Tuesday, August 30, 2005
A word of caution. Like the pirate's code, this is really more like a set of guidelines. If you need your recipes to have exact measurements for every ingredient, and directions timed down to the second, you won't like this recipe. I kinda make this stuff up as I go, and no two batches are ever exactly alike. However, if you consider cooking to be an adventure, rather than a chore, give this a try, and let me know how yours turns out.
Beef, Pork, Chicken. Whatever type suits your fancy. You can buy it all pre ground, or you can buy cuts of meat, and chop it yourself. I usually buy some good stewing veal, or a small steak, and chop it into cubes about 1/4 inch per side. For pork, I buy mild Italian sausage, and for chicken, boneless, skinless breast. Experiment, and find your own favourite cuts. For a pot of chili to serve three to four people, I start with about 1/3 of a pound of beef, two large sausages, and one large chicken breast.
Fresh Garlic- three or four cloves (or more if you like garlic) We have it fresh from the garden right now.
Sweet onion- I use one of those big red ones, or big white ones.
Fresh Tomatoes- two to four, depending on the size of the tomato, and the size of the pot.
Fresh tomato sauce- this is kinda the tough part. We jar our own sauce every fall. You can't buy this stuff at Wegman's or A&P. A small jar or a large jar. Depends on how big a batch you are making, and how many tomatoes you used.
Olive oil and butter.
Salt and pepper, cumin and chili powder. Chili powder has cumin in it, but not enough for my taste, so I add a little bit extra.
optional- hot chili pepper (again, fresh from the garden in my case) Depending on how hot you want it, either strip the seeds, or leave them in (seeds in=hotter).
Red Kidney beans. We don't grow these, I get them in a can at the grocery store.
Some kind of vegetable. Carrots work well. I like cauliflower. Zucchini will work, but it's a bit finicky. You have to add it late or it will over soften, and it releases water, which will add to your cooking time. Mushrooms will also release water, making your chili take longer to reduce. Experiment.
One small lime. Absolutely do not leave this step out. It's the lime that makes my signature chili my signature chili.
Beer- something interesting, hopefully. No Budweiser, or other adjunct laden, macro brewery crap. I have a friend who swears by Schlenkerla Smokebeer for chili. I haven't tried cooking chili with that one, but I did taste it once, and I won't be making that mistake again. I like a dark ale, but not a stout or porter. Pale Ales, or IPAs work as well. Too much hops may make the chili bitter, though, so avoid the real hop bombs for cooking. Later maybe...
Strip only the driest outer shell from the garlic cloves, leaving some of the paper-like wrapping. Brush lightly with olive oil, and place on a baking stone in the BBQ, or oven at about 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. When it is done, you will be able to pop the softened garlic cloves out of their skin easily. If they are not slightly mushy, they're not done. If they're like softened butter, they're overdone. Put roasted garlic aside for now.
Chop onions. I like to leave them in thin pieces about 2-3 inches long. Add a little bit of olive oil and a small dollop of butter to a pan and saute the onions on low medium heat. You want them to caramelize, but not burn. I take them off a little before they would actually be considered caramelized because everything will be cooked more in the pot later.
Place the sausages in a small pan, and cover halfway with beer. Don't drink the rest of the beer yet, we might need it later. Bring to a gentle boil. Cook sausages about 3-4 minutes each side. They don't need to be fully cooked, as they will cook more later in the pot. They just need to be done enough to hold together when you slice them. Cut into thin slices, place in a bowl for later.
Cut beef into small cubes, add a little bit of olive oil to a small pan and heat until the meat will sizzle vigorously when added. Add beef and brown quickly. Remove beef from pan and put in bowl with pork. Wipe pan down with a paper towel.
Cube chicken (I like to cut it slightly larger than the beef, about 1/2 inch cubes). Add a little bit of olive oil to the pan, and cook chicken until there is no morepink showing on the outside. Cook the chicken at a slightly lower temperature as it tends to get too brown at high heat. Put in bowl with the other meat.
Chop tomatoes into one to two inch cubes.
Put a pot on low medium heat. Add onions. When onions begin to sizzle gently, add meat, and mix all three meats together with onions. Add roasted garlic, and hot pepper, if you are using it. Salt and pepper to taste. Some people add the chili powder now, as well, but I prefer to save it for later.
When the meat and onions are well mixed, and all gently sizzling, add chopped tomatoes. If the tomatoes have a lot of fluid in them, I let this mixture reduce a little bit. If not, I add the fresh tomato sauce immediately. Heat on low medium to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally.
Add kidney beans. If mixture in the pot already has too much moisture, I strain the beans. If more water is needed, I don't. At this point, if more moisture is needed, add some of the left over beer. If not, drink the beer. Continue to heat at a very gentle boil, stirring occasionally as it reduces.
Adding the vegetables requires some experience. Some need to cook longer, some less so. Estimate how much longer the chili will need to cook to reduce to the desired consistency, and add the vegetables so they will be properly cooked when chili is sufficiently reduced. There's nothing worse than over cooked veggies. I like to add the cumin and chili powder when I estimate there is about 15-20 minutes cooking time left.
Zest lime. Be careful to only keep the green zest. Don't get any of the inner white part of the rind, as it will make your chili very bitter in a heartbeat. Slice remaining lime, and cut off what is left of the rind, again, making sure to get rid of all the white peel. Add zest and lime pulp to chili.
When the chili has reduced to the desired consistency, spoon into a bowl, top with grated cheddar cheese, and serve with crusty bread, and a nice hoppy ale (I recommend Cameron's Auburn Ale).
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Paul Gets Involved
It was clear to me from reading the response to the 'Audio Critic' on the JREF forums that the majority of the posters really did not understand the mind of an audiophile. Many of them could not fathom why a man would spend two hundred dollars on a CD player, much less two thousand. Having worked in the audio business for more than a decade, I felt that I might be in a position to act as a moderator between the skeptics, and the challenge applicant. I e-mailed him and offered to assist him in any way I could in the design and negotiation of a test protocol.
