Amid all the Olympics coverage, we will persevere with some non-Olympics material again this month, including sites that can capture childhood in a novel way, teach you how to have gourmet coffee in the middle of nowhere, raise awareness about another dumb and dangerous move by the federal government that could make our fears about privacy in a world of Google and Facebook seem quaint, and brush up on our critical thinking skills.

Australian privacy under threat from its own government

get-up-and-asio-proposals

An image from the Get Up privacy video

All of us are sharing more about our lives online these days, sharing pictures on social networks, shopping online and storing things in online accounts.

As a result, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint COmmittee on Intelligence and Security has released a discussion paper on changes to our telecommunications laws and security reform.

One of the aspects of the proposals has got Get Up all in a tizzy, with good reason.

In essence, it would demand that every internet provider, every website we visit, every social network we take part in and every search engine we use, would be forced to keep a copy of every website we visited, every conversation held, every email sent and every item purchased online FOR TWO YEARS.

It then goes on to say that ASIO would then be entitled to access this information and then demand passwords to your computer to review your data as well as passwords for accessing your online banking.

And here are the scary parts:

  • large entities like Visa. Mastercard, Sony, Vodaphone and Linked In, even the FBI, have been hacked, so what makes us think that every tiny website, every small internet provider and other online entities will have the security ability to keep extra copies of our own material in numerous places?
  • if you refuse to hand over passwords you will be thrown into gaol
  • ASIO could legally add, modify or delete files on our computers without our knowledge
  • all of this can take place, even if you have never committed a crime

Hmm, does this sound like the Australia we all know and love, the Australia many have fought to defend and the Australia that considers itself the poster child for democracy and freedom?

But there must be checks and balances, surely? Or at least some reason to dig into our files, you say?

Yes, and here it is.

Your computer simply has to have come into contact with someone suspected of a crime. That link could be as flimsy as:

  • connecting to the internet in the same internet cafe
  • getting the same computer virus
  • visiting the same website as a suspect

This is NOT an Australia I want to be part of. These moves would mean the terrorists have won and subjected us to a regime worse than the Taliban. Here is the Get Up video for reference.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAxZ-riGmyo

I urge you to sign the Get Up petition online so that these excessive and dangerous proposals do not become law.

Critical thinking skills

skeptics-guide-to-the-universe

The Skeptics Guide To The Universe podcast crew from theskepticsguide.org

Have you ever found yourself unable to argue a point to a successful conclusion or found yourself doubting your beliefs? It may be that a tune up in your critical thinking skills is in order.

In recent months, I have been quite taken by a podcast called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

Every week, the scientifically-minded panel share news from the world of science and test each other out in their powers of critical thinking.

As I poked around one of the podcast’s many related websites, I found a handy summary of the most common logical fallacies we need to be aware of so that our brains and our ‘naturally lazy’ thinking styles don’t let us hold on to unsound beliefs or make poor choices in life.

So, as Plato suggested, the pathway to wisdom begins with the definition of terms. From the skeptics guide site:

All arguments have the same basic structure: A therefore B.
They begin with one or more premises (A), which is a fact or assumption upon which the argument is based.
They then apply a logical principle (therefore) to arrive at a conclusion (B).
An example of a logical principle is that of equivalence. For example, if you begin with the premises that A=B and B=C, you can apply the logical principle of equivalence to conclude that A=C.
A logical fallacy is a false or incorrect logical principle. An argument that is based upon a logical fallacy is therefore not valid.
It is important to note that if the logic of an argument is valid then the conclusion must also be valid, which means that if the premises are all true then the conclusion must also be true.
Valid logic applied to one or more false premises, however, leads to an invalid argument.
Also, if an argument is not valid the conclusion may, by chance, still be true.

So, for an argument to be true, both the premises need to be true and the logic being applied to the premises needs to be true. This is where this list of the top twenty logical fallacies comes to the fore. It is a handy reference to check the ‘mechanics’ of your arguments.

