Friday, December 2, 2011

Catch up blog

Been a while so I am going to post a quick catch up blog...

Some people may have noticed that I have not being very active in the whole atheism/scepticism scene for the last few months. This I attribute to a few things such as working full time in a non-IT job, not having internet access at my home and organsisng future living arrangements, but the main reason is that my girlfriend is going through a high-risk prgnancy (which has already had some misfortune) and coping with that eats up a lot of time.

However, when all is finished I intend to start attending more 'drinking sceptically' and WS Freethinkers meetings. I also intend to pursue my new hobbies of learning more about computers and learning to rebuild internal combustion engines. With the first hobby I intend to become acquainted with LINUX based operating systems and open source software (I figure that as a fat guy in his mid 20s, I should know more about computers). With the second I wish to build a custom motorcycle for myself and one for my girlfriend.

My girlfriend and I are also delving into the rather interesting world of herpetology. No, not the science of making stupid faces, but the stiuy of reptiles. Our particular area of interest is snakes. We have a vivarium set up for our first snake (probably a Children's Python) and after seeing how that goes we will continue in collecting various snakes and lizards. Eventually I would like to set up a very awesome, very secure, indoor enclosure for an Inland Taipan or something similar. As my girlfriend has a degree in animal science (and I like animals) I am sure we can find a lot of pleasure in the study of these creatures.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Doctor with the best treatment

Ask any of the (3) people that know me – “What thoughts do you associate with Bob?” and you’ll get many things in reply.
“He is a pretentious annoying prick.”
“Ugly, fat bastard.”
“Long hair.”
“He has a cool hat.”
“He is the Reverend Doktor Bob.”
“He has an obsession with Dr Pepper.”

Now lets have a look at that last point. Dr Pepper. It does seem to many that I have an addiction to Dr Pepper. Hell, I got a costco’s supermarket membership just so I could buy it by the case. I drink it all the time. Approximately 60% of my tweets are regarding Dr Pepper. But why?
I love it. That’s why.

But there is more to it than that. As an atheist, I worship no gods, spirits, magical faeries or virgin mothers. But I sometimes feel the need to express an undying love for something. Something that will never let me down. That something is Dr Pepper. By making each time I drink it an almost religious experience I fulfil my desire to give control of myself to someone/something that will absolve me of all responsibility. I’m sure that’s what most fervent believers in religion desire when they go to church, to feel that they don’t have to take responsibility for their own lives because their god will do it for them. When I drink a Dr Pepper I have an incredibly personal experience that pushes out the rest of the world. I devote myself to it and it devotes itself to me. And it’s a hell of a lot more reliable than any Yahweh, Allah or Vishnu.

One upside of my obsession with Dr Pepper is that it is a healthy obsession. Well maybe not in the sense that it is good for my physical health, but it is good for my mind. Take a look around at what most people want in this world. Money, fancy cars, huge houses, expensive TVs. What I want is a can of Dr Pepper. I have a roof over my head, an old beat up car, a job that I enjoy and yet pays enough for my living expenses…add a Dr Pepper and I’m happy. I’m not worried about a massive debt I owe because I use credit cards and bank loans to finance a brand new BMW and a 75 inch plasma TV. I’m not worried about a huge mortgage so I can have a fancy apartment in a fashionable suburb of Sydney. Im not working 90 hours a week in a job I hate just so I can keep the bills at bay month to month. All I need is a Dr Pepper now and then. I think am a lot happier in my life than a lot of those fancy folk.

yes i drink it at work

Oh, and – DR PEPPER IS YUMMY!!!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

New girl, new chilli and newborns- One of those 'life update' blog posts

Hello congregation!

I write this from the Reverend Doktor Bob's Centre for Clinical/Spiritual Healing as its a rather slow day, with the school holidays being responsible for a slump in surgery. All our surgeons/anaesthetists/sick people have decided to try to regain some contact with their children during this time. However we still need to have nursing staff around, just in case an emergency occurs. We will keep the patient alive while the important people are busy in Thredbo and Perisher.

Anyhow I thought i would write a little 'life update' post, nothing to do with scepticism  or religion.Its just a couple of things have happened in my life and I feel that by writing this down it will help me to reflect/decide on life choices.

No. 1 - New girl.

Through a friend I met a very nice girl who has decided I am worthy of affection-based attention. She is a very smart person who will probably leave me when she realises that my so called intelligence revolves around a series of hit or miss statements that luck has helped keep in the hit pile. Her occupation is in the field of animals and animal supplies (animals are awesome), lives outside of the major city areas (always a plus) and can discuss the finer points of religion and philosophy (huzzah!). I am keen to see where this will go. I hope I don't stuff things up like i have done with....every girl I have ever dated.

No. 2 - Newborns.

I recently got a message from a friend i attended university with. She was asking me how life was going, how my training in peri-operative nursing was going and what my plans were for the future. Now my plans have been basically about gathering experience and knowledge in nursing and then eventually using this consolidated knowledge/experience to help me work overseas in a volunteer capacity, hopefully with
Médecins Sans Frontières

After a few pleasantry style back and forth messages she let me know about a training course her father (top doctor of a major Western Sydney Neonatal Intesive Care Unit [NICU]) is setting up with the help of nurse unit managers and clinical nurse educators. The training course is to fast track nurses into neonate intensive care units.

Neonatal intensive care, for those not in the know, is the care of critically ill new borns. It is a field of nursing which requires steady hands, a quick mind and a great knowledge of drugs and physiology. New borns, when critically ill, can go from a stable condition to very, very ill/dead a lot quicker than adults usually do. A NICU nurse needs to be able to recognise signs of worsening conditions and act on them very fast.

Anyway, this training program is designed to get nurses with no previous neonatal or intensive care experience (or even no real nursing experience - they even want newly graduated nurses) and link them in with clinical educators/specialists for a 1-on-1 mentored training program for several months, so these fresh nurses can be shown how to deal with critically ill neonates. This doctor has specifically asked for me to join the program as he wants a certain number of smart, male nurses (2 out of 3 ain't bad). He wants me to join next February, which is just after the end of my new grad training year in operating theatre nursing. 