Unbeknownst to me, another forum member had made the same offer. The three of us exchanged e-mails for a couple of weeks trying to fine tune a protocol that both the applicant and the JREF would find satisfactory. The closer we got, the farther away we seemed to get. Every time we got one obstacle cleared, Kramer, the JREF facilitator threw up another one.
About this time an odd thought occurred to me. The JREF rarely gets directly involved with the detail oriented work of negotiating an acceptable protocol and scheduling a preliminary test. Especially when the applicant lives at the other end of the country, as this one did. They usually contact a local skeptical society near to the applicant, and have them handle the whole thing. The JREF simply approves the final test protocol prior to the testing date, and requests protocol modifications if it feels there is a methodology error that would invalidate the test.
In this case, they were handling all negotiations directly, and being very difficult to deal with. I couldn't understand why at first. Then, I came to the realization that, as I stated in the previous installment, they did not accept that this applicant could be as easily self deluded as those who claim to be able to cure diabetes with homeopathic remedies, or cause a person's hand to grow visibly in mere moments by mind power. They were sure he was trying to devise some way of cheating.
They made statements like, "the applicant will never be allowed to touch any of the CDs," and, "the applicant will not be allowed to look at his audio system during the listening test." The applicant, feeling that the JREF was dealing in bad faith, began questioning more of the restrictions he was being asked to adhere to. The forum members began to get abusive, accusing him of trying to back out of the test. He was repeatedly asked if he had done any rudimentary blind listening tests at home, to which he answered in the negative. He went so far as to accuse the JREF representative of lying about the course of the negotiations, and suggested that he might seek the advice of legal counsel. The JREF broke off negotiations and rejected the application.
It was that sudden. One day we were working towards one of the most interesting and exciting tests the JREF had ever performed, and the next day we were standing in a pile of ashes wondering what had happened. Theories and accusations were advanced against both sides. Some held that the JREF had dealt too harshly with the applicant. The applicant himself accused them of dealing in bad faith, and of maneuvering the talks toward an unsatisfactory conclusion deliberately. This is a theory that fits in well with those who believe that the one million dollar challenge is an elaborate ruse on the part of James Randi.
The majority of those involved in the online discussion were of the opinion that the applicant lost confidence in his ability to demonstrate his claim, and so waffled until the JREF got fed up with him. In the foundation's defense, this is an all too common occurrence. When applicants discover the nature of the controls the JREF is going to insist upon for a satisfactory test to take place, many of them immediately realize that they will not be able to successfully pass. There are three usual reactions. Either the applicants simply disappear, never to be heard from again, or they begin waffling, claiming date conflicts, illness, or just about anything else is preventing them from completing the test, or they go on the offensive, accusing the JREF of not actually having the money, or of having no intention of ever paying it, even toa successful claimant. The third strategy is the one employed by Silvia Browne, who agreed to a definitive test design almost four years ago, but has never actually come forward to be tested under the protocol she agreed to.
What is the truth in the case of the Audio Critic Protocol? I believe that both side are partially to blame in the failure of this test to proceed. The JREF is guilty of not realizing just how eccentric the applicant was. This is a guy who believes that applying stickers to the windows of his house has improved the sound of his stereo system. The applicant is guilty of the appearance of waffling. Early in the negotiation process, he indicated to the JREF that a test could be scheduled quite quickly, perhaps within a month. He then tried to postpone that date by two months due to personal obligations. I think it was at this point that the JREF's Kramer decided that the applicant was a flake that would never consent to be tested.
All this took place in March and April of this year. It has taken me this long to put it all down in words because I have been struggling with this last installment. As storytelling goes, it is unsatisfactory. No test was undertaken. The Audio Critic neither passed nor failed. No conclusions about the Golden Sound Intelligent Chip can be drawn.
Will another GSIC user step forward to pursue the challenge? We can only hope. In the meantime, the JREF is currently in negotiations with an astrologer, a practitioner of homeopathic medicine, and a woman who claims she is "able to make the hand of a human being grow...with the power of [her] brain and [her] soul, translated into words." I'll let you know how it goes.
Tomorrow: What has happened since, a GSIC update.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
The Golden Sound Intelligent Chip
One of James Randi's pet targets in his weekly commentaries has been the audiophile community. Extreme audiophiles spend outrageous amounts of money on stereo system upgrades that the scientific community has for years stated can have no audible effect on musical reproduction. The most common upgrades are wiring; speaker wires, interconnect cables, and even replacement power cables. More esoteric 'tweaks' are things like brass or ceramic 'tiptoes' or cones that you place under the feet of your audio equipment, ostensibly to 'decouple' it from the shelf upon which it sits. Then we have things like the Bedini Clarifier, the JSMR Quantum Waveguide Tube, and the Golden Sound Intelligent Chip.
According to those who are familiar with the science of how audio equipment works, these items can have no explainable effect on the sound of a stereo system. That does not stop audiophiles from spending hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on these, and other devices, and claiming that they dramatically improve their enjoyment of their equipment.
Most recently, Randi wrote about the Golden Sound Intelligent Chip. According to the distributor's website, the GSIC repairs an error present in the recording of all CDs. It does this by simply being placed on the top of the CD player for two seconds while the CD is playing. The improvement is reportedly permanent, and improves the sound of the CD even when played in other players. The chip can be used a limited number of times, and then it is exhausted. They sell a model with ten charges, and one with thirty. The makers claim that the chip will not exhaust a charge if there is no CD in the player, nor will it exhaust a charge on a disc that has previously been treated. How it knows the difference is anybody's guess. The chip apparently works through the metal top of a CD player, but can be protected from inadvertent discharges by placing it in its supplied plastic storage case. No one, anywhere, has been able to supply a satisfactory explanation of what the chip actually does, if in fact it does anything.
