November 18, 2009

Another Friday random ten

Just cuz.

1) Slaughter In Robot Village - FM
2) Stick With Me Baby - Robert Plant & Alison Krause
3) Rock The Casbah - The Clash
4) Shame - Eurythmics
5) Hard To Handle - The Black Crowes
6) Jesse - Joan Baez
7) Dreams - The Laws
8) Little Red Rooster - Willie Dixon
9) Dance On A Volcano - Genesis
10) Long Way From Gone - The Laws

Interesting that, in choosing 125 songs at random from among over 6300, iTunes selected four songs from the same artist: The Laws - two in the first ten, and from the same album.

note: this has been sitting in my test journal since September. I can't even keep this blog updated regularly when I've got finished posts already in the pipe. Sad, really.

November 03, 2009

Six years of secret Santa hints

This will only be significant - or even comprehensible - to four or five of my dozen or so regular readers, but I wanted somewhere to put it so that I could link to it from elsewhere, so here it is. secret santa sign-up/hints Q&A, 2003-2009:


I prefer a more contemporary spelling system, so I'll just refer to our organizational elf as:
The Mail Man

1. What is your age range?

I don't want to be too specific, but I'm somewhere between 38 and 39.

2. Gender?

Maille(ok, so I'm not as clever as I like to think.)

3. Do you have a favorite color?

No. Colour is good.

4. Favorite authors/ type of book?

Fantasy/Science Fiction, but I'm picky.

5. What books have you really been wanting?

Can't think of one.

6. What type of music do you like?

Really picky here too. I only listen to Hard Rock, Rap, Classical, Jazz, Flamenco Guitar, Inuit Pop, Celtic, and South American Zydeco music.

7. What cds have you really been wanting?

Can't think of any of those, either. I'm kinda an impulse CD shopper.

8. What movies have you been wanting? (Specify DVD or VHS and region code)

Kinda thinkin' about The Nightmare Before Christmas (region 1)(widescreen only), but no nevermind.

9. What is your t-shirt size?

Large. Well, really medium, but you know how T-shirts go. Definitely not XL.

10. Do you collect anything? if so, what?

Antique cameras, just in case my secret Santa wins the lottery just before he/she shops for me.

11. What are some of your other hobbies?

Well, curling. Who'da thunk it? Um. BBQ. Sure, yeah, BBQ. And B&W photography.

12. Do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry?


13. Do you have any food allergies or serious dislikes?

No food allergies. I really, really, really don't like today's crop of Saturday morning cartoons.

14. Anything else you think your Secret Santa should know?

The older I get, the more concerned I am with nose hair.


1. what is your age range? without being too specific, approximately 39 years, 8 months.

2. gender? 19, 20, 21! Male.

3. Do you have a favorite color? No.

4. favorite authors/ type of book? Mostly science fiction. Big fan of Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, David Brin, Orson Scott Card...

5. what books have you really been wanting? Medea: Harlan's World.
Ringworld's Children or Scatterbrain by Larry Niven
Kiln People or Life Happens by David Brin

6. what type of music do you like? Almost every known form of music. Except country. And opera. I enjoy hearing traditional music from all over the world.

7. what cds have you really been wanting? Is the new Lee Aaron CD out yet? Why, yes it is.

8. What movies have you been wanting? (Specify format and region) I Still think the DVD (North American widescreen release) of A Nightmare Before Christmas would be cool.

9. what is your t-shirt size? Is there more than one? Large, I guess.

10. do you collect anything? if so, what? If I don't come up with a gift for my wife that beats what I sent to Daisyjane last year, I'll be collecting bad mojo for some time to come

11. what are some of your other hobbies? writing, watching TV, napping.

12. do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry? my jewelry quota is currently filled.

13. please include anything else you feel is important that would help your secret santa know what you would like. I absolutely loved Clinton's inclusion of the concept of the 'mathom' last year.

Remember that "negative hints" such as allergies might also be helpful. I got nuthin'

Ho! Ho! Ho!


1. What is your age? 40...ish

2. Male or Female? Male. At least I was when I filled out this survey last year. Don't think anything has changed.

3. Do you have a favourite color? Yes

4. Favourite authors/Type of book? Um...kinda obvious, no?

5. What books have you really been wanting? I've been looking to dive into Dunnett, but have not yet taken the plunge. Also, something in a skeptical vein might be interesting, like Sagan, or Dawkins.

6. What type of music do you like? I'm pretty much a huge music fan. The older I get, the less exclusive I become. If you like it, I'll likely like it.

7. What cd's have you really been wanting? A new Loreena McKennitt CD, but unless you can persuade her to start recording again, it's probably not gonna happen.

8. What movies have you been wanting? DVD(include region code) or VHS (NTSC or PAL) I'd love the Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition DVD (NTSC, region 1)

9. What is your t-shirt size? L

10. Do you collect anything? If so, what? Antique cameras. Artwork is cool.

11. Do you collect things from other countries? There are other countries?

12. What are some of your other hobbies? Curling...I need a new hogs' hair push broom. Or a beer mug that says Scots do it with 44lb. rocks.

13. Do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry? Gold

14. Please include anything else you feel is important that would help your Secret Santa know what you would like. I (heart) my dog. The cats I can take or leave. Also, mathoms rule!

15. Do you have any food allergies? Nothing has killed me so far, but something in Italy made me break out in spots. My wife thinks it was the peaches.

16. Full mailing address (Include real name)Has been sent to our seasonal elf.

17. What is your username? Um, isn't it at the top of the post? If it's too much trouble to scroll up to it, Robin_of_Lox.

Merry Christmas to come.


1. What is your age range?
I am several months short of being "the answer."

2. Gender?

3. Do you have a favorite color?

4. Favorite authors/ type of book?

5. What books have you really been wanting?
I have recently thought I might like to do some reading on skeptical topics. Sagan or Dawkins come to mind.

6. What type of music do you like?
Music. Recently I've been enjoying folk and traditional music, but it's hard, really, to go wrong. Classical. Blues. Jazz. Good old fashioned Rock 'n' Roll.

7. What CDs have you really been wanting?
That new Sting album of Lute music sounds really cool. No, I'm not kidding. Also been eyeing Rachelle Van Zanten, Kelly Trottier, April Verch, and Eileen Laverty since seeing them all at the Ottawa folk festival.

8. What movies have you been wanting? What region DVDs can you view?
Region 1 (North America). Got a hurt on for the new Battlestar Galactica series, but that's a little bit too dear for this venue.

9. What is your t-shirt size?
Men's large. Medium in real clothes, but T-shirts are different.

10. Do you collect anything? if so, what?
Abusive letters from indignant astrologers and creationists. Antique cameras. Withering looks of scorn from my cat. You know, the normal things.

11. What are some of your other hobbies?
Curling. Golf. Poking astrologers and creationists.

12. Do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry?
I have all the jewelry I'll ever wear.

13. Please include anything else you feel is important that would help your secret santa know what you would like.
In the sprit of this event, mathoms and hand made items are greatly appreciated. Things from where you are, or that represent what you are. It's the participation and interaction that count here, not the gift itself.


What is your username? Robin_of_lox

What is your age range? 42-42

Gender? Male

Do you have a favorite color? Yes

Favorite authors/ type of book? SF/Fantasy. Right now I have a hankering for all things Scalzi (I already have Old Man's War). Also would love some Sagan (non-fiction), particularly The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

What books have you really been wanting? Oops, see above.