While NICU nursing is not a field i ever saw myself working in, the opportunity is too good to pass up. It will be hard work, require a lot of study outside of working hours and I will probably have to confront my emotions as I experience some horrific things (Ive dealt with people dying, but holding a baby as it dies will be a test of my stiff upper lipness), but the experience gained will be something I will use for the rest of my career. As the doctor told me, if I can perform resuscitation on an infant, I can do any sort of nursing.

So I've decided that I shall undertake this course next year when my new grad year of training is up (which will give me a good head start) and be ready to absorb as much knowledge and learn as many new skills as i can.

No. 3 - New Chili

I have recently bought a new jar of extra mega spicy super hot chili sauce, named 'Devil's Delirium', made from the Jolokia Chili - a chili often recognised as the hottest in the world. When I tasted it at the chili stand I bought it from, I instantly went bright red, started sweating, could hear the pounding of my heart in my ears, went dizzy and started crying. I remember paying for the chili sauce, getting into my new lady friends car....and then i remember waking up on her couch. I'm pretty sure i experienced synesthesia at some point.

I've already started using it in my chili stews that I live off during the week. Mixed in with a bit of sour cream it provides a nice kick to my usual relatively hot stew. However I would not recommend this for anyone with heart problems or stomach ulcers.

Anyway, time for me to go. Sorry to bore you all with this Bob based post, but I felt the urge to yak on a bit.

Try to have something a bit more scepticism/religion based for you all next time.

The Reverend Doktor Bob

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Reverend Doktor's Fitness Freakout part 1

Last weigh in: 139.4kg
So after committing to a change in lifestyle, I had a double burden of work issues and health issues that delayed the kick-off of my health challenge. I’ve taken stock of what I need to do to start exercising more and come up with a list of things I need to get/do.
·         Shoes. I need to get a pair of shoes that are appropriate for exercise, as I only have a pair of pull-on work boots that I wear everywhere. I do have a pair of joggers at work, but they are kept at work so they won’t be contaminated by the outside world, which would increase the risk of infection in the patients. I need those for work as I am on my feet all day and couldn’t wear my work boots there for the same reason I shouldn’t exercise in work boots.
·         A calorie counter website/book. I need reference material for calories in food so I know how much I am eating each day.
·         A diary. I need to maintain a diary so I know how what/how much I’ve eaten and exercised.

That should do for the short term, but long term I would like to get an exercise machine so I can exercise at home. I will also incorporate weight lifting back into my exercise regime at some point, I enjoy it when I do it and can use it as a reward for my cardio workouts.
On the food front of the health kick, I’ve started cooking up bean/vegetable based stews using stir through Italian/Asian sauces or Cajun/Chilli spice mixes. No rice/pasta as that is unneeded carbs. I also try to have a proper breakfast of cereal and milk each morning.
After a weekend on the grog (again) I have decided to not cut down my drinking (though I probably should) but instead change what I drink. Instead of beer or spirit with coke, I may just stick to straight spirits – a huge reduction in sugars because I’m not mixing…and I’ll hopefully drink less.
I’ve also decided to stop watching TV/movies on my computer and only allowing myself to watch them as I exercise. Another reward system to help force myself into exercise.
That’s it for this update.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mind Body Wallet