That it does not do anything at all is the position of the JREF, and the skeptical community. Their opinion is the people buying the product are predisposed to believe it will work because they have already spent thousands of dollars on other dubious devices. Having spent the money, they then convince themselves that they do hear a difference in the sound. Like the dowsers, who perform perfectly when they know where the water is, skeptics believe that these audiophiles can only hear the improvements in their systems when they are aware that the improvements have been applied. The question is, will they be able to tell the difference in blind listening tests when they do not know if a 'treatment' has been applied or not.
The JREF believes they will not. In fact, it is the position of the JREF that because, according to currently held scientific principles, these items cannot work, their use falls under the umbrella of paranormal phenomena, and it has extended the one million dollar challenge to the audiophile community. James Randi regularly sends e-mails to the manufacturers of these items, and the reviewers who pile accolades upon them, inviting them to apply for the challenge. None have done so, until now.
The Audio Critic Protocol
Several months ago, the JREF received an application for the one million dollar paranormal challenge from a gentleman who claimed he could hear the difference between CDs treated by the Golden Sound Intelligent Chip and untreated CDs, under proper observing conditions. This application came, not from the manufacturer or distributor of the product, nor from a professional reviewer, but from an audio enthusiast who had tried the chip, and written an amateur review on a website called Audio Asylum.
According to his review, CDs treated by the GSIC exhibited
"greater resolution, better dynamics, [and] improved spatial presentation."After treatment, he said, the CDs were
"vastly superior to non-treated discs, providing for an exceptionally more believable presentation."Vastly superior. Exceptionally more believable. Strong words.
The JREF accepted his application, and work began on designing a test protocol that both sides would find acceptable. Much of this work is done in public on the forums at the JREF website. The gentleman JREFchallenge facilitator Kramer dubbed the "Audio Critic" was encouraged to join the forum and discuss test design ideas with the regular posters there, and he did so.
The ensuing discussion stretches across seven threads and more than 2000 individual posts. What began as an optimism filled topic has deteriorated into accusations of lying and fraud, and intimations of possible legal action on both sides of the debate. This was the way of it.
The initial letter of claim from the "Audio Critic," that accompanied his $1,000,000.00 challenge application stated,
"I can detect a difference [between a CD treated with the GSIC and an untreated one] using source material with which I am familiar in the context of my own primary sound system. I subjectively find this difference to be pleasing and worth the cost of treatment. I propose that if I positively identify 10 times - without error -whether a given disc is treated or untreated within the terms of a mutually agreed upon test protocol, I will have successfully proven my ability in this regard."Sounds simple, right? It turned out not to be so simple.
The initial protocol included with the letter of claim included a number of things to which the JREF objected. The subject wanted to apply a liquid treatment called Walker Audio Vivid to the discs. He was promptly informed that he would not be allowed to handle the discs at any time. He proposed leaving his seat, and approaching the CD player to place a marker of some kind on top of it to indicate his determination of whether he was listening to a treated or an untreated disc. He was informed that a verbal designation would be sufficient. His initial protocol design also called for two discs to be used, one treated and one not, and that he would be allowed to play each disc in its entirety prior to the test commencing. Some quick thinkers on the forums pointed out that all the Audio Critic needed to do was to identify any difference between the two CDs, be it a small audio glitch due to a scratch, or a drop out of the audio at some point. If he could reliably detect that difference, all he had to do was identify that disc every time, and he would have a 50/50 chance of it being the treated one. The JREF considers 50% odds to be insufficient. A challenge applicant must be able to demonstrate his ability at a success rate that far exceeds chance probability.
In general terms, James Randi wants to see a test protocol for the preliminary test with 1000:1 odds against a positive result happening by chance. So, in our dowser example, the one-in-ten chance of choosing the right bucket across ten separate trials results in approximately one in a thousand odds of guessing correctly all ten times.
The challenge applicant readily accepted the stipulations of the JREF, and in fact, appeared quite interested in receiving guidance in the proper design of a testing protocol. The JREF representative expressed great optimism that a test of this claim would be conducted, which is an extraordinary event. Although the JREF receives dozens of applications every year, rarely are more than one or two actual tests conducted annually.
Then the wheels fell off. In hindsight, I think the JREF simply made a mistake. They allowed themselves to think that this applicant was somehow different from a Dowser, or a Psychic, or an Astral Traveller. Because the Audio Critic was obviously intelligent, and well spoken; because he was open to suggestion, and willing to negotiate a protocol; because they were talking about listening to a stereo, for Pete's sake, they thought that his belief was somehow different from someone who believes they can dissipate rain clouds, or predict lottery numbers using a pendulum. And so they were caught off guard.
Tomorrow: Paul gets involved.
Dompaczko has a (relatively) new journal dealing with the Premiership football league. If you are a 'footie' fan (that's soccer to you and me), drop by and give him a read at Always Next Year.
I love the title. As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, it has a certain resonance for me.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The Case For Psychics
What, you may well ask, about other paranormal phenomenon, like psychic abilities? How are they tested by the JREF?
The short answer is: they aren't. Or, at least, very rarely. You want the long answer? Well, OK.
To start at the same point as we did with dowsers, the position of the skeptical community on psychics, mediums, telepaths, fortune tellers, mind readers, etc., is that they do not exist. No valid scientific evidence has ever been presented to support the existence of psi abilities. Anecdotal evidence abounds, however. Almost everyone knows someone who has been to a psychic, or a tarot card reader, and was amazed at the experience.
A skeptic will tell you that psychics et al. are almost certainly using a technique called cold reading with their clients. They start by making general statements about a person, like, "you are well liked by those around you," or, "you have a hidden side you don't show to all people." Virtually all people will agree that blanket statements like those are true of themselves. Once they have broken the ice, the fishing starts. They may start to say something, "I'm seeing a young person..." or "I'm getting something about car..." and leave it open ended, hoping for their subject to volunteer some information. If the subject does offer information, it is quickly digested by the psychic, and will reappear later in the reading. Usually, by that time, the subject has forgotten that they originally gave out the information, and are astounded by the pronouncement.