What type of music do you like? Music.

What CDs/music have you really been wanting? Any of the Johnny Cash "American Recordings" series.

What movies have you been wanting? What region DVDs can you view? Meh. Not so much.

What is your t-shirt size? M or L. Mostly L.

Do you collect anything? If so, what? Antique cameras. Extra pounds.

What are some of your other hobbies? Writing on my blog. Curling. Unappreciated acerbic wit.

Do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry? Meh, not so much.

Do you have any food allergies or serious dislikes? No.

Please include anything else you feel is important that would help your Secret Santa know what you would like. Mathoms are good. Homemade stuff is good. Fun is good.


What is your username? Robin_of_lox

What is your age range? I am no longer the answer.

Gender? In a binary world, I'd be a one, not a zero.

Do you have a favorite color? Yes.

Favorite authors/ type of book? SF/Fantasy (duh!) Recently reading skeptical and scientific non-fiction a bit. Got The God Delusion last year and enjoyed it.

What books have you really been wanting? The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. John Scalzi's The Last Colony. Is it too early to start the new Thomas Covenant series?

What type of music do you like? Just about everything. No country.

What CDs/music have you really been wanting? Arc Angels, Haywire, and more recent, Haley Westenra, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Georgie Auld, Armik. Just some artists I've written down while listening to Pandora.

What movies have you been wanting? What region DVDs can you view? Region 1, I believe (North America). Nothing specific on my want list here, but I'm open to suggestion.

What is your t-shirt size? L

Do you collect anything? If so, what? Antique Cameras, unapproving stares, waistline inches.

What are some of your other hobbies? Curling, picking on the credulous.

Do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry? Don't really wear much.

Do you have any food allergies or serious dislikes? No. I'm an adventurous eater. No bugs.

Please include anything else you feel is important that would help your Secret Santa know what you would like. Mathoms are good. Really, it's the thought that counts.


What is your username? Same as it ever was.

What is your age range? Fo-di-fo.

Gender? Maniscule

Do you have a favorite color? Blue - no Yellow - Aaaaaahhh!

Favorite authors/type of book? Haven't really been reading much lately.

What books have you really been wanting? Something by Carl Sagan or James Randi would be fun. Also, if you could contact Ricardo Pinto, and give him a smack upside the head and tell him to hurry up and finish the third book of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon series, that would be good.

What type of music do you like? Music. Like music much much lots. No country or opera. Pretty much anything else is fair game. Wait - if John Scalzi likes it I probably think it's stupid.

What CDs/music have you really been wanting? Nothing specific comes to mind right now. I'm open to trying new things.

What movies have you been wanting? What region DVDs can you view? Region 1 (North America). I got The Nightmare Before Christmas last year, so that's out.

What is your t-shirt size? L.

Do you collect anything? If so, what? Richmond Hill Curling Club Sinner's Brier commemorative mugs. Fat lips for my smart mouth. You know, stuff.

What are some of your other hobbies? Curling.

Do you prefer gold-tone or silver-tone jewelry? Not really a jewelry kind of guy.

Do you have any food allergies or serious dislikes? No. Well, OK, I'm pretty averse to homeopaths and astrologers.

Please include anything else you feel is important that would help your Secret Santa know what you would like. As in previous years, mathoms and regional items are fun. Homemade is cool. Stuff like that.

October 29, 2009

Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot - Halloween Edition

In this week's Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot, Carly invites us to post pictures based upon a Halloween theme. For extra credit, she says:

Show me a GHOST. A real one. A Fake one. Any old GHOST will do! Feel free to use your photo editing software if you like. The spookier the better! Scare me please!

Never having been one to be hung up on doing things in the right order, I chose to dive right into the extra credit question - mostly because it gave me a chance to dust off one of my old skeptical articles from the original Aurora Walking Vacation blog. Herewith, I am pleased to present a repost of a piece first published on Thursday, February 10, 2005. Boo!


  The other day on a message board I was accused of ridiculing somebody for my reply to their post offering spirit photography lessons. I wrote a fairly long and detailed reply offering up my expertise on the subject right there on the board, without people having to resort to taking some kind of formal lessons. Apparently, I stepped on somebody's toes, because my post was taken down by the powers that be in short order. A lesson learned. Far be it from me to impinge upon somebody's ability sell themselves and their 'talents' on AOL's message board system.

  Here, however, is an entirely different matter. In my personal journal, I can chose to make my expertise available to all for free if I so choose.

  I so choose. Herewith, find attached evidence of my mad spirit photography skillz. I have 'em. You can have 'em too. This entry shows the evidence. If there is interest, I will do another entry detailing my methods.

  An introductory note: All of the photographs in this entry are (with the exception of one) taken by me, and, other than some cropping and resizing for editorial purposes, unmanipulated. No photoshopping here. These are pictures of actual phenomena.

  First, let me introduce you to Matthew. Many of you, if you have been reading me for a while, have heard me mention his name. You may even have seen a picture or two of him here from time to time. Little known to us, Matthew has a guardian spirit who helps him with his homework. I have taken hundreds of pictures of Matthew before, and never before seen anything like this before. However, I had never before taken a picture of him doing homework before. Yesterday I did, and got this.


  It looks like, in this picture, there is a spirit of some kind hovering over Matt's head as he does his homework. In fact, if you look close enough you can see what looks like fingers reaching out to touch his head; almost as if some kind of otherworldly knowledge were being imparted to him. This may explain many of his teacher's comments regarding Matthew's homework assignments. Obviously, the answers he is providing are simply beyond her ability to comprehend.
  I enhanced the above photo with specialty software to reveal this:


  You can clearly see the otherworldly violet aura surrounding the spirit manifestation. It is in stark contrast to the more earthly colours of the rest of the photograph. You can even see that aura impacting on the hanging, potted plant in the background. I always wondered why that plant grew so well.

  A photograph taken a moment later reveals that this spirit falls into the famous spirit photography category of a vortex spirit. This appears to be a rare double vortex. Or a close up of the ghost's elbow, I'm not sure.


  One night I was in my basement, trying to take a picture of my cat. She didn't want to sit still for the picture, and was very restless. Later, when I looked at the pictures, I saw this:


  Look very carefully at the left hand side of the picture, and you will see the visible manifestation of spirit orbs. There are several to be seen in the picture, but the clearest one is right near the top of the frame. orbcloseupI have enlarged it to bring out more detail. You can clearly see a face, not unlike that of the man in the moon, on the close-up of this orb. These orbs are obviously ghosts. Due to the similarities in appearance, it is also quite clear that the moon is a ghost, too.
  I have hypothesized that these ghosts were attempting to protect my cat, when she did not want to have her picture taken by me. Due to my frequent sneezing at the time, I suspect that these were the ghosts of cats, thereby causing my allergies to flare up. On a related note, we have been erroneous in using the terminology 'the man in the moon' all these years. We should have been saying, 'the cat in the moon.'

  I was outside the other night, and happened, entirely by accident, to take a picture of the tree in my front yard. When I looked at the picture later I was amazed by the amazing colours of the colourful lights I saw.


  Look at the colourful illumination of the snow on both sides of the street. And the colourful lights in the background, behind the tree. None of these colourful lights was colourful like those colours to my eye. Obviously, the spirit world is at work here. There must be many ghosts of painters around the Aurora area.


  Look how the lights in this close up appear to be dancing around the telephone pole. In colours.