As I sit in the grand study of the Riverside Manor, relaxing in an armchair in front of a roaring fire and sipping on a glass of brandy, my mind wanders back to a visit this humble sceptic paid to the Mind Body Spirit festival at the Sydney exhibition centre on the 21st of May, 2011.
More commonly known in the sceptical community as “Mind, Body, Wallet”, it is a festival where various alternative health practitioners, psychics, spiritual (cult) leaders, aura readers, astral projectors and purveyors of general nonsense gather to promote their wares and be among likeminded kooks. It is a generally relaxed atmosphere populated by hippies, young and old, who feel that there is more to reality than…reality. They generally feel that there is wisdom in beliefs that are not mainstream, that they are so much more ‘in touch’ with the world than everybody else. What I saw was a bunch of hipsters, all agreeing about how cool they were to be going against the mainstream ideology. They also happen to be wrong, but let me elaborate as to why.
I had spent the previous few days ruminating as to what the exhibition would be like. While I was fairly sure it would just be a bunch of stands filled with people trying to sell their hippy style wares, in the back of my mind I had this image of crowds of the craziest types – anti-vaxxers, hippy conspiracy theorists and the like – that would be very loud and very pushy about getting people to listen to them. Of course when I arrived, I was glad to find out it was the more realistic scenario that came to pass.
The day started off with the Non God Chick, the Skeptical Westie, Bea & I catching a train from our commune/holiday house/podcast headquarters into the city of Sydney. Upon arrival in the city, we travelled by foot to the exhibition centre where we met up with Bastard Sheep, a fellow sceptic/atheist in the Sydney scene. After paying the $18 for entry, we set our demeanours to ‘open & inviting’ and headed through the front doors.
The first thing I noticed as I walked in was that the set up for this expo was exactly the same as any motorcycle, tattoo or employment expo I had ever been to. Rows of stalls with printed signs above each declaring the theme of the quackery being sold, a stage in one corner to present lectures or performances, a canteen in another corner selling wildly overpriced/under nutritious food. It even had the bored looking exhibition centre staff that run the logistics of the building through each and every expo that goes through there.
Before I describe a few highlights of the day, I will quickly run through a list of kookiness that was on offer throughout the day:
·         The Rosicurian Order
·         Geopathic Stress Relief
·         Tachyon revitalisers
·         Fluoride filters
·         Acupuncture/pressure
·         Eternal Consciousness
·         Compassion increasing exercises
·         Name decoding
·         Sound therapy
·         Reiki
·         Qi alignment
·         Astrology charting
·         Kinesiology mastering
·         And many more
Honestly, if I listed all the things on offer and went into detail about how each one is described and how each is supposed to fulfil some empty part of your life, I would be at this computer for days on end and unfortunately I have a job that prevents me from doing that. All I need to say is that a large range of crap was on sale, a lot of which was contradicting other stuff around it (which didn’t seem to upset any of the hippy people, they were happy to trust it all to work).
One highlight from the day was the chiropractors. Both Bastard Sheep and myself decided to get a spinal alignment exam performed. This exam consisted of us standing on a small platform in front a wire frame that had string running across the front of it. Now, I don’t know what happened to Bastard Sheep, but I stood there for a grand total of 25 seconds before the woman examining my spine gave me my diagnosis – Apparently I have a curve above my hip on the left hand side and my left shoulder slouches down, which is the reason for all the headaches (which I don’t get, but she assumed I did) and sore arms (I lift patients and weights on a daily basis, could that maybe explain the feeling of exercised muscles?). I was then offered a $45 consultation, which was a one day offer compared to the normal $300 consultation. I ummed and ahhhed and finally said “No thanks.” My spine will keep for now, I think.
Another highlight was the stress test I was given by the Scientologists.  Now out of fear of legal reprisal, I wish to say that the Church of Scientology is nothing less than the greatest thing to grace mental health and indeed mankind as whole since the beginning of time, or at least since Xenu sent us here on rocket ships and we crashed into the volcano and were released into the atmosphere as spirit things which then inhabited the bodies we now possess. At the same I would like to point out that while writing this I happen to be wearing a Guy Fawkes mask (just on a whim, no special reason why I am). So, anyway, I sat down with a kindly young man who asked me some questions about my personal life while I held two metal cylinders in my hands. As I responded to the questions posed, the cylinders would read my stress and transmit the stress as a current to a box which had a meter on it. The stress could then be measured so the Scientologist could tell what part of my life was making me stressful. I decided to see how much stress I had, so I answered all his questions truthfully and didn’t try to trick the machine. Questions about my love life, work life, friends and family were asked, I answered truthfully and the Scientology man was not happy. Despite admitting to some stressors in life (we all have them) I still came across as an incredibly relaxed, cool customer. The Scientology guy was not happy because he couldn’t convince me I needed help, as I didn’t need any (which is not something most mental health professionals would agree with). After brushing off his not-very determined sales pitch, I donned my sunglasses and strutted off into the distance.
A hilarious moment of anecdotal proof that a lot of this stuff doesn’t work was when we visited the herbal weed stand. This stand offered fake weed, herbal ecstasy and herbal acid. It also offered lollypops that were guaranteed to give a man some pep in his step. To awaken the sleeping serpent. To power up his magic wand. To light his fuse. To prime the purple headed yogurt slinger. To extend his IV pole. To re-vitalise his bottle brush….I’m sure you get my drift. Bastard Sheep stood up tall (using his spine and back muscles, not the dirty kind of ‘stood up tall’, you sickos) and declared “Challenge accepted!” For the next ½ an hour he sucked down on a treat (you people disgust me) and relayed information as to his…umm…erection status (I’m tired and can’t be bothered thinking of any humorous slang any more). Either Bastard Sheep is a liar, he suffers from impotency problems (sorry for outing that if it’s true dude) or the lollypops –shock horror! - didn’t work as they were advertised. Of course, as this is anecdotal proof and not true clinical data, I wouldn’t want to denigrate the name of ‘Happy High Herbs’ or whatever they are called. Scientifically based, clinical trials are a must if we are to conclusively disprove their claims.
I will just talk a little about my pet peeves when it comes to this hippy, alternative health, quackery scene. One argument that you get from nearly all the proponents of alternative health is that western, or ‘orthodox’ medicine is just a conspiracy by ‘Big Pharma’ (the pharmaceutical companies) and the government to take all your money, get votes and even control your thoughts/actions. Now while I agree that, yes, some medications are very expensive (manufacturing costs for uncommon medications are high, as are costs for clinical research), Medicare and/or private health insurance can subsidise a lot of the costs. If you are a sufferer of chronic health problems that require long term medication therapy, there is the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which brings the price of medicines down to make them more affordable. If you have a background which includes risk factors such as disability, mental illness or certain ethnicities you qualify for subsidies as well (for example, my great grandmother was a Wiradjuri tribe Aboriginal and as such I am genetically pre-disposed to certain health conditions such as heart disease and cancer, so I get cheap medications if I need them). My point is – you can be sick in this country and it won’t bankrupt you for treatments. Yet all these purveyors of crazy quack cures, who claim western medicine is about taking your wallets, aren’t exactly civic minded themselves. They charge up to and including a small fortune for untested, unproven miracle cures that don’t work. And you won’t be getting any subsidies from Medicare for that. If they truly held the cure to cancer, why not give it to all seekers of the cure? That would be more in keeping with the manner of brotherly love and spiritualism they all wank on about than the $300 information nights, followed up by $700 appointments weekly for 3 years.
Another thing that annoys me is the practices by outsiders that lend legitimacy (in the eyes of the public) to these quack treatments. For example, a particular private health insurance company had a stand at mind body wallet and were trying to flog health plans to believers in quackery. Now some people may think that if a health fund is there, there must be something to these treatments. While I can’t be certain, I am pretty sure the only quackery that health funds will rebate on is chiropractic. Speaking of which, another thing that makes Joe bloggs believe this stuff is real and scientific is the fact that chiropractic is now an occupation that you have to have AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) registration for, allowing it to join the likes of medicine, psychology, physiotherapy and, of course, my own particular specialty, nursing.
There is plenty more I can rage on about when it comes to Mind Body Spirit festival, but this post is already 2 weeks and too many words in the making. I will recommend that if you are in the mood for a laugh, a cry, an argument and some trolling – go check out mind body spirit. It’s on twice a year in Sydney.
The Reverend Doktor Bob.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Time for a change