Remember the quotation from Francis Bacon from the previous section. Every time the psychic gets a 'hit,' the subject immediately forgets the previous four or five misses. The psychics are aided by the fact that their subjects are subconsciously willing to participate in the charade. Even if they were dragged in by a family member, and start out claiming to be sceptical, the fact is, they are there. They are sitting in the chair, across the table from Madame Coocoobird. Deep inside, they want to believe, and so, they eat up all the good guesses the psychic makes, and conveniently forget all the wildly off target stabs in the dark. Clients of psychics routinely insist that they did not tell the psychic anything.
If a subject could tape record a psychic reading, and listen to it later, they would be amazed to count up all the things on which the psychic was way off. They would also be amazed at how much information they had volunteered themselves, and then forgotten about. Not surprisingly, virtually no psychic will allow a recording to be made of the sitting. Electronic devices interfere with the psychic vibrations, don't you know.
Often, the subject has been dragged out to the psychic by a third party; a relative, or a friend. In that case, the third party has probably already discussed the subject with the psychic in great detail. The psychic may uncannily appear to know things about the subject that they could not have known. This is called a warm or hot reading, when the psychic has some detailed information about the subject prior to the visit. As many psychics get a lot of business from referrals, warm readings are very common. And the friend never volunteers, "oh, I told her that." No, the friend is a willing accomplice to the deception because she believes she is helping someone in need.
Lets get back to the JREF challenge. Psychics come in two varieties: those who honestly believe they have psychic abilities; and charlatans, who are out to take people's money. Charlatan's tend not to apply for the challenge because they know they do not truly have a paranormal ability, and therefore cannot pass a test. Many of those who believe in their psychic powers do not apply because they believe their abilities are God given, and are not be used for monetary gain. It is interesting to note that many psychics who charge for their services claim that their talents are God given, and are not to be used for monetary gain. You may draw your own conclusions.
Of those few alleged psychics who do apply for the challenge, there always a few charlatans who think they can pull a fast one on the JREF. Once they realise how stringent the test protocol will be, they simply evaporate. Of those believers in their own ability who apply, many have unorganised minds, and have a very difficult time understanding the why the statement "because I have experienced it" does not qualify as irrefutable evidence. They commonly have no understanding of what experimental controls are, and why they are necessary. Usually, they will slowly figure out that they will not be allowed to ask their subject questions, and get answers. Once that happens, they eventually just disappear.
As an example of a protocol to test a self proclaimed psychic, let us examine an actual recent claim for the JREF one million dollar challenge. The applicant, from the UK, claimed that he could project his thoughts into another person's mind. This claim is much easier to test than the reverse, that of reading a person's mind. The applicant was referred to a local skeptical society near him to facilitate testing. After a period of negotiation, this protocol was agreed upon.
"The Test ProtocolAlthough this record is publicly available on the JREF website, I have removed all references to the applicant's identity and specific location.
1. Immediately prior to the test, the applicant...will be asked to state for the record (on videotape)that the test procedure was mutually agreed upon, and that he agrees that the test is a fair one which will either validate or refute his claim.
2. The applicant...will sit in one room, observed and videoed by at least one member of the testing group for ratification purposes and transparency in the testing procedure.
3. A ‘receiver’, chosen by [the applicant] and accompanied to the test by [the applicant]. The identity of the nominated ‘receiver’ must be notified to the [testers] before the test and may not be changed thereafter.
4. The ‘receiver’ will sit in an adjacent room and will also be observed and videoed by at least one member of the testing group.
5. Neither [the applicant] nor the ‘receiver’ may have an electronic device capable of transmitting or receiving information of any kind during the testing procedure.
6. The receiver will be given a pen and single sheet of paper and instructed to write down anything he believes he/she is receiving from [the applicant] during the test. He/she will be asked to write down the texts from 1 to 5, indicating the order in which they were ‘transferred’ and‘received’.
7. No contact of any kind between [the applicant] and the ‘receiver’ is permitted once the test has begun.
8. Neither [the applicant] nor the ‘receiver’ will be allowed to leave their respective rooms during the test for any reason. If this has to happen for any reason, the test will have to be abandoned and restarted or rescheduled.
9. A typed list of 20 short sentences and a pen will be given to [the applicant].
10. [The applicant] will select any five from this list to ‘transmit’ to the ‘receiver’.
11. [The applicant] will select a sentence from the list for ‘transmission’ and will write the number 1 beside that sentence.
12. [The applicant] may not make any noise of any kind during the ‘transfer’ which could be interpreted as an attempt to communicate with the ‘receiver’.
13. [The applicant] will say when he believes he has successfully transferred the text to the receiver.
14. Steps 10 through 13 will be repeated for each of the remaining four sentences, writing 2, 3, 4, and 5 beside the sentences as they are selected.
15. A reasonable time limit may be applied. Each sentence should be capable of ‘transference’ within one minute.
16. The test is over when [the applicant] says that the fifth selected sentence is believed to have been successfully ‘transferred’.
17. Immediately following testing (but PRIOR to revealing the test results), [the applicant] is once again required to state on record (on videotape) whether he believes the test to have been fair, and conducted according to the agreed-upon protocol.
18. The observer in the ‘receiver’s’ room will be informed when the test is over and will request the ‘receiver’ to sign the sheet of paper that was used. The ‘receiver’ will then be asked to accompany the observer back to the adjacent room from where [the applicant] carried out the test.
19. The ‘receiver’ will be asked to hand over the signed sheet which will be placed in view on a table.
20. The five sentences highlighted in the selected books will be compared to any texts written down by the ‘receiver’.
21. In order to pass the test:
a. Four out of the five selected sentences must match sentences written by the ‘receiver’ word for word. It is agreed that nothing except a verbatim match will constitute a ‘hit’.
b. The sentences must be in the correct order, i.e. the text ‘transferred’ first (numbered 1) must be the same as the text ‘received’ first (numbered 1 on the ‘receiver’s’ signed sheet).
22. Immediately following the results being revealed, [the applicant] will be asked if he still believes the test was a fair one.