 What AWV entry would be complete without a picture of the redoubtable Shadow? Here he is with a piece of garden edging in his mouth. Somehow, he managed to tear this up out of ground that was frozen solid during our -30 degree cold snap a couple of weeks ago. It was originally about twenty five feet long. This is what is left. As you can see, of any member of our family, Shadow attracts more spirit attention than any other. They are drawn to the young, and cute.
  This picture shows Shadow surrounded by ghostly orbs. There are dozens of them in view, maybe hundreds, and remarkably, every single one of them unique. Not a one exactly like any other. (It's because they used to be people, and people are all different).


  Finally, here are two astounding pictures of spirit phenomena. I have saved the best for last. I have elected to link to the pictures rather than post them here so I could show them at a larger size, the better to view fine details. The first example is a picture I took in my back yard one January evening. I was standing there, doing nothing, minding my own business, with a digital camera in my hand, when I inexplicably started feeling cold. I suspected there was a spirit, or ghost nearby. Breathing heavily with fear, and fear, I raised the camera and snapped a few frames.  The first picture is here: . In this picture, one can see the bio-thermal pulmono-exhalatory cloud as it coalesces. If you look very carefully, you can just make out the outlines of a face.
  The second picture was taken a moment later, but still slightly too early. The carbondioxygenic vapourous apparition had not yet fully formed. Yet, the image is unmistakable. It is still quite fuzzy, but you can clearly see that this is the spirit of a young woman wearing a hat. .
  I am left to wonder; who was this woman? When did she walk this earth? What is she doing in my back yard?

  I would like to close this topic with a short statement. We at Aurora Walking Vacation are on a quest for the truth, and are interested in an open minded examination of these phenomena. We invite all discussion, as long as it agrees with our views. Be advised that anyone who suggests there are rational, scientific explanations for our results will find their closed-minded comments immediately deleted, and their rude, harassing asses banned from making subsequent comments. Furthermore, we may complain about them on the message board and threaten to report them to AOL, the police, the F.B.I., and our Alien Overlords. Remember, open minded means, "in agreement with my point of view."

A few notes:

1) This post is made in memory of Lahoma Taylor, A.K.A. MzGoochi, who was alive when that last picture was taken, but was subsequently taken from us by cancer.

2) I left the text form of the last two links as they were. However, AOL Hometown, and the domain no longer exist, and the photographs are now hosted on my Flickr account.

3) If you like, you can visit the archived version of this article at Some of the comments are interesting.

4) Happy Halloween.

October 23, 2009

Lime and limpid green, a second scene.

And now we present several species of small furry animals gathered together in a cave and grooving with a pict.

I'm a little farklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: there is no dark side of the Moon really ... as a matter of fact it's all dark. Discuss.

October 21, 2009

Visit a Chiropractor... could be the last medical appointment you ever make.

Talk about truth in advertising! There's a tagline the various Chiropractic Associations could use in all honesty. Although, in all honesty, the truth of it is somewhat more sinister than the headline might suggest on the surface.

A recent article by J.D. Haines in eSkeptic, the electronic newsletter of the Skeptics' Society, takes on Chiropracty, and Haines doesn't pull any punches. He begins by relating the story of Kristi Bedenbaugh, who visited her Chiropractor in the hopes of getting relief from a serious sinus headache. She died of a stroke caused directly by the Chiropractic manipulation of her spine.

Haines goes on to systematically dismantle the claims of efficacy made by Chiropractic for the treatment of any medical contition. Any condition whatsoever.

Some choice quotations from the article:

...however rare the incidence of adverse outcome, the risk always outweighs any perceived benefit. There is no medically proven benefit whatsoever to chiropractic manipulation of the cervical spine.

The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics stated on May 27, 2002, “For neck and low back pain, trials have not demonstrated an unequivocal benefit of chiropractic spinal manipulation over physical therapy and education.” The report continues: “Repeated reports of arterial dissection and stroke associated with cervical spine manipulation and cauda equina syndrome associated with manipulation of the lower back suggest a cause and effect relationship.”

As practiced today, chiropractic is a threat to public health.

I strongly suggest you click through to read the rest of the article. And, I also strongly suggest that your take your Chiropractor's phone number off your speed dial. No matter how strongly you believe that he or she has helped you in the past, do you really want to risk the possibility that your next Chiropractic appointment will be your last...ever?

October 14, 2009

My new favourite skeptical quotation...

I have a text file full of quotations I like. I have picked them up here and there over several years of internet surfing. Most of them, as you might imagine, are of a skeptical nature. There are well over a hundred of them, so far. Maybe as many as a hundred and fifty. I use them as Facebook status updates every few days, you know - just to piss people off.

Today I added a new favourite to the file, from comic artist Wiley Miller, who writes the well know Non Sequitur comic. In Monday's comic this week, he writes, ""Stupid is a condition. Ingnorance is a choice." Click through to see the context. So true, in so many different ways.

I'm off to update my Facebook status.

September 22, 2009

Comments revisited

I have just approved eight comments that were sitting in the moderation queue - some of them for over two months. Clearly I am not all that good with this whole comment moderation thing. The blog was only asking for moderation on comments on posts older than fourteen days, but with my current blogging activity rate, that has, at times, included everything, even the most recent entry here. I have decided to remove the comment moderation requirement, and just go with the captcha method of spam comment prevention for now. We'll see how it goes. That may well be enough.

If you've commented and been disappointed in not receiving a reply, I apologize. Thanks for coming by, and I hope you'll be back again to allow me to make ammends.

September 18, 2009

A Friday random ten

Here are the first ten songs randomly selected by iTunes to populate my iPod today:

1) See How I Miss You - Bruce Cockburn
2) Subculture - New Order
3) Children And All That Jazz - Joan Baez
4) Aranjuez - Robert Michaels
5) Practice What You Preach - Barry White
6) Someone That You're With - Nickelback
7) 4:39 AM (For The First Time Today - Part 2) - Roger Waters
8) Cum On Everybody - Eminem
9) Alien (Live Version) - Bush
10) Right Hand Man - Joan Osborne

An interesting collection of songs, I thought. Have an interesting weekend, everybody.

September 16, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - R

illum_r is for rock. I've touched on the rock in several previous entries, including 'A', where I discuss a rock's origins; 'I', in which I mention the rock's unique shape, and 'L', which treats the way a rock interacts with the ice when it is in motion. Finally, the rock gets to be the star of its very own entry.

<- Start at the beginning.

Up next: S is for...

September 15, 2009

A little bit of decorating

We recently repainted the living room/dining room area in our house. By recently, I mean, last summer. Since then we've been slowly picking away at this design element, and that accessory, and the other piece of furniture. The new couch arrived last week (and when I say arrived, I mean, we borrowed my father-in-law's van and went to Sears to pick it up ourselves). Prior to that, Pat had nabbed a large mirror for the wall above the couch from one of those discount home stores for some stupid stupid low price. I think it was regular fifty nine dollars, on sale for twenty nine dollars, on clearance for seventeen-fifty. Looks awesome, and no one notices the teeny little crack in the bottom corner. (Or, you know, if they do, I hit them over the head with a big stick, drag them down into the basement, and brick them up behind a wall.)

The one thing we had the hardest time with was deciding what to do with the long wall that runs the full length of both the living room and the dining room. Finally, we decided to create a photo mosaic of multiple smaller pictures, rather than try to find larger, affordable (key, that) prints to hang. I dusted off the CD full of pictures I took during our trip to Italy four years ago, and we made a run to IKEA to pick up a gaggle (herd? pride? clutch? flock? drove? brood?) of frames, in a variety of sizes.