Last week I was at a friend’s place, partying for my 26th birthday. The next morning, after an ice cold shower to wake myself up from the bottle of American Honey, several Canadian Clubs and several Bundys of the night before, I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. What I saw was a massively overweight, pudgy faced, dour looking guy with man boobs. Apart from some awesome tatts and a beautiful head of hair, I was unimpressed. I am 26 years old, and I have the physique of a 50 year old man who has let himself go. The time has come to make some serious changes to my life.
Inspired by a blog my friend Gabe has started; it’s time for me to get on the health kick. No more excuses, it’s time to change. I weighed in at 140kg last week, with higher than desired blood pressure, a slightly higher than desired pulse rate and breathlessness after climbing stairs. I don’t want that – I want to be healthy.
But I know it won’t be easy. I’m not going to be running marathons in 2 weeks; I probably won’t be running them in a year. If I try to do too much too soon I’ll burn out and give up, or might even do serious damage to my body. I need to take things slowly. The idea is to allow my body to cope with the changes.
So from now on I’ll be
-          Eating healthier - No more chocolate,  lollies, soft drinks, fatty foods (except the odd Dr Pepper – if I couldn’t have that, I would kill people)
-          Exercising more – When I get home from work, I’ll go out for a walk. Maybe even buy a cross trainer exercise machine, the only exercise machine I’ve ever liked.
-          Keeping a diary of my exercise and diet – weekly check-ins to track my progress.
The only good thing about my physique is that I’m quite strong. That’s not bragging, it is just a fact. Years of on again/off again weight lifting plus carrying around a large body frame has left me with more strength than the average guy. All that means now is that I don’t need to incorporate weight lifting into my exercise scheme. I can concentrate solely on cardiovascular fitness.
My limited experience in psychology studies tells me that healthier people tend to be happier people – they perform better in their work, they’re able to participate in more activities, even their sleep is more restful than the rest of us.
Hopefully in a year I’ll be a fitter, happier, more active person.
Hopefully not dropping dead from a heart attack as you read this,
The Reverend Doktor Bob
P.S. I don’t intend to let my new lifestyle get in the way of my sceptical activities – The good Reverend Doktor will still be seeking the truth and fighting the good fight whenever possible.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A message on Rev. Dr. Bob's birthday

The following was transcribed from a Ministry of Harry Kenwell  meeting. To be imagined in a Southern US preacher style voice, or James Brown in the Blues Brothers.

On a crisp and clear morning, in a big white tent in the middle of a green field. Dozens of people are seated in pews facing a stage. On the stage there is an organist playing softly, Deacon Geoff and The Reverend Doktor Bob.
Deacon Geoff, from side of stage: “....and now a sermon from our very own Reverend Doktor Bob!”
*Enter Rev.Dr. Bob from left side of stage, walks to centre of stage*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Now people…now people.”
*crowd murmurs with excitement*
Rev. Dr. Bob: “When I woke up this morning, I saw a bright light!”
*crowd excitement grows a little*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “When I woke up this morning, I heard an unusual sound!”
*Organ music rises in volume*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “And what was that light and sound? Do you want me to tell you?”
*Organ music rises in volume even more. Cries of “Tell it, preacher!” and “Show us, Reverend” come from the audience*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “The light and sound belonged to Him. To Harry! Can I get a Harrylujah?”
*Crowd calls out “Harrylujah!”*
 Rev.Dr. Bob: “I said ‘Can I get a Harrylujah?’”
*Crowd calls louder “HARRYLUJAH!”*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Alright, RAmen. Now people, I wanna tell you – Harry spoke to me!”
*Crowd cheers*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “And do you wanna know what He said to me? Do you want to hear His words?”
*Organ music rises to match a rising volume of cries from the audience. Calls of “Tell us, Reverend!” and “Testify!” come from the crowd. In the front row, a man collapses, fainting from the love of Harry*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Harry spoke to me. He said ‘Bob – you’re 26 today. It’s time for you to give back to the community after you have been given so much.’ Now, let me tell you people, I couldn’t gaze upon that far shore, that wonder, without being struck dumb. I wanted to ask him how, but couldn’t find a way to make the words come out.”
*Organ music tempo increases as The Reverend Doktor’s speech gets faster. The excitement of the crowd builds with each passing second. Cries of desire for Harry come from the audience. People are on their feet, reaching out to their fellow Kenwellians as they feel His love*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Harry kept speaking to me. I felt as if my head would explode with the power of his words. He said
‘Bob. On this day, the 26th anniversary of your birth, I charge you with the task of spreading my words. You will not be alone. Others will join you in celebrating my existence.’
While I could not speak, Harry knew what I wanted to ask. I wanted to know what His message, what His command, what His Words would be.
 ‘Bob,’ He said ‘There have been others that were thought to be divine. Others who claimed a ruling over mankind. These false gods may have had some good messages, but they were usually combined with rules that were pointless and restrictive, as well as, more often than not, baseless prejudices against fellow creatures.’
His words struck home for me. The history of the world is full of such tales. He went on.
‘The world is a busy place. Everybody is too swept up in life to follow the ideals that have been laid down by so many. So I have provided a philosophy that is easy to follow, that is fair and equitable for all mankind.’
Do you people want to hear that philosophy? Do you want to hear his words?”
*The crowd cries out in unison “Yes!”*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Ok people. Here is his message to us all.”
*The music stops abruptly. The crowd hushes, all leaning forward in expectation of The Message. The tent goes silent, in stark contrast to the frenzy that was in progress just seconds before*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Be Generally Awesome.”
*The crowd lets out a collective sigh of pleasure upon hearing his words. Many fall back into their seats exhausted, as if having run a marathon*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “How much better a philosophy can you get? I know of none greater. When you wake up in the morning – Be Awesome. When you go to work – Be Awesome. When deciding anything in life, from what drink you should have to what can be done to make the world a better place – Be Awesome. If we all Be Awesome to one another, there will be no ill in this world!”
*Crowd cheers. Cries of “Harrylujah!” and “Praise be to Awesome!” are heard*
Rev.Dr. Bob: “Now people. He wants you to go out there and spread his message of Awesome! Go! Now! Smile at a stranger, hug a friend, love a lover and be Awesome to one another! Go!”
*The crowd rushes out of the tent, chanting “Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.”*

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brief Report on Skepticamp Sydney, April 2011.