23. If he failed he is offered the opportunity to explain WHY he failed, should he wish to do so.
24. This will conclude the testing process."
The protocol negotiations having successfully concluded, the JREF happily announced that the test had been scheduled for November 27th of 2004. One week before the test, the applicant sent the testers an e-mail stating that he thought they should provide the 'receiver,' rather than the applicant. "Oh, and by the way," he wrote, "this weekend's no good for me." Can you see where this is going?
The testers replied:
"Your assertion/objection that your selecting the receiver for the test would somehow "nullify all scientific criteria" is without foundation.The applicant was also reminded that a significant amount of work on both sides had gone into the negotiation of the protocol, that the test date had been agreed to by all parties, and that they expected him to appear. You can see where this is going, can't you?
Your knowing and bringing the person is the most reasonable and transparent option. The only thing about the receiver that matters is that they are known and trusted by you. This protects the test procedure against one possible and obvious source of bias. If we chose the person to receive it would introduce the possibility of the accusation of experimenter bias or even down right fraud, as we could be accused of selecting someone who was instructed to deny that they have 'received' anything."
The test never took place. You may draw your own conclusions. The applicant still haunts the JREF forums, accusing the JREF of backing out of the test, and generally making an ass of himself.
I'm sorry. I called this the case for psychics, didn't I?
Tomorrow: The Golden Sound Intelligent Chip
I got up this morning, put on my bathrobe, poured myself a coffee, and moseyed on down to the computer room. Placing my coffee on the desk, I tapped the keyboard as I settled into the chair. Nothing happened.
What should have happened, is that the computer should have turned on. I have the Windows feature enabled that allows me to start up the computer by pressing any key on the keyboard. Thinking, perhaps, that I had not tapped hard enough, or that I had tapped between two keys, and so not registered an input, I tapped the keyboard again. This time, I made sure to strike the space bar firmly.
Nothing continued to happen.
Now, occasionally, when there has been a power interruption or something, that feature doesn't work, and I have to turn on the computer using the regular power button. I leaned over and did so.
Nothing, with an air of confident self-assuredness, smiled broadly and winked at me, letting me know that today, in matters that concerned the computer, was his day to happen.
I pressed the power button again. Nothing. I flipped the little master power switch on the back of the machine off and on, and tried again. Nothing. Just in case I was unclear on which side of that master power switch was on and which was off, I flicked it one way and popped the button on the front of the case, then switched it back and tried once more. Nothing.
I flipped the switch on the power bar off and back on again, which only served to make every other device in my computing system go haywire. I stole the power cord from my scanner, and tried it in the back of my computer tower. Palms sweating now, my hands shaking, I stabbed repeatedly at the little circular silver button with the cleverly decpetive label: "ON." Nothing leaned back, intertwined his fingers behind his head, crossed his legs, and contentedly, and uninterruptedly...happened.
Some time later my son found me sitting on the floor, hugging my knees, rocking and moaning. Addiction is a terrible thing for a child to witness.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Since you are so down on paranormal studies/people and psychics, I CHALLENGE YOU to have a reading by PHONE by the person you attacked on CarnivalAOL and indirectly here...and then post your OPINION!That comment was rapidly followed up with this one.
As a follow-up to my comment below, I just realized that a reading of any kind wouldn't work for you. You ask why? Firstly, it wouldn't work because I forgot you are a self-proclaimed athiest. Prayer and the belief of a God or higher being is paramount in receiving an accurate reading. Your biggotry, hatred and skepticism towards people that believe in anything that differs from your opinions/beliefs would also make it impossible for anyone, even God himself, to prove to you otherwise.Seems the commenter needed to provide an excuse for why a psychic reading of me wouldn't work. You know, just in case I actually accepted that challenge.
I have been corresponding with an applicant for the JREF $1,000,000 paranormal challenge. His claim is that he can hear the difference between a CD that has been treated by the Golden Sound Intelligent Chip, and one that has not.
"Wait. Slow down. Back up," I hear you say.
OK, I'll start at the beginning.
The James Randi Educational Foundation
I mentioned James Randi here several months ago. He is a former stage magician who now runs a non-profit organisation called The James Randi Educational Foundation. The mission statement of the JREF is
"to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today."
To that end they have established the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. The challenge offers
"a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."
The key words in that statement are, of course, under proper observing conditions. It is remarkable to note how few people have a clue what that means.
The Anatomy of a Test
As an example of what constitutes proper observing conditions, let us examine the example of a double blind test of dowsing ability. Dowsers are those who claim to be able, with the aid of a forked stick, or two bent wires, or any number of other devices, to locate underground water, or metal, or electronic devices. There seem to be as many different claims as there are dowsers.
The position of the JREF, and the skeptical community in general, are that dowsers cannot do any such thing, and are merely fooling themselves into thinking they have some kind of ability, and moving the forked stick themselves. The dowsers protest strongly that the movement of the dowsing rod is due to an outside influence. They even offer to do demonstrations of the ability by having you hold the rod yourself, and feeling the seemingly involuntary movement.
My wife, when I was discussing this topic with her, related to me a story of doing this with some group or another years ago. They used two coat hanger wires, bent at ninety degrees near one end. Holding on to the short end of the L shaped wires, they walked around a graveyard. Upon passing over a grave, my wife told me, the wires inexorably moved inwards, and crossed. "But," I said to her, "you knew where the graves were." She walked away with a thoughtful expression on her face.
Psychologists call this the ideomotor effect. From The Skeptic's Dictionary, the ideomotor effect states:
"that muscular movement can be initiated by the mind independently of volition or emotions. We may not be aware of it, but suggestions can be made to the mind by others or by observations. Those suggestions can influence the mind and affect motor behavior."In other words, the wires cross, or the rod dips, where the dowser wants it to, even if the dowser is not consciously aware he or she is affecting it .