Here is the result:

Photo Mosaic

You can click on the picture to go to my Flickr photostream, where you can look at a larger version of this picture, and all of the photographs we used to fill the frames. You know, if you want.

September 01, 2009

Don't click this link!

Today I signed in to Facebook to find a message telling me that one of my "friends" had posted a link on my wall. It was a You Tube link with the title, "WOW Video!" I was about to click on it to see what video this "friend," Kathryn, was sending me. Before I could, though, my skeptical radar kicked in, and I hesitated. Why would Kathryn, who is the older sister of a guy I was sorta friends with, on and off, in public school, more than thirty years ago be sending me a link to a video with no note of explanation attached? I mean, I knew her, and all, but we "friended" each other on Facebook because of that "friend" suggest feature: she was a "friend" of a "friend" of someone who was a "friend" of one of my "friends"...or something like that. But since we "friended" each other, we haven't actually exchanged two words. (Hi Kathryn - there, that's two).

I have this little habit I have developed over several years of web surfing. Before I click any link, I hover my mouse over it first, and look at the bottom left corner of my browser to see if the actual URL is the same as the one presented to my mouse. In this case, it was - no flag there - or was there? Sure it was a web address that had the words, "youtube," in it, but YouTube addresses all start with youtube dot com slash something, something, something. In this link, the 'youtube' was later in the address, with a bunch of random numbers in front of it. But Facebook pages are wierd, they embed other links within them all the time. I clicked on the link.

I did it, I clicked the link. I was lucky. It took me to a page titled, "Facebook Video," with a little video window on the left, and a picture of my "friend" on the right, and a message that said, Kathryn wants you to see this video. But the little video screen was black, with a message in it that said, "you must upgrade to the latest version of Flash to see this video. Click here to upgrade." I...almost clicked there to upgrade. Two things saved me. First, I have a teenaged son who uses YouTube on a daily basis. I'd seen him using it yesterday. I mean, it's possible that my Flash player needed an upgrade from yesterday to today, but that skeptical radar was buzzing again. I did my little hover the mouse trick again, and noted that clicking the link in question would download a file called setup.exe - a perfectly reasonable thing for an upgrade link to point to. I almost clicked the link. I didn't click. I have this pathological fear of exe files.

I started adding up all the little warning signs in my head, and they added up to, "danger, Will Robinson!" I deleted the link from my wall, and headed over to Kathryn's profile page to ask her if she, indeed, had sent me the link intentionally. And I wasn't the first. There were seven comments before mine, all saying, "hey! Why'd you send me a virus?"

Chalk one up for skeptical radar.

August 18, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - Q

illum_q is for Queen of Hearts. In the 1990s the hearts of curlers everywhere were captured by an attractive, outgoing, and talented woman by the name of Sandra Schmirler. Over a six year period, from 93-98, Schmirler guided her team of Jan Betker, Joan McCusker, and Marcia Gudereit to three Canadian Championship titles, three World Championship titles, and an Olympic gold medal. They were perhaps the first women's team to dominate the sport in a significant way, and certainly one of the first women's teams to become strong ambassadors for the sport. To this day, they are considered to be among the best women's teams to ever play the game.

Sandra Schmirler succumbed to cancer in 2000, at the too-young age of 36. She left behind a loving husband and two young children. She is remembered as The Queen of (the Scott Tournament of) Hearts.

<- Start at the beginning.

July 29, 2009

Beware the spinal trap

I'm joining a large group of skeptical activist bloggers around the world today in reposting an article written by Simon Singh in the UK about Chiropractic "medicine." Simon wrote a fully factual article about the complete lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of chiropractic in treating non-spine related conditions, like colic. (No, I'm not joking. Some chiropractors actually claim to be able to treat colic via chiropractic spinal adjustment. Frightening, isn't it?)

Mr. Singh, for his efforts, prompted the British Chiropractic Association to provide evidence for their claims-

-no, wait, that's not what they did-

-oh, yes, they sued him for libel. Once again, I am not joking.

British libel laws being what they are (guilty until proven innocent - I swear this is not a comedy piece, the burden lies upon Mr. Singh to prove his case, even though he is the defendant), no one would have blamed Mr. Singh for retreating in the face of a large group with deep pockets able to fund hot-shot lawyers. That is not what happened. Mr. Singh has appealed the initial judgement against him, and is taking his fight - at great personal cost and risk - to a higher court. In support, I, and hundreds of other bloggers have agreed to repost the article that started the entire kerfuffle. Note that minor changes have been made to the article on the advice of legal counsel in order to prevent the BCA from adding more defendants to their suit. Should you wish to read the unedited version of the article, you can do so, I am told, at Respectful Insolence.

(via Skepchick)

(10:02PM - edited to add: Go here to read an excellent article on this situation by Ben Goldacre, science writer for UK newspaper The Guardian.)

Beware the Spinal Trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

July 06, 2009

New commenting practices at AWV

Due to a recent spate of spam commenting, in Japanese no less - I had to use Google Translate to find out how I could increase my "male performance" - I have been forced to institute a couple of new measures here at Aurora Walking Vacation. First is the "captcha" system. All commenters will be required to enter the verification word. I'm sure you've seen this system in use at many blogs. It is intended to defeat automatic commenting bots by requiring human eyes to read and interpret an image of a word, rather than a piece of text. Second, comments on posts older than fourteen days will be moderated. I will have to approve those comments before they appear on the blog, so if you are leaving a comment on an older entry, don't be alarmed when it doesn't show up immediately.

I regret having to do this, but it's better for me than spending fifteen minutes every day deleting spam posts.

July 04, 2009

15 books

The rules, as passed to me by Jaquandor: This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Only 15...

1) Lord of the Rings (Duh!)

2) Dune et al. (There are so many layers to these)

3) Gulliver's Travels (the full book is so much more than what most of us are familiar with from the abridged children's versions)

4) Don Quixote (made me laugh out loud - several times)

5) Tigana (not my first Guy Kay book, but my favourite)

6) Tesseracts (a collection of Canadian science fiction, most notable to me for its inclusion of the story Hinterlands by William Gibson - by far the most powerful thing he has ever written)

7) The Bible (because, well, just because)

8) Slaughterhouse Five (so it goes)

9) Science Fiction Hall of Fame (a collection of classic short SF published in 1970 - my copy is falling apart it has been so regularly thumbed through)

10) Norstrilia (The residents of Old North Australia made their immense fortunes raising gigantic mutant sheep. Their planetary defence system is called Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons. You kinda gotta read it to get it.)

11) 1984 (instilled in me a healthy distrust of bureaucracy)

12) The Tree of Swords and Jewels (not sure why, but I've always remembered this C.J. Cherryh book fondly)

13) The various and sundry works comprising Larry Niven's 'Known Space' opus (which most notably includes Ringworld)

14) The Chosen (Ricardo Pinto has created one of the most detailed worlds I've ever come across)

15) A Wizard of Earthsea (probably one of the first fantasy novels I ever read)

I tagged people on facebook, from whence this came, so I'm not tagging here. But if you want to, by all means. Let me know you did, so I can come see.

June 26, 2009

Today's Headlines

Sources are reporting the death of an unidentified 50 year old man due to heart failure. His friends and family say he was taken before his time.

In unrelated news, hundreds of young men in their late twenties and early thirties are celebrating their sudden release from decades old non-disclosure agreements...