On April 30th, 2011, Australia saw its first Skepticamp, held at the University of Technology, Sydney. Organised by a group of highly un-organised sceptics based around Sydney and sponsored by various groups such as the Australian Skeptics, the Western Sydney Freethinkers, and, the event became a successful grass-roots based conference which shall be talked about in the sceptical community for years to come. I’ve previously blogged about the concept of Skepticamp here
The day started (for the Unorganisers) at 0900, with the unloading of cars and the setting up of tables, equipment, IT related gear and luncheon requirements. A quick briefing by Jason Brown and the Unorganisers were sent to perform their duties for the day. Duties included –
·         Manning the registration table
·         Organising speakers
·         Directing attendees to rooms
·         Setting up lunch and CupCakeCamp
·         Timing speakers and running IT for the day
The doors opened to attendees at 10am for registration, with talks to begin at 11am. After a quick cuppa and some early morning networking, Jason Brown and Dave The Happy Singer gave the keynote speech in their usual flamboyant manner, with lots of jokes and innuendos. They went through the rules of the day such as how much time each speaker was allocated, how you should be spreading the word about Skepticamp, what the official Skepticamp hash tag was on twitter (#skepticamp) and the most important rule – be awesome (funnily enough, also Harry Kenwell’s most important rule…just saying).
There were some brilliant talks throughout the day. Some speakers were old hands at public performance (such as Peter “Ratbag” Bowditch) and some were, like me, noobs to giving talks. The topics covered were extensive. A random selection from the day are:-
·         Peter Bowditch– Keeping your scepticism out of court
·         Joel Pittman – Experiences of a (former) youth pastor
·         Jo Benhamu – A brief history of nursing
·         Alan Conradi – Neuro-cranial restructuring
·         Rachael Dunlop – Diagnosing by Dr. Google
·         Dan Summers – The Gospels according to George Lucas
·         Maureen Chuck – Clinical trials
All of which were to special in their own right to try and explain, I recommend looking for them on YouTube, as most of the talks were videotaped (I will post links on a blog post in the near future).
My own talk was about nursing and woo, a variation of a blog post I put up earlier this year. During the question and answer time of my own talk, Jo Benhamu assisted with fielding some questions about nursing that required a bit more post grad knowledge than I have (though I’ll get there one day….hopefully). During the flash talks (5 minute, minimal preparation) section Alan Conradi and myself gave a talk about Harry Kenwell and his awesomeness.
Lunch was provided to all attendees, paid for by donations from the Australian Skeptics (thanks!!!), and catered for omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and the gluten intolerant. Lunch was swiftly followed by Cup Cake Camp, a competition in which attendees bake cupcakes that are consumed and voted on. Ruth Ellison won with her Chocolate Baileys cupcakes, but the rest were still awesome. I personally liked the Jaffa cupcakes made by Bronwyn Pinchbeck.
After the conference some money went over the bar at the Clare Hotel, which opened its doors specifically for us. As the night went on, the beer flowed and the tab got swallowed up by the crowd (anyone can hang out with the sceptics, but it would be hard for a teetotaller – we spend so much time in pubs!). Throughout the night people got together with friends, old and new, to discuss how the day went, how the night was going and how to plan for the next skepticamp – so far I believe it’s going to be in Melbourne, sometime around August/September.  Most of that night is random flashes of memory for me – Fred Kotze talking about motorcycles, a Tom Waits sing-a-long with Jason Brown and Alan Conradi, discussing Medicines Sans Frontiers with Maureen Chuck and Rachael Dunlop. I did end up at another bar down the street drinking whiskey (information received from FourSquare). All I know is I woke up the next morning in the Riverside Manor with two ladies in my bed….and me on the floor L.
Thanks to everyone who organised Skepticamp and thanks to all who participated. It was an epic day full of great talks and great company. I cannot wait for the next one, but if it is in Melbourne I just may be a participant, not an unorganiser.

Some photos from the day can be found by searching for “skepticamp” on Flickr and more blogs about the event can be found by searching the hash tag #skepticamp on twitter.
That's all I can really remember anout Skepticamp. Im sure more memories will float to the surface of my brain jar soon.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Strawman on the yellow brick road to Oz

This morning I watched a youtube clip of Steve Novella talking about alternative health on the Dr. Oz show. Steve, a famous skeptic and buster of woo, was attempting to to explain why many medical professionals  -like himself - don't approve of many alternative health practices.

Steve put forward the argument very well - that many, many studies have been done and there is little to no efficacy shown in any proper, sceintifically sound trials of things such as acupuncture, (certain) herbal remedies, chiropracty etc. Moreover, many risk vs benefit studies of some alternative health treatments show a much higher risk than possible benefit. His point was made using plain language, it was uncomplicated, it was succinct.

Dr. Oz countered Steve's statement of  "...multi-million, multi-billion dollar turns out they dont work" with his own statement of "I totally disagree that these have not been studied".

WTF? How is that what he said in any way?

Dr. Oz goes on to promote the idea that because lots of people like using alternative health it must mean that it is effective (despite what science may say). He also mentions that science does not know how to test the efficacy of many alternative medicine treatments. And because things like acupuncture have been used for thousands of years, its efficacy has been proven.

Argumentum ad populum
Appeal to authority
maybe a little deductive fallacy?

Tim Minchin said it best in 'Storm'
"By definition alternative medicine has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. Know what they call alternative medicine that has been proved to work? 'Medicine.'"

I'm not going to say anything more (I'm technically at work, and should not be blogging), except to recommend everyone go watch the clip and judge the different arguments for themselves.

I'm off to prepare my talk for SkeptiCamp, where i'm sure someone will bring up this clip.

The Reverend Doktor Bob

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

OMFSM!!! I'm speeching at SkeptiCamp?!?!?