The same ideomotor effect can be observed in the workings of the common Ouija Board. People who have used the mysterious talking board will attest to the fact that the pointer apparently moves of its own volition. Here is a quick experiment to try. Blindfold the person, or persons, who have their fingertips in contact with the pointer. Now, have a third party turn the board so that the sitters do not know which way it is oriented, and have that third party silently observe the movement of the pointer, and record any message that might appear. People who try that experiment unfailingly find that the pointer does not move at all, or that the letters it points to spell nothing of any sense. It seems the 'spirits' cannot spell out a message if the sitters cannot see the board.
The dowsers, of course, deny that the ideomotor effect is what is happening. As proof, theypoint to their record of successfully finding water. By doing this, they are doing what most purveyors of the paranormal do when bragging about their records. As it was so eloquently written by Sir Francis Bacon over four hundred years ago:
"And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happen much oftener, neglect and pass them by."That is to say, they point out their hits, and conveniently ignore their misses. It is the purpose of a well designed test to make note of both the hits and the misses, and then decide if the result is due to some unusual talent, or pure chance.
In order to test the claims of a dowser, or any applicant for the one million dollar challenge for that matter, the JREF begins by asking for a clear statement of what the person can do, and how he proposes to demonstrate it. This is the first major stumbling block for many applicants. A great number of the people corresponding with the foundation seem to have difficulty expressing their abilities in a concrete way. They tend to ramble on vaguely and aimlessly about theories of why their 'powers' work, without being able to state exactly what their powers are.
Dowsers tend not to fall into this category. In most cases, dowsers are able to state their claims in a straightforward manner. All that is needed is a protocol to test them. A commonly used one is described here.
We will begin with a hypothetical dowser who claims to be able to locate water. The question we pose to him is, can you locate water that is sitting in a bucket in a parking lot? His answer is, as is to be expected, always yes. So, we continue, if there were ten buckets, and one had water in it, you could tell us which one? Again, we will be answered with the affirmative. Excellent! Let us begin.
We first ask the dowser to examine the proposed test area, to make sure there are no external phenomenon which would compromise his abilities. The dowser will use his dowsing implement, whatever it may be, to scan the area. Invariably, he will find some places in the subject area to be a problem. Those areas will be carefully taken note of, so they can be avoided.
Next, we will ask the dowser to examine the buckets we propose to use,and make sure that nothing about the buckets will affect his ability. After he has OKed the buckets, we will ask him to place the buckets himself, so that they are far enough apart not to influence one another and give him a false reading, and so that they will not be near any of the previously discovered problem areas. We will give the dowser as much time as necessary to be comfortable with the placement of the buckets.
Once the buckets have been placed, and we are ready to begin the actual test, the dowser will be asked to make a statement for the video camera that will be recording the test. The statement will be that the test protocol was arrived at mutually, and that he agrees it is a fair test of his abilities. On with the test!
To begin, the dowser is asked to select a bucket by means of some random device. James Randi likes to use playing cards numbered one through ten. The dowser will select a card, and the bucket number that matches the number on the card will have a small amount of water placed in it. The dowser will then demonstrate that he can find that water using his ability. This will be repeated several times. Note that the dowser is fully aware of which bucket the water is in at this stage of the test. Next, the buckets will be covered by a sheet of wood or corrugated cardboard, so it is not possible to see inside them. The same random selection process will be repeated several times, with the dowser again demonstrating his ability to locate the water when he already knows which covered bucket it is in. At any time, the dowser may relocate a bucket if he feels there is something interfering with his ability. This is, according to Randi, an essential part of the test for five reasons:
"(1) The performer has the opportunity to try out the setup, and make any necessary changes, adjustments, or re-locations that he thinks are needed.The blind portion of the test is now ready to begin. This hypothetical test is what is referred to as 'double blind.' What that means is that, not only will the subject of the test, the dowser, not know which bucket the water is in, the observer of the test will not know either. Here is how it goes.
(2) The process of randomizing numbers, etc., which is sometimes unfamiliar or unknown to the performer, becomes clear.
(3) The performer becomes familiar with the sequences and rules of the test.
(4) The performer has the opportunity of deciding for himself — in the "open" tests — whether it's his powers, or just his foreknowledge of the answer, that is actually at work.
(5) After the "blind" test is done, following the "open" series, the performer cannot offer the excuse that his powers were not working at this time."
The observer and the subject will step around a corner, and an assistant will draw a card to randomly select a bucket. Water will be placed in the selected bucket, and all the buckets will be covered. Care must be taken not to spill any water on the ground, or move any of the buckets, so as not to leave any clues for the subject. After that is done, the assistant will leave the scene and the subject and the observer will return. The subject (the dowser) will be given as much time as necessary to determine which bucket the water is in. After he decides, the covers will be removed, and he will be shown if he was successful or not. The same procedure will be followed for as many times as the test requires. At the end of the test, the results will be tabulated, and the dowser will again be required to make a statement for the cameras that the test was a fair one, mutually agreed upon. If the subject has failed the test, he will be allowed to speculate on why that was.
What invariably happens, is that the dowser is able to locate the water 100% of the time when he already knows where it is. During the blinded portion of the test, the dowser is able to locate the water no more often than one would expect chance would allow. For example, if there are ten buckets, the dowser will be correct somewhere in the area of one out of every ten attempts. The more attempts are made, the closer to chance the results are.
The JREF has tested dozens of dowsers over the twelve years they have been in existence, using protocols very similar to the one above. The results are always the same. Always. No dowser has ever passed the test. In fact, no applicant of any description for the one million dollar prize has ever passed even the informal preliminary test. You may draw your own conclusions.
What about the Golden Sound Intelligent Chip? Hey, you asked me to back up. Now you're gonna hear the whole story.
Tomorrow: The Case For Psychics
Friday, August 19, 2005
In that earlier entry I complained about the atmosphere in the JREF forums. I said:
Why? Because nothing new ever happens. The forums, like many throughout the internet, are jammed with regulars just waiting to tee off on unsuspecting newbs. If there aren't any of those to be had, they turn on each other, criticizing each others' beliefs for no reason other than the fact they hold them.What has changed? several things, probably. Most notably, the (relatively) new Challenge Facilitator, Kramer, has begun an administration thread where he is posting correspondence received from applicants for the one million dollar challenge, past and present. These postings have sparked new discussions on the relative merits of each case, as well as commentary on the design and implementation of test protocols for them.