June 22, 2009

An open letter to C.W. Coops, Aurora location

Dear ownership and management of C.W. Coops restaurant, in Aurora, Ontario,

I visited your establishment this past Friday evening, at 8:23P.M. I know exactly what time it was because I took my cellphone out and put it on the table in front of me as I sat down, in case my son or my wife called during what I expected was going to be my evening repast. I only mention it because it will become important later on. Stick with me.

While I wouldn't exactly call myself a regular, I have visited your restaurant several times, both with my family and alone. We quite enjoy your chicken wings, and always spend several minutes agonizing over which of your 100 flavours of wings to choose. We have yet to be disappointed with our selection.

On this occasion, however, that decision was not going to factor into the equation - for a couple of reasons. First, I was in a bit of a hurry, and had already decided what I was going to order before I sat down. The second reason I'll get to in a moment. Honest.

I noticed that you weren't too busy that evening. Less than 25% capacity I would estimate. Now, maybe it was in between rushes for you; the dinner crowd having already left, and the Friday night partiers yet to arrive. Still, it was Friday evening, and the Blue Jays were playing, and you are, to some extent, a sports bar. I was surprised to see how empty the place was.

And yet... And yet, when I picked up my cellphone again, and looked at it, five minutes had passed, and I had yet to be served. Served? Heck, I had yet to even be acknowledged. I don't think either of the two waitresses/bartenders had even noticed me come in, or seen me sitting there, slowly starving to death.

I call them waitresses/bartenders because I am not sure which of them, if either, were which. I did not see either of them actually come out from behind the bar at any time I was in the restaurant. Oops, that was a bit of a hint, wasn't it? You can probably see where I'm going, now, can't you?

Yeah, when my cellphone told me it was 8:33P.M. - I had been there for ten full minutes and had not been spoken to, or even looked at by any staff member in the place in all that time - I got up and walked out the door. I was watching the girls behind the bar as I went. Just as neither of them took notice of my arrival, they didn't see me leave either. So, they're not in a position to advise you of the lost revenue they are responsible for. They didn't even give themselves the chance to find out if I'm a good tipper, or not.

I got in my car and drove two minutes up the road to the other wing place in town - I'm sure you know the one. Their wings aren't really what they used to be, and they just have the one flavour. But, you know what? Less than a minute after I sat down, there was a waitress at my table. In a span of time short enough that it has to be measured in seconds, my food order was being taken. Less than two minutes after I walked in the door, there was a cold beer in my hand, and I was eating wings and fries less than eight minutes later. Sure, they weren't Jamaican dry jerk, or smokey maple, or any other unique flavour. But they were hot, they were fresh, and they were on the table in front of me in less time than it took me to get fed up and walk out of your establishment.

In these difficult economic times, customers can seem like a dwindling resource. Certainly, the other place wasn't any busier than you were. But they were definitely doing all the things they knew how to do to make sure they got full value from the customers they had.

Now, I'm not saying I'm never coming back to your place. As I've mentioned, we like your wings. And let's be honest, if I'd already written you off, I wouldn't be taking the time to write this. I only criticize because I care. I'm just saying, a little pep talk might do wonders for your staff, and your customer retention. 'Cause I gotta tell ya, if I have a similar experience there again, and my family's with me, that will be the end of it. The wife and the teenager are less likely to get up and walk out unserved, but they are much more likely to reject the idea of second chances.

I hope you receive this in the spirit in which it is offered, and look at it as an opportunity to instruct your staff.


Paul Little
Aurora, Ontario

June 21, 2009

A Fathers' Day random ten

It's not Friday, but here is a random, random ten for you. These are the first ten songs randomly selected by iTunes to populate my iPod on this fine Sunday afternoon:

1) Try Honesty - Billy Talent
2) Ripples - Genesis
3) Lily (My One And Only) - Smashing Pumpkins
4) Last Song - Edward Bear
5) Vogue - Madonna
6) Waiting On A Friend - The Rolling Stones
7) These Colours Don't Run - Protest The Hero
8) Bring Me To Life - Evanescence
9) Marche Funebre - Elliot Goldenthal (from the soundtrack to the movie Interview With The Vampire)
10) Flowers And Beads - Iron Butterfly

June 19, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - P

illum_p is for...well, the most important 'P' in curling is the pebble on the ice surface, but we covered that one already, under I is for ice. From a strategic point of view, 'P' is for Peel. A Peel is a take-out shot intended to remove a guard, and roll the shooter out of play. The peel is a defensive play, designed to prevent one's opponent from placing a rock behind a guard, where it is protected. Here is a very high level example:

When a team with last rock advantage plays a peel, they are attempting to prevent their opponent from hiding a rock and stealing a point without the hammer. A team without last rock who peels away guards is generally trying to hold their opponent to a single point that end and get the hammer back with minimum cost.

It is widely felt that Kevin Martin's Team Canada lost the 2009 World Curling Championship by neglecting to play the peel shots early in the tenth end of the final game against Scotland. The shot Kevin needed to make on his last rock to win the championship was a guard.

<- Start at the beginning.

June 17, 2009

Isn't her fifteen minutes up yet?

It is completely beyond me why anyone is still talking about the whole Letterman-Palin joke issue. I can't imagine why Dave felt it necessary to issue a public apology, much less two. I mean, Sarah, really. When you join the American political process at such a high level, you become a target for these guys. When you involve your family in as public a manner as you did, you become a wider target. When you demonstrate, by word and by deed, that you are hopelessly out of touch with the real world, that you are, effectively, a moron, you become an easy target. When you demonstrate, by word and by deed, that you are a hypocrite, you become a juicy target. When you moan and whine about it, you become...well, quite frankly, you become a bit pathetic. And when you make the mistake of thinking that everything is about you, it just becomes a little bit sad. Because, let's be honest, Sarah. You and your family were convenient comedic accessories, but that joke was aimed at Alex Rodriguez. And you don't hear him crying about it, do you?

June 16, 2009

Homeopathy Awareness Week

The British Homeopathic Association has declared the week of June 14-21 Homeopathy Awareness Week. In the spirit of doing my part in raising awareness of exactly what homeopathy is, I would like to present to you an article I wrote in the original AWV blog on AOL back in May of 2006. Enjoy.

   The results of my poll (Ed. poll results no longer available - Thanks, AOL) about homeopathic medicine were very close to an even split between those who think there might be something to it, and those who think it's nonsense. It was pretty much as I expected, with the only difference being that I thought more people would weigh in on the side of homeopathy than against it.
   The purpose of the poll was to test a theory of mine. Well, it's not really a theory,
as theories are defined. More like a hypothesis. Well, really, it's just a supposition.

   I suspect that many people who are willing to allow that there might be something to the claims of efficacy of homeopathic remedies have never really heard a good, clear explanation of exactly what homeopathic remedies are.

I would like to attempt to make this that clear explanation.

   The page explaining Homeopathic medicine to which I linked from my previous entry was that of the Toronto School of Homeopathy. They provide a basic explanation of the practice they teach:

...there [are] two ways of treating ill health, the way of opposites and the way of similars.

Take, for example, a case of insomnia. The way of opposites is to treat this by giving a drug to bring on an artificial sleep. This frequently involves the use of large or regular doses of drugs which can sometimes cause side-effects or addiction.