The Sydney SkeptiCamp is only a week and a half away (30th April, 2011).
For those who don’t know, SkeptiCamp is an ”unconference” where  “unorganisers” arrange a meeting area where people of skeptical thought can come together to give quick speeches about any topic vaguely related to scepticism. The idea is for most, if not all, attendees to give a speech of some sort in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. There are no ‘booked’ speakers as such and the entire enterprise is run as a not-for-profit event. The concept grew out of BarCamp, a similar style conference based around technology and government policy.
A Sydney based skeptic, Jason, decided to organise the first Sydney SkeptiCamp. I volunteered to assist in any organisational capacity whether it be helping out with putting up flyers, promoting online or general dogsbody duties. Turns out, all that and more.
I recently blogged about occurrences of woo belief at my workplace. While writing the blog I briefly toyed with the idea of giving it as a speech at the Sydney Skepticamp. But after publishing the post, I discovered a lot of issues I had with it, a lot of things I just didn’t like. After receiving word of a similar talk being prepared by someone else, I decided to abandon the idea entirely.
But now I have received many requests to give the talk from people that I would like to think as actual interested readers, but are more likely those who would like to see me go bright red, stutter and be generally embarrassed and uncomfortable in front of a large crowd (I suck at public speaking). So, despite my reservations about it, I have decided to give a slightly modified version of the blog, now entitled “Observations of Nursing & Woo”. This speech will not attempt to ask questions nor answer any, just make a general statement about what I have observed in the workplace.
How the speeching will go is anyones guess. When it comes time for my talk, they might find me sitting in a puddle of my something, rocking back and forth with scared look in my eyes...
Despite all that, it should be a fun day with lots of interesting talks. And a cupcake competition!

More information about SkeptiCamp here, and the Sydney SkeptiCamp 2011 here.
Don’t forget to follow SkeptiCamp Australia on twitter @skepticampau for upcoming unconferences on scepticism.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nursing & Woo

For those who may not know, I am a Registered Nurse. I work in an environment where there is plenty of discussion between the same staff members day in, day out. This means I get to know what fellow staff members do outside work, what they feel about current affairs and what they believe.
Nurses come from different countries, different cultures and from all walks of life. Myself, I used to work in construction and traffic control, I ride motorcycles, I read philosophy, I hang out with sceptics, I am involved in atheism/sceptical activism. There are christians, muslims, buddhists, Australians, Americans, Indians, Chinese, Germans, French, Sudanese, South Africans… This is not unusual in nursing, or in any industry.
However, one thing I have noticed in nursing is the amount of people who believe in woo. I have colleagues who are clinical specialists in incredibly technical fields that still believe in things like naturopathy and an ordered universe.
·    One colleague is a specialist in critical care nursing, with 15 years’ experience in emergency room nursing, intensive care nursing and theatre nursing, has post graduate qualifications in these fields, can rattle off bio-chemistry and clinical pharmacology like I rattle off quotes from Blackadder, yet believes in ‘The Secret’ and the ‘efficacy’ of acupuncture.

·     I work with a nurse of 40 years’ experience, who has worked all over the world (both paid and unpaid), worked in many different fields and has neurologists that ask “how high?” when she says “jump”…wears a power balance bracelet.

·    One nurse, who upon noticing my tattoo of Charles Darwin, launched into a very informative discussion about the silliness of religion, that evolution was the only logical explanation of man’s existence and that the idea of a god was preposterous (I had hope of a comrade in arms here). I later found out she visits a chiropractor every week.
These aren’t isolated examples, these are just some of the most memorable. You may say “So what? I know 30 people in my office who believe in a random assortment of woo. The woman at the desk across from me reads the horoscope and uses ear candles every week!” But one thing about nursing is that during your training you are taught to use critical thinking and evidence based medicine/treatments.
During my university training we were informed that all our assignments had to be backed up by journal articles and texts that were peer reviewed, showed a sound methodology in how the studies were conducted and were clinically relevant (i.e. were published in the last 10 years). We even had to take a class called “Inquiry into Nursing Practice” which was all about how to research journals such as “American Journal of Clinical Pharmacology” or “International Journal of Palliative Care” and databases such as CINAHL and MEDLINE, how to appraise the quality of a study, how to ensure that a treatment regime is based evidence derived from studies that had successfully been replicated and not just because “that’s how we’ve always done it”. In fact, you could say that we are taught to be sceptics.
So how is it that people, trained to think and perform their job in such a manner, still believe in hocus pocus and snake oil? I am no psychologist (bar amateur), so my guess is that most people are capable of having two mind sets – a work mindset and a home mindset, and never the two shall meet. This allows people to be completely clinical and at the same time believe in the crazy woo and magic water and not allow the silliness to disrupt their work practice. Maybe these people work so hard while performing their clinical tasks that they need their bit of woo to counteract an often stressful life.
Whatever the reason for it, I don’t want to say these are bad or dangerous nurses for believing this stuff. Their demonstrated skill and knowledge of their clinical fields is enough to prove they don’t allow the silliness into their work lives.
However the hospital I work at is a specialised, private hospital. The hospital’s goal (besides providing quality care) is to become a major player on the world stage and to be talked about like John Hopkins Hospital or Princeton University Hospital (House’s hospital). Attached to the hospital is a special training school for doctors from all over the world to come and learn new surgical techniques. This hospital is trying to build a reputation as “one of the best”.  So while recruiting the senior staff they took only the best, with proven records of skill and knowledge. So if ‘the best’ staff from the public and private health systems of Sydney still have a high percentage of woo belief, where does that leave the rest? My colleagues may be able to clinically distance themselves from their silly beliefs, but does that mean the average nurse can? I think generally they can, as my experience within the public system shows me, but I have read what one palliative care nurse believes while they were discussing medical treatments on the forum of a certain northern based “awareness” group.
Why am I one of the (seemingly) few truly sceptical nurses? Well, I am ‘old school’ in my nursing style. No, that doesn’t mean I wear white dresses, a starched hat and allow the doctors to grab my arse and call me “darling” (I am a 6 foot, 140kg, tattooed, ugly as sin guy, so that would have to be one messed up doctor – male or female), it means that I live my job. When I’m not at work, I will research things to improve my knowledge/skill. If It is a quiet day at work, I will try to familiarise myself with a treatment or equipment that I haven’t used before. I don’t read fiction; I read books on pharmacology and pathophysiology. True, this work ethic doesn’t lend itself to much of a social life but I am of the belief that nursing is a passion, not just a job to make money so you can support a family or lifestyle. I was also an un-labelled or un-diagnosed sceptic for many years before I became a nurse.
To wrap up, a large number of nurses, even highly trained specialists, are believers in woo. However they seem to be able to distance their clinical work from this crap and provide high quality care to patients. That leaves very few who would actively recommend quack treatments in a hospital setting. But would you want your loved one, who is sick and vulnerable to be under the care of one of these few? I wouldn’t want a family member who is dying of cancer to have homeopathy preached to them in the community, let alone in a hospital setting.
Thanks for reading my rant.
The Reverend Doktor Bob.
P.s. I intend to have future posts about nursing & religion, nursing & vax ideology and psychiatric nursing vs. everyday beliefs.
P.p.s. I am not "one of the best" that was recruited from the outside, I am a bottom rung RN trying to work my way up.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My new computer

