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Archive for October, 2010

Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2010 1 comment

Here are a few things to be afraid of today:

1. The WiFi hysteria in Ontario is still going on, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that WiFi is perfectly safe.

2. While its fun to go to movies about the paranormal, it seems actual belief in the supernatural may be getting even more common.

3. Christopher Walken reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. (Thanks to Zee’s Wordly Obsessions for bringing this video to my attention).

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Women Get Scammed $85000 by “Psychic”

October 28, 2010 2 comments

The headline read Women: We Were Scammed By a Psychic.

I thought to myself, ‘This will be funny!’

But as I read, it turned out to be quite a sad story, and unfortunately one that will probably be repeated.

The Coles notes version of the story is that two women went to see a psychic named Patricia Johns to help them with their relationship problems. The psychic proceeded to prey on their vulnerabilities, and eventually scored roughly $85 000 from these two women.

One woman wanted to improve her marriage, while the other asked for help with her best friend. Said one of the women (who asked to remain anonymous),

I’m devastated over what she has done to me…She has just ruined my life.

The psychic used a different approach with each woman. On the first she used “smooth-talk”, but on the second she used something darker. From the WLFI article,

She did not say anything that was sweet-sounding,” said the second woman. “She had you in such fear – for your life, of things that she said people were doing to you. You are already in a weird state of mind when you have a great loss.”

The psychic used scare tactics to keep these women coming in for more sessions. $100 sessions became $400 sessions, and in one instance, the psychic even got one of the victims to buy her a Rolex. How? Well she told the victim that because her problems occurred at a certain time and place, she had to buy a special time piece and throw it into the river to break the curse on her marriage.

The psychic went with the victim to the jewellery store, picked out a $26 000 Rolex, and the victim paid for it. Later, when they went to the river,

The woman said she caught a glimpse of a watch being thrown into the river, but admitted she had no idea if it was a Rolex.

It’s easy to look at this story and say “Oh, these women are stupid” or “They should have known better”. They are probably saying that to themselves right now. But there is a bigger picture here.

When people are desperate, they will try anything. One of the victims in this story was desperate to save her marriage. Can we really blame her for wanting to try anything?

Lets remember that these psychics are very good at what they do. They know how to prey on people’s emotions. They can convince you that they have predicted something about your life, when really they have been guessing the entire time. (Read up on cold-reading to see how they do this).

This rings true of alternative medicine as well. We can’t blame people for going to Homeopaths or faith healers, because they are simply so desperate that they are willing to try and/or pay anything to help themselves.

The culprits are the purveyors of woo. The psychics, palm readers, faith healers etc, who make a living preying on the vulnerabilities and desperation of people like the women in this story.

If you want to go to a psychic for entertainment, for a laugh, that’s fine. But remember that they have no powers, no special abilities. All they have is just a knack for performance.

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” –Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Moving!

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I hate moving. I’ve moved 6 times in as many years, and it seems to get more annoying each time.

And here I am preparing to move again. The apartment I have now has grown to small, and I need to go out and find some more space.

That being said, I will be pretty busy the next few weeks. Gotta find the apartment, pack up all our stuff, move it. Guuuuuhhhhh.

Anyone have a pick up truck I can borrow?

So you may notice I’m only posting a couple of times a week for the next little while. Hopefully by mid-November I will be back to full form. I won’t be going away completely, but posts will be limited.

So don’t go deleting your Google Reader subscriptions just yet :)

Categories: Me Tags: , , ,

Best Wildlife Photos of the Year

October 22, 2010 2 comments
The winners of the 46th annual Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 competition, run by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, were announced a couple of days ago. You should go check out the site for all the photos, but I’ve included the winner (the first photo) and a few of my other favourites here for you.
Enjoy!

A Marvel of Ants

Are eBooks Really Killing Paper Books?

October 21, 2010 1 comment

I love to read. Always have. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had my nose in a book. So when eReaders started appearing on the market I had some mixed feelings. Sure they are portable and kind of cool, but they don’t feel like a book. They don’t smell like a book. There is just something about a good dead-tree book isn’t there?

Last month it was my birthday, and I got a Kindle. And in a word, it’s awesome! The screen looks better than I had imagined, its light, portable, and I can carry around an entire personal library of books at once.

My Kindle. Yay!

But there seems to be a growing fear that eReaders and eBooks will spell the inevitable doom of the printed word. And perhaps those fears aren’t completely unfounded.