The way of similars - the homeopathic way - is to give the patient a minute dose of a substance which in large doses caused sleeplessness in a healthy person. Surprisingly this will enable the patient to sleep naturally. Because of the minute dosage no side-effects or addiction will result...
   This explanation is a little light on detail, but it does mention the two most important foundations of homeopathic medicine. The theory of similars, and the concept of minute doses. Remember those two things as our story moves along.

OK, here we go.

   Once upon a time, in a far off land, there lived a man named Samuel Hahnemann. Well, actually, the time was the end of the eighteenth century, and the land was Germany. Mr Hahnemann was a doctor, and he had a problem. His patients kept dying.
   Now don't think I'm trying in any way to impugn Dr. Hahnemann's reputation as a physician. He was an unfortunate victim of his era. People who got sick in the eighteenth century died. A lot. We are talking about a time when one of a doctor's most sophisticated treatments consisted of making a big cut in his patient, and letting the blood run out for a while.
   In fact, I believe that Dr. Hahnemann deserves a lot of credit. Unhappy with his lot...well, the lot of his patients, anyway, he was searching for more effective ways of treating them. One day, while he was working on a little side job he had picked up translating English medical papers to German, he came across a description of a native Peruvian remedy that was being used, with some success, in the treatment of malaria. The treatment consisted of an infusion brewed from the bark of a tree common to South America, called Cinchona.
   Now, you might think of malaria as being a disease of the tropics, but at that time in Europe, it was a considerable problem. Hahnemann was eager to learn more about a potential new way to help his community. He undertook to experiment with this new remedy he had read about.
   Uncomfortable with the idea of experimenting on his patients, Sam tried taking doses of the concoction himself, and found he suffered drowsiness, heart palpitations, trembling, weakness, thirst, and redness of his cheeks. The symptoms would last for several hours, and then subside. 
   Hahnemann, believing that he was experiencing malarial symptoms, made a sudden, intuitive leap. He came to the conclusion that substances that cure a disease in someone who is ill, would cause symptoms of that disease in someone who is healthy. Conversely, he thought, if he could discover substances that caused the symptoms of other diseases in healthy people, those substances would cure people who were afflicted with those diseases. The idea was that "like cures like." This is his law of similars.

   How the concept of minute doses came about is less clear. One article I read suggested that Hahnemann was dismayed to find that his homeopathic remedies did, indeed, cause unwanted, harmful reactions in his patients, and so diluted those remedies until the harmful effects stopped presenting, but I was unable to verify that account elsewhere, and it may be apocryphal.
   Whatever the reason, the fact is that Hahnemann began diluting his remedies in extreme ways. The following account of his dilution practices is from an
article written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1842.
A grain of the substance, if it is solid, a drop if it is liquid, is to be added to about a third part of one hundred grains of sugar of milk in an unglazed porcelain capsule which has had the polish removed from the lower part of its cavity by rubbing it with wet sand; they are to be mingled for an instant with a bone or horn spatula, and then rubbed together for six minutes; then the mass is to be scraped together from the mortar and pestle, which is to take four minutes; then to be again rubbed for six minutes. Four minutes are then to be devoted to scraping the powder into a heap, and the second third of the hundred grains of sugar of milk to be added. Then they are to be stirred an instant and rubbed six minutes, again to be scraped together four minutes and forcibly rubbed six; once more scraped together for four minutes, when the last third of the hundred grains of sugar of milk is to be added and mingled by stirring with the spatula; six minutes of forcible rubbing, four of scraping together, and six more (positively the last six) of rubbing, finish this part of the process.

Every grain of this powder contains the hundredth of a grain of the medicinal substance mingled with the sugar of milk. If, therefore, a grain of the powder just prepared is mingled with another hundred grains of sugar of milk, and the process just described repeated, we shall have a powder of which every grain contains the hundredth of the hundredth, or the ten thousandth part of a' grain of the medicinal substance. Repeat the same process with the same quantity of fresh sugar of milk, and every grain of your powder will contain the millionth of a grain of the medicinal substance. When the powder is of this strength, it is ready to employ in the further solutions and dilutions to be made use of in practice.

A grain of the powder is to be taken, a hundred drops of alcohol are to be poured on it, the vial is to be slowly turned for a few minutes, until the powder is dissolved, and two shakes are to be given to it. On this point I will quote Hahnemann's own words. "A long experience and multiplied observations upon the sick lead me within the last few years to prefer giving only two shakes to medicinal liquids, whereas I formerly used to give ten." The process of dilution is carried on in the same way as the attenuation of the powder was done; each successive dilution with alcohol reducing the medicine to a hundredth part of the quantity of that which preceded it. In this way the dilution of the original millionth of a grain of medicine contained in the grain of powder operated on is carried successively to the billionth, trillionth, quadrillionth, quintillionth, and very often much higher fractional divisions...
   I see, at this point, that you are skeptical. You are asking, "do you really want me to believe that homeopathic remedies have been diluted out to concentrations as low as one part per million, or more?"
   Well, yes, I do. Those are the facts of the matter. This afternoon, I took a little jaunt over to our local monster-mega-ultra-super-store, and had a look at their homeopathic medicine section. It took me a while to find it, as it was nowhere near the pharmacy. They had an impressive selection of remedies, all of them available in 6C and 30C dilutions.
   Let me explain those terms. Levels of dilution in homeopathy are represented by a number, and a letter. The number represent the number of serial dilutions a substance has undergone, and the letter represents the amount of each dilution. The letter 'X' represent a dilution in which one part of a solution is combined with nine parts of solvent, for a one-in-ten dilution. The letter 'C' a one-in-one hundred dilution.
   So, in the case of the above mentioned remedies, the term 6C means that one part of an original substance, or 'mother tincture' was diluted into 99 parts of solvent (either water or an alcohol solution). One part of the resulting mixture is then diluted into another 99 parts of solvent, creating a solution in which the original substance is present at a concentration of one part per ten thousand. This is a 2C solution. The same process is then repeated four more times, to produce a 6C dilution, in which the original substance now represents a mere one part per trillion.

   Let's pause for a minute, and think about what that means. How big is one milliliter of a liquid? Say about the size of a cube of sugar. How big is one trillion milliliters? Take a football field. Extend its width until it is as wide as it is long. Build walls around it that are as high as it is wide and long. You now have a huge cube measuring approximately one hundred meters a side. Fill it with water.  Add your sugar cube of the original substance. Stir. That is the equivalent of a 6C dilution.
   Now, take a bottle of simple sugar pills. Touch each pill with the merest fraction of a drop of that solution, and you have homeopathic medicine.
   Remember I said the remedies were also available in a 30C dilution? That represents a concentration of the original mother tincture of 1 part per 1x10 raised to the 59th power. That's a one followed by sixty zeros. To use a similar analogy as we did for the 6C dilution,, picture... No, I can't picture it.




   Sorry, I had to take a break there. I was having difficulty wrapping my head around the numbers involved in these serial dilutions. Unable to come up with an analogy to describe the 30C dilution, I went to my friend, fv, for help. Vinny, who has a university science degree sent me back this:

Take a grain of rice. Cut it in half. Cut it in half again. That is the amount of your original solution.
(Ed. The football field sized swimming pool.)

Now, take the distance from where you live to the south pole. Now think about the distance around the earth. Now think about the distance from the earth to the sun. Ok, now think about the distance from the sun to Pluto. Pretty big, huh? Ok, now think about the distance from here to the nearest star. It takes light 4.3 years (light that came from our sun when Bush was re-elected will reach that star 4 months after he leaves office) to reach that star, Proxima Centauri.