Been a while since my last post, as i have been busy with my new job in my new hospital. I have also been out of touch with the sceptic/atheist world due to new job commitments. This should not be a long term problem, but it does mean that right now i don’t have anything terribly interesting to talk about. So I’m going to talk about my new computer.

My last computer was a 3 1/2 year old P.O.S. that was well ast it's use by date and would not turn on most of the time and if it did, it would take forever to perform even the most basic tasks. I'm not a "techie" person so I felt that my next computer should be something nice and basic. I'm not a graphic designer or a PC gamer, so I don’t need anything powerful. I don’t care for the 'prettiness' of certain machines. I don’t care about Blu-ray, or HD graphics. I don’t care about programming. So I've bought the most basic, user friendly, cheap and simple computer i could find. I’m not going to say what it is, because I am sure there are people out there who will laugh at me if I mention any brand of computer, because they are all biased. Funny thing is, it's got better specs than my 3 1/2 year old computer that cost 5 times as much and was considered a pretty awesome machine. Technology huh?

I needed a computer for my new job, a peri-operative nurse, because it involves a lot of online training and research. Another reason I bought a more 'basic' computer is that soon I may buy a tablet computer for use at work and for further studies, as the tablet computers are very handy when viewing pdf. files, a common file type used in nursing research. The tablet computer will probably cost 2-3 times what I paid for my computer, but it will be my 'go anywhere computer'. That will relegate the computer I am typing this on to a ‘stay at home’ computer, its tasks purely as music organiser and file store for my research.

I sometimes feel that I am in the less populated section of the sceptic community - the non-tech group. I use computers for my work, my research, communicating and blogging, but that is it. I feel like the outcast sometimes because I don’t know how to program stuff, update open source software etc etc. In fact, I didn’t even know what open source software was until 3 weeks ago. And yes, I like windows 7. It works well with my ‘point & click’ style of computing. Is that a bad thing?
Anyway, I will try to have something more interesting for my next post.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Creation of Harry - The Birth of Kenwellism

In the beginning, there was Awesome. Awesome was abundant and it was Awesome. Awesome was all there was and Awesome beget Awesome, because that’s what Awesome does.

One day (a day not actually being defined by this point, but go with me here) the level of Awesome in existence became so large that it could not sustain itself, thus the Singularity of Awesome occurred. Awesome collapsed upon itself and formed a black hole. In the event horizon of this black hole, Awesome started to turn into Anti-Awesome. As Awesome flowed from the Awesomeverse into the black hole the amount of Anti-Awesome grew until it was equal to the amount of Awesome.

Awesome is a powerful force and its Anti-Awesome, made of itself, is equally powerful. When the two reached equal levels, a cataclysmic event occurred. For millions of years, or one second (if time existed at all, Awesome scientists are still unsure if it did), a great struggle existed. Awesome fought Anti-Awesome until the Awesomeverse was rocked by an almighty eruption of energy and all Awesome and Anti-Awesome disappeared except the tiny fragments of Awesome (that were still being begat by Awesome even while it was fighting Anti-Awesome). This is what our universe is made from.

Out of these fragments, Harry Kenwell was born.

Harry looked upon the nothingness of the universe and said “This is pretty Awesome, but it could be more Awesome.”

So Harry created the world and it was Awesome. Harry was really into soups back then (they are cheap and nutritious after all) so He fashioned the world in the image of a falling drop of soup – perfectly spherical and a blend of various colours. After some time, Harry allowed the soup (referred to as the “Primordial Soup”) to create its own life, known as an “Awesome bubble”. Scientists today consider this bubble to be the first single celled life form. Some Harrystorians believe Harry created life so he could tell the first “Waiter, waiter! There’s something in my soup” joke, but this rejected by most orthodox Kenwellians. Harry then created some other planets, moons and celestial wonders, but those aren’t important at the moment.

Over several millennia the life forms Harry created were subjected to many environmental changes, but Harry had created his life forms Awesomely, so they were able to adapt, reproduce and populate the world. There were several types to evolve out of these original Awesome bubbles. Some species thrived, some didn’t, some were destroyed by a meteor that Harry dropped while juggling. Eventually, Humans developed out of primitive ape-like creatures.

When Harry noticed these early Humans, He thought “These guys are pretty cool, but I wonder if I can make them Awesome?” So He introduced himself to Humans.