Add to that the fact that the JREF have recently received several applications from people who were capable of and willing to follow through on testing. There have been two recent preliminary challenge tests completed, and several more are in the offing. This is an unprecedented wealth of activity in this arena.
The third aspect of the change is with me. With a little bit more familiarity with the forum, I have learned which topics hold no interest to me, and which threads I will find compelling. In addition, I have learned what names to avoid. Trolls abound over there, and by simply skipping over topics in which I see certain posters are involved, I can maintain my own interest and peace of mind. Maybe what I'm saying is that I'm no longer an unsuspecting newb.
If you have an interest in the idea of Skepticism, drop on byand see what's going on there.
Another test of an applicant for the JREF one million dollar challenge will be taking place this weekend. My opinion is that this particular test is a complete waste of time. The applicant is a skeptic who does not believe in her claim, but is basically doing this as a lark. More on this next week.
edit: 8/22/05 2:20pm. While the official results have not yet been posted, JREF forum member Lost Angeles has confirmed that she did not, in fact, pass the preliminary test for the one million dollar challenge. I will make a new entry about this when the details have been published on the website.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Monday, August 15, 2005
It appears I have been 'tagged' by Jodi to participate in the 'book meme.' I shall endeavour to contribute something meaningful to the discussion.
The exercise in question goes like this:
1. Number of books I own:
Oh, my. I have never counted them. I have been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. I have also never made much use of the library, because I can read a good book over and over again. I prefer to own them. Currently on my book shelves I would have to estimate that I have about 300-400 books. I sold off about 50 books at a recent yard sale, and I probably have at least 50 more sitting in boxes in my basement, waiting for a trip to the used book store. The vast majority of them fall into the category of science fiction/fantasy, but my wife's historical fiction collection is quickly becoming a significant fraction of the whole. In addition, I have a small collection of classics from university that I cannot bring myself to part with.
I know that my book count isn't really that high compared with many of you. In my defence, I'm picky. I agonize over what books to buy, and rarely take a flyer on something without some kind of recommendation. So, I tend to buy new books slowly, and reread the ones I already own frequently.
2. Last book I read:
Hmm, lessee. I just finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which was a pleasant diversion. I am currently engaged in a book called The Other Wind, by Ursula Le Guin, a part of her Earthsea Archipelago series. Languishing on my bedside table, partially read and waiting to be finished are The Lions Of Al Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Ringworld's Children, by Larry Niven. Two days ago at a used book store here in Ottawa, I picked up a hard cover edition for six dollars of The Island Of The Day Before, by Umberto Eco, and I am already engrossed in that. Eco is a wonderful writer who is perhaps best known as the author of the novel The Name Of The Rose, upon which a motion picture was based, starring Sean Connery, and Christian Slater.
Waiting for me to read in the near future are Angels And Demons, and The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. I'm not sure how interesting I will find them, but my wife has them, and everybody else in the world seems to have already read them, so I thought I should give them a try. Sitting up on my bookshelf, as well, are David Brin's Kiln People, and William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. Both have earned significant praise, and I can't wait to read them. Also something I look forward to reading will be The Third Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever. Right now, only the first book of three has been published, so I will probably wait for the entire series to be available in paperback before tackling those. I wonder if Stephen Donaldson's prose will be as bombastic as it was in the first two Thomas Covenant trilogies.
3. Five Books That Mean A Lot to Me:
Atheist though I am, I find The Holy Bible to be a remarkable work of literature with a wealth of insight into the human condition, and messages that carry great value to everyone, be they religious or not.
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. The tragedy of war is that it is truly a children's crusade. The old men, the generals and presidents, sit in their offices, and strategy rooms, and bunkers, while the children--and I don't care what you say, eighteen and nineteen year olds are still children by a long shot--are sent out to the front lines to fight, and die. So it goes.
Dune, by Frank Herbert, was the first time I realised how dense a novel could be. Herbert explores several themes at the same time, including the responsibility of Godhood, the politics of the feudal system of government, the ecology of desert reclamation, and the effects of an economy that depends upon a single product. My Dune books (there are eight of them) are so thumbworn I will probably have to replace several of them when next I try to reread them.
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Never has any writer affected my emotions so powerfully in any book. 'Nuff said.
My wedding photo album. I know, that's pretty sappy, but I take it out and look at it fairly regularly. Excuse me, I have to go tell my wife I love her.
My choices of other bloggers to tag will follow. I have to figure out who hasn't already done this. I don't know if I will be able to find anyone to whom it will be new. I'll try.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Saturday, August 6, 2005
Responding to a request from Coturnix, I am posting this link to an article about Intelligent Design. An interesting and informative read. I highly recommend it to all.
August 9, 2005: edited to add- I am reminded that I should encourage you to do the same. Post a link to this article on Intelligent Design using the words Intelligent Design as the link. It's how we influence the Google rankings...we hope.
Friday, August 5, 2005
"Yeah." I heard her push herself up into a sitting position, so I turned my head and looked over at the clock she was no longer occluding. I'm not sure why, I already knew what it was going to say: "4:00AM."
Four o'clock in the morning is an unholy hour to be rising for the day. Especially for an unemployed slob like me. But they started serving breakfast at 6:00 at the corner of Yonge and Dundas Square, and we had an invitation to be there.
The occasion is called Breakfast with Derringer. It is an (intermittent) monthly, live, on location broadcast of the Q107 morning show featuring John Derringer, and open, by invitation only, to fans who have signed up on the radio station's web site. Which I had done.
I hardly even remembered. It wasn't something I really cared about going to one way or another, but they have all these contests on the web site, and once you're registered, it's one simple click to enter them, so I entered this one along with all the rest. And early this week I received an e-mail informing me that my name had been drawn, and I was invited, along with a guest, to join Derringer, and the rest of the morning crew, for breakfast at Club279, upstairs at The Hard Rock Cafe, in downtown Toronto. "Cool," I thought, but didn't really think the wife would let me go. Turns out she was more interested than I was.