Got that? Ok now imagine a cube with each side the length of that distance. I am going to hide that crumb of rice in that cube. Try to find it...

   Wow. Big concepts. Hard to really imagine numbers that big. Here's another interesting fact. At about the 12C point in the dilution process, it becomes extremely unlikely that even one single molecule of the original medicinal ingredient still remains in the solution. At 30C it is a virtual certainty that the remedy is now comprised of 100% solvent. And yet, homeopathic practitioners maintain that it retains it's efficacy due to something they call potentisation.
   Scroll back up to that quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes. Yes, I know. It's a long way back. This is the part I want you to remember:
the powder is dissolved, and two shakes are to be given to it.
   Those shakes are important. They are what is referred to as succussion. In between each step of the dilution process, Hahnemann would succuss the solution by shaking the vial, or tapping it upon a hard but elastic surface, like the leather cover of a book. He believed that this process of succussion 'potentised' or energised the solution, counteracting the effects of the dilution. Nowhere can I find an explanation of why the succussion would retain the beneficial properties of a remedy, but not the harmful ones the dilutions were undertaken to remove.
This web page has a series of quotations referring to the practice of succussion as Hahnemann conceived of it. An example:
In the Organon, however, he stated that trituration and succussion release the ‘spirit-like power’ of the medicine - which is compatible with his assumption that medicines act through their spiritual (geistlich) or dynamic impact upon the organism.
   Here we have the basic underlying concept behind the origin of homeopathy. Samuel Hahnemann believed there was some kind of magic force acting upon the remedies he was preparing keeping them potent even after he had diluted any trace of the original ingredient out of them.
   At this point, I have to pause once more and ask you a question. Does any of this make any sense whatsoever? If you are a die hard adherent to the practice of homeopathic medicine, your answer is that is doesn't matter if it makes sense, as long as it works. Right? What do you have to say about that? Huh?
   <Best John Wayne Drawl>Well, I'll tell ya.</John Wayne> I don't have to say much at all. I'll simply let the headlines speak for me. Here is a news report detailing the results of the latest and largest clinical study of homeopathy: Homeopathy no better then placebo, says study. So, beyond the fact that it sounds silly, it just plain doesn't work.
   This is the end of my story. If you would be so good as to vote again in a poll, I would like to know how many of you, whether you believe(d) in homeopathic medicine or not, knew exactly what it was before you read this entry, and whether your opinion has changed at all.

Ed. The polls, of course, are no longer available, but if you would like to express your opinions in comments, I'm all for that.

June 02, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - O

illum_o is for Out-turn. Like any sport or activity, curling has developed its own unique terminology (as touched upon in the previous installment). The terms, out-turn and in-turn are used to describe which direction a curler turns the handle when delivering a rock. On an out-turn, the handle of the rock is turned out from the body of the thrower, and an in-turn is turned in towards the body of the thrower. Of course, that means the terms refer to different directions of spin depending on whether the thrower is right or left-handed. For a righty, the out-turn revolves counter-clockwise, and the in-turn, clockwise. For a lefty it is the opposite.

In-turns and out-turns tend to behave differently, due to differences in the way the rock is released. That means there are sometimes shots that a left-handed curler can make (with his out-turn), but right-handed curler (throwing his in-turn) cannot. And vice-versa, of course.

<- Start at the beginning.

May 05, 2009

A bunch of stuff

Role reversal?

Rebecca - also known as 'she who goes walkabout' - who blogs at Provocation of Mine(d) - from whom we are familiar with sudden, long absences from the world of blogging - has been pumping out an entry a day for over a month now.

I - who used to be good for at least three or four entries a week - am having difficulty managing three a month these days. I - in comments at Rebecca's blog - early in her 30 entries in 30 days experiment - suggested that I might try to emulate her. At some point.

What was I thinking?

Now, she's nosing around here - leaving oh-so-polite comments - sending me friendly emails - reminding me - asking me - prodding me - refusing to let me pretend I never made the comment. "When are you going to start your 30 posts in 30 days?" she queries. I can almost see her batting her eyelashes in mock innocence; hear her voice dripping with honey...and cyanide.

What can I say, Becky? My blogging output recently has suffered greatly at the hands of real life - and internet ennui. I'm not sure I can muster the wherewithall to create an entry a week, much less one a day. Let's just say I'll try to put something here more often that I have been lately and see what happens, OK?

Counting in Japanese...over and over again

The family and I have been watching the first season of Heroes on DVD. Good times.

In one recent episode - which we watched last night - our Hero - Hiro - is locked in a broom closet. The scene opens with him counting to three - in Japanese - and throwing himself at the door - over and over - which resolutely refuses to open - throwing him to the ground - over and over.

The point of my story is the counting. In Japanese. The subtitles say, "one, two, three," but Hiro says - out loud - "Ichi, ni, san..." Listening to this, I cannot help but hear the opening bars of the 80s Canadian hit song, The Second That I Saw You, by Strange Advance, that begins with a female voice counting in the song. In Japanese.

Here's a sample. Listen.

For the last twenty four hours, this song has been playing in my head. Over. And over. And over. You can have it for a while. OK?

A thing about spring

One of the things about spring that can be annoying is the dramatic temperature swing we see over the course of a day. How many of you have looked high and low for your jacket one morning, only to remember that you left it at work the day before because it was cold when you went in, but warm when you came home?

Today I had lunch on the run. I had to drive down to Richmond Hill to sign some cheques for the curling club. I'm cruising along - window down - radio playing - and about halfway there, I realize the there's hot air blowing at me from the vents. Really hot air.

This is another manifestation of spring: drive to work with the heater on full - 'cause damn, it's cold - then get halfway home that afternoon - when it's warm and sunny - before you realize you forgot to turn the heater off when you got out of the car that morning, and your shoes are melting.

Stupid spring.

That's all I got.

April 26, 2009

Movie night

Watched Slumdog Millionaire on Friday night. It was pretty good. Eight Oscars good? I can't see it. It was just another relatively enjoyable movie. I have no idea why it has received all the critical acclaim and awards. Your thoughts?

April 22, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - N

illum_n is for nose, the exact center of the curling stone (as you look at it from the hack). When a take-out shot is thrown - that is, a shot intended to hit another rock and remove it from play - and it impacts slightly off center, the thrown rock will roll one direction or the other after it makes contact. If you don't want the stone to roll away, you must hit the rock in the house "on the nose." Of course, the terminology used is fluid, and popular expressions change from year to year. A few years ago, you might have heard someone express a plan to "beak" a shot (beak being a synonym of nose). The high level curlers this year were repeatedly heard calling for a shot to hit another rock "dead nut."

If you are Jeff Stoughton, the 2009 Manitoba provincial champion and Brier runner-up, N is also for "nice." Viewers of this year's Brier were amused by Jeff's use of the word nice to describe a take-out weight call. Most teams use specific terms to describe the amount of weight to throw on a shot. Some name the spot on the rink to which they want the rock to travel, like "back eight foot," "back line," "hack" or "back board." Some use a number system, such as the number of seconds it takes a rock to travel between hog lines. The lower the number, the faster the rock is travelling. The Stoughton team this year used somewhat more nebulous terms for their hit weight calls, like "up," "regular" and "nice." I understand next year they will unveil two new hit weights: "fine" and "OK, I guess."

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April 17, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - M

illum_m is for Measurement. Sometimes, when an end of curling is finished, it is difficult to tell just whose rock is closest to the center of the rings. If it is not possible to determine by eye, a measurement is necessary.