One story of Harry talking to a Human is the story of Moses. Moses was a bit of a power hungry douche-bag. He had even convinced a whole group of people to leave behind food, shelter, gainful employment and free healthcare and wander into the desert with him just so he could assert his authority over them without onlookers going “Dude, come on. That’s just not cricket.” Harry had witnessed this and decided to give Moses the chance to mend his ways. He took Moses up to the top of a mountain for a chat. Harry told Moses to be Awesome, to live life as Awesomely as possible and to preach this to others. Moses, being the douche-bag he was, decided to make up his own rules and claim they were told unto him by Yahweh, a false deity that people from around that time were worshipping. Because of this, Moses is known as the “Bring downer” but this has been bastardised to become “Law bringer” by some silly cult that descended from those early Yahweh worshippers.

Because of this, Harry didn’t bother to reach out to Humans much over the years except a few people throughout history who either misinterpreted what he said or were considered wrong/crazy by the general populous.

In the year of 2009, however, Harry witnessed the birth of a group that had the potential to understand and know Him – The Western Sydney Freethinkers. These fine folk were chosen to reveal Harry’s existence to the world.

Harry chose a soccer player with a similar name to himself as means of initial contact. It was Harry that planted the article about Harry Kewell’s witchcraft in the media. It was Harry that led Geoff the Prophet to find it. It was Harry who didn’t correct Geoff’s spelling on the powerpoint presentation. It was Harry that allowed that slideshow to be presented to the Western Sydney Freethinkers.

And so Kenwellism was born, approximately 1,460,000,000,003 days after He created the world.

The Apostles of Harry continue to preach his message to the world. Currently they are compiling a series of historical facts about Harry that can laid down in a text, or .pdf format, so that future generations of Kenwellians will can look upon and understand the greatness of Harry.

Until the next installment in the story of Harry, try to live your life by this simple maxim –

What Would Harry Kenwell Do?

Be Generally Awesome.

Interpreted from various dreams and visions by The Reverend Doktor Bob.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ten23, or how I learnt to stop worrying and love Fred's Tripod

“Homeopathy. There’s nothing in it.”
This is the tag line of the Ten23 campaign ( , a campaign to increase awareness about the uselessness of homeopathic medications and the way that practitioners of homeopathic products are scammers, flim-flammers and hood-winkers (or complete morons who actually believe it works).
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine (known in the sane world as “quackery”) that is based around the ideas of Hahnemanns’s “like cures like” theory and that dilution makes medical preparations stronger.
 The “like cures like” concept was put forward by Samuel Hahnemann, who invented homeopathy,  and means that if a person is suffering from an illness, let’s say a rash, a solution containing an ingredient that can cause a rash, let’s say poison ivy, can cure the rash. Funnily enough, some homeopaths point to vaccines as an example of like curing like, which is an analogy so stupid I won’t even bother refuting it. The dilution making medications stronger concept is just a silly idea to do with water retaining memory of the original active ingredient. But as a 30c dilution, or diluted to 10 billion times the volume of the earth (one of the more common dilutions in homeopathy), most likely doesn’t have any contact with any molecules of the water that were in the first dilution, the chances of contact with the actual ingredient are so low that I’ve got a much higher chance of winning the 2012 Superbowl then a patient actually coming into contact with the ingredient. And even if the water could remember the active ingredient, what about everything else that has been in that water? Poo, even fornicate in it...what is that goin to cure?
So Ten23 is all about making a point about how ineffective homeopathic “medications” are. How do we prove it? We take what should be a lethal amount of drugs as part of a mass overdose. In this case, a particular brand of sleeping tablets is the killer of choice. Here is an accurate recording of the Sydney campaign.
Sunday, February 6th, 2011.
 Botanical Gardens, Sydney.
A group of people from various sceptics groups (myself and others representing the Western Sydney Freethinkers *shameless plug*) gather near the Sydney Opera House entrance to the Botanical Gardens. The group is littered with some of the more infamous bloggers and tweeters, such as @DrRachie, @HappySinger, @BastardSheep, @RatBagsDotCom etc. There are interviews with those who are willing to risk their lives in a heroic manner to make a point. In the distance a ferry bell tolls – is it tolling for we?
The suicidal folk are sheparded into a group where their last words can be recorded for posterity. They all put on their bravest faces, as if staring into the eyes of the Grim Reaper himself and saying “come and get me”. Their last words, almost as if it had been pre-planned, are spoken in unison – “Homeopathy. There’s nothing in it”. Then they each ingest 10-20 times the recommended amount of sleeping tablets.
Some of the brightest stars in the heavens are on the verge of fading....
An hour later and all the would-be suicides are sitting around the pub drinking their own particular brand of alcoholic beverage (a real poison). The overdose has not worked. They all breath a collective sigh of relief.
This article was started 12 hours after I participated in the Ten23 overdose campaign, where I consumed 30 homeopathic sleeping tablets. I am starting to feel tired. Could it be that the tablets are starting to take effect? Is it that I’ve had a few whiskeys and I’m starting to get a little drunk? Is it that I’ve not had much sleep the last few days because my bedroom has been over 30 degrees Celsius at night time? I can’t be sure, so I have left instructions with my family to check on me if they can’t hear me snoring.
Now it’s the morning after. I have either not being killed by the sleeping tablets, or my afterlife is very, very similar to my before life.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I am just going to say this again – HOMEOPATHY!!! THERE’S NOTHING IN IT!!!
See you all later,
The Reverend Dok....wait a minute, I should explain the second part of the post title.
On the train home from the city I was browsing through some of the pictures of the Vancouver Ten23 event, taken by a certain Canadian giant we all know. Well it turns out a certain member of our ragtag group knows this giant apparently a little too well. For the sake of dignity I’m going to refer to this person by a letter, picked randomly by closing my eyes and stabbing my finger at the key board.
So “B” says, with a face of pure innocence, “(Canadian giant) is a tripod”
We all look at each other, trying to hold back the smirks.
“Because he is so tall”
Laughter escapes from us all. “B” spent the rest of the trip hiding her face behind her hands.
Good times, good times.
And that is all now.
See you at the next overdose. May dye my hair black and read crappy poetry beforehand.
The Reverend Doktor Bob