was looking for a new job for various reasons, that I may elaborate on one day. An agent arranged an interview with BAe space division or whatever they called such a unit. When I arrived before anything else was said the interviewer told me that they could not employ me on my current salary at my age. Since they knew how much I was paid before calling me for interview why had they done so? Also if the company is so bureaucratic that salary is determined by age why would anyone with the ability to earn more want to work for them?

Of course I now find myself working for BAE Systems, the successor company to BAe, which acquired the company I was then working for in the early 2000s. In the ensuing 10 years they have not impressed me in any way and given the choice I would never choose to work for them. But then when your in your late 50s it is not easy to find equivalent of better employment elsewhere anymore 😦

2. Hunting Engineering at Ampthil. In 1987 I was looking for a new job (I wanted more money) and an agent sent my details to Hunting. When I arrived I was shown into a room with overflowing waste bins, and otherwise dirty and not offered anything to drink. Then was kept waiting significantly after the appointed time(don’t recall how long anymore, but long enough to register as too long). Eventually the interview took place, I was unimpressed and told them that as a result of the interview I was not interested.

Some weeks later an offer arrived from them, for significantly less than my then current salary.

So from Hunting we had an insultingly inept attitude to interviewing, and an insulting offer for a job they knew I was not interested in (and a waste of someone’s money in getting me security cleared so they could make any kind of offer).

So if the reader is interested I would recommend that you not accept employment with either BAE Systems or INSYS (the current name of Hunting Engineering now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin UK) unless you can get something out of them that you want before going to work somewhere else where you may be valued at something closer to your worth.

Written by CaptainBlack

August 10, 2010 at 16:33

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Nice Example of Attempted Pro-Monarcist Spin

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This is a nice example of attempted spin in this item from the Telegraph with the headline:

Monarchy attracts £500 million a year from overseas tourists

Reading the article it turns out not that the Monarchy is attracting these tourist pounds but the UKs historical heritage (which happens to include Kings, Queens, Country Houses, Castles, …). These things would still be here if the UK were a Republic, appointed a Lord Protector/Regent, or continued as a Monarchy.

Despite such attempts at spin the Telegraph remains one of the better UK papers, but needs to be read in conjunction with the Guardian and/or Independent for a balanced view.

Written by CaptainBlack

July 29, 2010 at 06:41

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