The most common curling measuring stick is a device with a pin at one end, that rests in a hole in the exact center of the rings, a straight rod which extends past the edge of the circles, and a moveable deflection lever attached to a scale of some description (see photo). The two rocks in question are measured in turn, and the vice-skips on each team must agree which rock is closer. If a determination cannot be made with the measuring stick, both rocks cancel each other out and are removed from play, neither scoring.

A second type of measuring device is the straight stick, that is exactly six feet long - the radius of the rings. It is used to determine if a rock right at the edge of the circles is, in fact, touching the rings. In general, measurements cannot be made until the last rock of the end has been played. There is one exception to this rule. In regards to the free guard zone rule, a rock may be measured before the fourth rock of an end has been played in order to determine if it is touching the rings or not - that is, to determine if it is in the house, and thereby able to be removed by another rock, or in the free guard zone, and protected against hits.

In general club and bonspiel play, measurements are conducted by the vice-skip of each team. In official events sanctioned by state/provincial or national associations, measurements are conducted by officials. By officials, of course, I mean volunteers who may or may not have received adequate training.

In one notorious incident during the 2002 Brier, an official attempted to measure a rock using a measuring device that was improperly set up, which resulted in them moving the rock they were trying to measure. As you can surmise, hilarity did not ensue. The end had to be replayed. Said the official involved (according to reliable sources), "it wasn't my fault."*

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*In fairness to the official in question, Joe Potter, he wasn't the one who assembled the measuring stick improperly in the first place. It's easy to say he should have noticed it wasn't set up correctly before he attempted the measurement, but those saying that have never had to perform a measurement in a game-on-the-line situation on national television before. I intended no disrespect to Joe with the last sentence of this entry. I just can't resist the opportunity to include a Star Wars reference in any blog post. My thanks to George Karrys of The Curling News, and TCN Blog for his research and remeniscences of the incident.

April 16, 2009

The Jenny McCarthy Body Count

One of the biggest stories in the skeptical world in 2008 was the ascension of Jenny McCarthy to the role of chief talking head for the anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue, an anti-science organization dedicated to the chimera of "Biomedical" treatment of autism spectrum disorders. I wrote a blog article mentioning Ms. McCarthy after her visit to Toronto about a year ago that received some positive feedback from the autism community, including a complimentary email from a Dr. Samuel Wang, Ph.D., a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University.

In the comments of that entry, Beth made an important point about the consequences of failing to vaccinate one's child:

...people seem to be conveniently forgetting that these vaccines prevent infections that can kill. These are not just little infections that kids will fight off, these can be killers, and they can run rampant in an unvaccinated population.
Beth's comment turned out to be prescient, as the news over the last year has been full of reports of outbreaks of diseases we used to think were nothing but distant memories from our grandparents' time. The number of reported cases of measles in the USA in 2008 was almost triple the average annual number of cases for the preceding four years. Measles. Seriously.

You may think that's no big deal. Many people think of measles the way they think of chicken pox, or rubella, but that's an error. Measles is in no way as innocuous as those diseases. Complications from measles can result in blindness, brain damage, and even death. And because of people like Jenny McCarthy, and the anti-vaccine militia at Generation Rescue, vaccination rates in North America are plummeting. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

The reported rates of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths in the United States has risen over the last two years, and a reduction in vaccination rates has definitely played a part in that. And Jenny McCarthy openly and vocally encourages people to not vaccinate their children. Dr, Steven Novella and the crew from The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe put it very bluntly late last year when they said, "Jenny McCarthy has a body count."

Now, another member of the online skeptical community has taken that quote and run with it, creating the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website, at which he keeps a weekly running tally of all vaccine preventable diseases and vaccine preventable deaths in the USA since Ms. McCarthy began spreading anti-vaccine bullshit in June of 2007. To the right, in my blog sidebar, you can see the Jenny McCarthy Body Count Widget, which will automatically update the tally each time the website does. Of course, Jenny McCarthy is not directly responsible for all of those illnesses and deaths. Perhaps not even any of them. But as each and every one of those illnesses and deaths were preventable by the simple act of proper vaccination, she does bear the burden of some indirect responsibility due to her anti-vaccine campaign.

I have reproduced the relevant portion of the blog article I wrote on the topic last April below for your further reading pleasure.

originally published April 15, 2008

But She Was On Oprah, So She Has To Be Right
Also back in March, former model Jenny McCarthy was in Toronto for the Holistic World Expo, and spouting her load of nonsense about Autism and Vaccines to anyone who would listen. Toronto Sun columnist Michele Mandel wrote what started out to be quite a rational and skeptical
article on the subject, saying:
According to McCarthy, the recent alarming rise in autism -- as high as one in 150 children -- is directly tied to the increasingly heavy childhood vaccination schedule that began in the 1990s...

The scary thing is that no one in this town's goo-goo-eyed media bothered to challenge her controversial stand...

The scientific evidence, though, is pretty conclusive. The oft-touted link between autism and vaccination has been examined to death and endless studies have concluded there is no connection.
Somewhere along the way, however, Mandel lost the script.
So I was all prepared to completely discount the 35-year-old crusader and her Internet science. But it turns out that part of her message may actually have something to it. McCarthy credits a complete change in diet for helping to "cure" her son of his autism. After removing wheat and casein (found in milk) and adding vitamins and supplements, she noticed a dramatic change in just six months. "I do know I undid the damage that was done by vaccines," she told one local morning show, "and healed the body. You heal the body and you heal the mind and then he was able to function in society."
Mandel appears to accept McCarthy's statement at face value, leaving all semblance of skepticism behind. There are several things Mandel had overlooked in credulously reporting McCarthy's claims on this matter.

First - and you've heard me say this before - correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Just because two things happen at the same time (or one follows the other) does not necessarily mean they are related. They might be, be it can be hard to know for sure.
Autism is a condition marked by developmental delay. Note that is delayed development, not arrested development. It can seem like an autistic child is stuck at one level of development forever, then they can suddenly progress dramatically, seemingly overnight. It isentirely possible, indeed likely, that had McCarthy not changed her son's diet, he would still have experienced the same rapid improvement at the same time. Of course, Jenny would have just found something else to credit for the change.
There are all kinds of alternative autism therapies out there - modified diet, heavy metal chelation, what have you - that people claim are effective. Scientific investigation has, to date, shown that they are not.

Second, by allowing McCarthy's statement to go unchallenged, Mandel undermines a fact she presented earlier in the piece - that there is no scientific support for the 'vaccine causes autism' claim. She has allowed McCarthy to throw in her contention that she has undone "the damage done by vaccines." Even if there is something to the claim that a modified diet can have an effect on autism, that in no way points to vaccines as a cause. But Mandel allows that idea to slip back into her readers' minds by not applying critical thinking to the whole story.

The third thing that Mandel completely overlooks is that McCarthy claims to have healed her son. She conveniently leaves out the fact that Evan McCarthy still has autism. It hasn't gone away. He just showed some developmental progress. The fact is, everything McCarthy says is complete, and utter hogwash. Mandel needed to stick to her skeptical guns all the way to the end of her article. By failing to do so, she has failed her readers. She doesn't think so. She ends by saying, "at least this prescription of hers won't cause harm." Michele, I beg to differ. If just one of your readers abandons traditional treatements and therapies in favour of the woo presented by Jenny McCarthy, then there is harm. I've said this before, too.
Alternative therapies that are ineffective, are not harmless.