Here is a sampling of fallacies (see if you can spot some in daily life or media consumption):

  • Ad hominem: This is where you attack the person rather than the argument. As the site says, “John is a jerk.” is not a fallacy. “John is wrong because he is a jerk.” is a logical fallacy.
  • Ad ignorantiam: This is called the argument from ignorance and basically argues that something is true because WE DON’T KNOW THAT IT IS NOT TRUE. People who promote ESP often use this argument by overemphasizing how much we don’t know about the human brain and therefore arguing that the brain can transmit signals over distance, etc.
  • Argument from authority: This is where we defer to someone’s authority because they have university degrees or years of experience. While those factors can make their opinions worthy of consideration, it is a logical fallacy to accept the claim of authority as something that can close a matter because even experts can be wrong. There are some similar variations of this fallacy, namely,  ad populum (something is true because it it popularly held), and argument from antiquity (a belief has been around for a long time and therefore must be true.).
  • Confusing association with causation: This is where people ASSUME cause and effect when there could just be coincidence at work. I love the example on the site, namely, during the 1990’s both religious attendance and illegal drug use have been on the rise. It would be a fallacy to conclude that therefore, religious attendance causes illegal drug use. It is also possible that drug use leads to an increase in religious attendance, or that both drug use and religious attendance are increased by a third variable, such as an increase in societal unrest. It is also possible that both variables are independent of one another, and it is mere coincidence that they are both increasing at the same time.
  • False Analogy. I love analogies but they are dangerous in logical terms when there is no actual similarity between the analogy and situation being explained. Again, a great example of a false analogy from the site is, saying that the probability of a complex organism evolving by chance is the same as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and creating a 747 by chance is a false analogy. Evolution, in fact, does not work by chance but is the non-random accumulation of favorable changes.

How can we sharpen our arguments? This page goes into more details but can be summarised thus:

Breaking down an argument into its components is a very useful exercise, for it enables us to examine both our own arguments and those of others and critically analyze them for validity. This is an excellent way of sharpening one’s thinking, avoiding biases, and making effective arguments.  So examining all the premises of each argument is a good place to start.

You can dive in more deeply at The Skeptics Guide to the Top 20 Logical Fallacies page.

How to make good espresso on the road

Make good espress on the road Baristador CoffeeI often get asked to share my technique for making good coffee on the road.

Last week, I was in Berri to run marketing workshops so finally made time to make a video to show people what I do to prepare for travel and need to know I can have good coffee when the need hits.

Of course, ‘good’, has many definitions in regard to coffee and for me it is all centred on the short black.

It needs to be short, black, strong, thick and not boiling.

Then it comes down to equipment, here is the packing list that I share on my Baristador Coffee website.

  • Wooden crate insulated by old towel
  • Stainless steel stovetop espresso maker
  • Stainless steel cup
  • Spoon or measure
  • Water
  • Portable gas burner with spare bottle

These simple elements don’t take up much space in the boot and can turn a roadside stop into a welcoming cafe.

My favourite stops are just outside Port Augusta and Tintinara, although there was a nice stop between Berri and Renmark on the side of the road overlooking vineyards that I highly recommend.

Here is the video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZpQlQirH5M

One final tip – as in the video, be prepared to use your burner’s case as a windbreak. Most of my stops always seem to happen when it is windy.

You can read more detail at Baristador Coffee’s coffee blog.

Stepping stones through childhood

childrens-stepping-stones

Children’s stepping stones image from eHow

Here is something I want to do soon with my kids and thought I would share it with you.

E How website has a simple guide on how to make stepping stones using your children’s handprints.

This is just a simple, fun idea that could produce memories and gifts for grandparents.

You basically buy some plant pot trays to use as molds, some cement mix and some creativity.

As you can see in the picture, right, it is a great idea to embed some gems and shiny stones/objects to create that perfect signature piece.

Here are the main steps:

  1. Mix cement and water in large bucket until it reaches the consistency of thick cake batter. Pour into the plant saucers
  2. Smooth the top of the cement and let it sit for about an hour. It is ready for decoration when a fingerprint pressed into the cement does not disappear.
  3. Ask your child to spread her fingers apart and press firmly to make a print in the cement. Add gems, rocks, marbles or small tiles to finish your design. Let the stone sit for several days before removing it from the saucer.

You can read more on eHow about How to make stepping stones using your child’s handprint.

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