I spent my first couple hours with my Kindle downloading all the free classic books that have had their copyright expire. Dracula, White Fang, Alice In Wonderland, and so on. I actually have real copies of these books hidden in a basement somewhere; but let’s be honest, I never actually read them. But since I got the Kindle I’ve already gone through a couple of Sherlock Holmes novels and re-read all my favourite Edgar Allan Poe short stories (Seriously, how awesome is ‘The Cask of Amontillado‘?).

But those poor old paperback versions of the same books still sit collecting dust in my basement. However, I think this is a great advantage of eBooks. Imagine all the eReaders out there with copies of Oliver Twist and Moby Dick and all the classics. Everyone will be carrying them around and, eventually, they may even read them!

I also never read a real newspaper anymore. I get all of my news online. Now you can have a newspaper electronically delivered to your Kindle every single day, wherever you are. Who needs all that ink smudging on their fingers anyway?

A couple of months ago Amazon fueled this fear of eBooks when it announced that eBooks were outselling hardcover books. This was quite an announcement, but be sure to take it with a grain of salt. Hardcover books only contribute a small portion of their total sales. But this still shows a growing trend in the market: people want to buy eBooks.

So does this mean that the printed book is doomed? Of course not!

I think the growing popularity of eReaders is just like the advent of mp3 players like the iPod when it came out 10 years ago. The term “mp3” was still unknown to most people, but already the winds of change were coming to the music industry.

Digital downloads of music took the market by storm. iPod sales have been climbing for years, though now they have started to level off as the market gets saturated.

This did mean declining CD sales. Used CD stores started going out of business.

Sam the Record Man, one of Toronto's most famous record stores, closed on May 29, 2007 after more than 75 years in business. Photo by David Sherret from Flickr.

But the CD never went away. It is still around. I still like to go to a dark, dirty, smelly club to see an independent band rock out harder than any big name band could ever do. They always have a box in the corner where they sell their personally pressed CDs, and this is where the CD market will live on. Sure, it’s not big business. But people love to support bands that they love, and this will never change.

Not to mention Vinyl! I think printed books are probably going to end up just like vinyl records. Any music enthusiast probably owns a vinyl player. A lot of indie bands release their albums as vinyl records, with a passcode for the digital download from iTunes. People still buy vinyl and keep them for their aesthetic and purist appeal. But for everyday listening we all still carry around an iPod; so for everyday reading, people of the future will all be carrying an eReader. But you bet your ass they will also have a collection of real paperbacks on their shelves at home.

That eReader could be a Kindle, or an iPad, or simply a smart phone. But the technology is here to stay. And yes, it will probably result in declining paper book sales and some books stores going out of business. I feel bad about that, but at the same time the market has to evolve. Technology has to improve, and it was only a matter of time before this affected books. Read on!

Awesome Video of the Moon Crossing the Sun

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

is designed to help us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth and Near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelengths simultaneously.

 But also (and perhaps more importantly), it takes some pretty sweet pictures and videos.

 Take this one which I saw posted on Bad Astronomy. It shows the moon moving between the SDO and the Sun, making the moon clearly visible as it crosses the disc of the Sun.

 Cooooooooooooool!

Acupuncture: Not As Harmless As You Thought

October 19, 2010 1 comment

Acupuncture is one of the most widely used alternative medicine treatments today. Photo: GETTY

A recent review article published in the The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine has found reports of 86 deaths in the last 45 years relating to acupuncture treatment.

Incorrectly placing needles and poor sterilization techniques were the main culprits. These poor practices led to punctured hearts and lungs, infections, liver and artery damage and haemorrhages.

From the Guardian,

The most common cause of death was a condition called pneumothorax, where air finds its way between the membranes that separate the lungs from the chest wall and causes the lungs to collapse.

The article was written by Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. When describing his research he said that “these fatalities are avoidable” but are “the tip of a larger iceberg.”

Now, every medical treatment has some form of risk associated with it. What is important is the risk/benefit analysis of the treatment. If you could potentially save a life, the benefit is high which could make a risky procedure worth it.

The problem with acupuncture is that it has consistently been shown to offer little more than a placebo effect. Therefore, if it has no benefit than even a very small amount of risk is unacceptable.

When discussing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments I always get the question, “Well, whats the harm?”

Studies like these and websites like Whatstheharm.net are showing the growing amount of evidence that some CAM treatments are not as safe as we once thought.