They say it's always darkest before the dawn. Standing in my driveway at 4:28AM trying to find the keyhole in the door of my black car, I was inclined to believe them. Gino Vanelli said, "black cars look better in the shade," but I'm pretty frickin' sure he didn't mean this.
The plan was, my wife and I would drive separate cars down to her work, where we would leave her car, and drive downtown in mine. I could then drop her off at work on my way back home. I was surprised by the number of cars on the 404 at 4:37AM, and at the music the overnight DJ plays. I don't know how many years it has been since I heard American Pie on the radio. Hopefully, it will be a good number of years before I hear it again. I'm not sure, but I think there is probably something of a safety hazard about tooling down the highway at a quarter to five in the morning shouting out that'll be the day that I die at the top of my lungs.
The invitation said the doors opened at 5:00, and breakfast started at 6:00. Our first clue that this breakfast was more than what I had envisioned came as we approached the location at 5:20 to see a line up waiting to get in. People were obviously getting impatient at the fact that the doors were still closed. The one legged lady in the wheelchair who was first in line told us she had been there since 4:00.
Our second clue that I had misinterpreted the scale of the event came when we moved to join the end of the line...and couldn't find it. It hugged the front windows of the Hard Rock Cafe, looking into the streetside broadcast studio, turned the corner, threaded between the wrought iron railing of the bar's patio and a couple of Q107 vans parked on the side street, and meandered down the sidewalk into the darkness away from the main drag. A couple of security guards sitting on the side of the fountain in the square smoked cigarettes and watched us make our way along the facade of tie-dyed shirts, black jeans, and pony tails. The young kids were dressed even stranger. My wife's eyes met mine, and we shared a silent understanding that we were far away from our world here; she in her business pant suit, and I in my khaki shorts, golf shirt, and deck shoes.
Just as we took our place at the end of the long line, it started to move, so our timing was pretty good, we figured. We would later find out how wrong we were. At the door, we gave the nice lady my name, which she checked off against her guest list, perused my photo ID with some care, and we were directed to a staircase up to Club279, which sits perched atop the Hard Rock Cafe, and is littered with rock and roll memorabilia. Guitars from Eddie Van Halen, Lou Reed, and Jimi Hendrix, a hat worn by John Lennon, a black leather bustier worn by Madonna, a pair of leopard spotted gloves worn by Shania Twain...OK, mostly rock and roll memorabilia.
At the top of the stairs, we ran into another line. The nice gentleman at the end of it informed us that it was the line up for breakfast, and that we might want to find seats first. He was right, but it was far too late for that. In my estimation, there were between 150 and 200 people present, and seating available for about 75. The rest of us had to crowd around the bar, and along the drink ledges mounted on the walls. The wife and I managed to find a spot where we could see the stage if we squinted up our eyes, and peered through a double thickness of glass divider wall.
For the next three and a half hours, we stood, eating cold scrambled eggs and bacon, stale Danishes, and drinking multiple cups of, thankfully, steaming hot coffee, while the Q morning crew did their thing. Granted, it was entertaining. During short breaks while they were off air due to commercials, or a song being played, they joked with the audience and their studio crew, and drew tickets for door prizes. During longer breaks, while the news was being read from another broadcast location, we were treated to live music by Michael White and Animal House, a local live band fronted by the founder of The White, the world's first and foremost Led Zeppelin cover band.
It was fascinating to watch them work. Derringer, the main host, spent almost the entire four hours of his shift flipping back and forth through the morning newspaper, looking for things to riff on while on the air. A highlight of the show came when he was joined by local personality Maureen Halloway who does a syndicated feature called The Last Word. Maureen is a very funny lady, and listening to her and John work off each other is always the high point of the show. Unfortunately, her segment has not been heard much lately due to her fight against breast cancer. She confided in us that today was her first ever public appearance without a hat or a wig covering her now bald head.
John commented that she had a singularly nice melon, and Maureen, being Maureen, cleverly misunderstood him, and confirmed the fact that she did have only one melon left. Her courage and her strength were inspiring, and I was moved to think of the several J-land friends currently engaged in their own battles with illness. Maureen received extended applause at the end of both of her segments, and she was visibly moved by it.
Our knees and backs were getting significantly uncomfortable from standing for almost four hours when 9:00AM finally rolled around. The on air crew squeezed in one more live traffic report, and then John Derringer asked, "is that it, are we done?" He stood up, pulled off his headset, shrugged on his jacket, and was out the door before anyone else in the room knew what was happening. He obviously had absolutely no interest in doing any schmoozing with the fans.
While we did enjoy ourselves, my wife and I both agree that we would not get up at 4:00AM to do it again. There were some things about it that were disappointing. I was really hoping for a more intimate and interactive experience, with more audience participation, and the chance to actually meet and say hello to the on air personalities. Even given the format they used, I think they should have invited about fifty per cent fewer guests, so everybody would have been able to at least have a chair, and maybe even a view.
The end of the story is simple. I drove my wife back to her office, then drove myself home. The wife had to work until 6:00 that evening, and was completely wiped by the time she got home. She had trouble even staying awake for dinner. I was home, and back in bed by 10:30AM. I know she's going to make me pay for that later.
Thursday, August 4, 2005
(52% dark, 43% spontaneous, 38% vulgar) your humor style:
CLEAN | SPONTANEOUS | DARK
Your humor's mostly innocent and off-the-cuff, but somehow there's something slightly menacing about you. Part of your humor is making people a little uncomfortable, even if the things you say aren't themselves confrontational. You probably have a very dry delivery, or are seriously over-the-top.
Your type is the most likely to appreciate a good insult and/or broken bone and/or very very fat person dancing.
PEOPLE LIKE YOU: David Letterman - John Belushi
My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender: The 3 Variable Funny Test
For the life of me, I cannot remember where I first saw this. If I figure it out, I'll come back and linkee.