Thursday, May 31, 2007

Breaking News: CarnivAOL #40 published!

   Sharon, the proprietor of the blog Golf and Other Stuff, has fulfilled her duties as host of CarnivAOL, this week publishing the 40th edition. Although she had a mild response - no doubt due to the fine spring weather, and the intervening holiday weekend - she did a fine job, and congratulations are due her.

   Forty editions.
When I started CarnivAOL, I hardly expected to still be going this far along the road. I thought it might fizzle and die early on. And while participation does seem to be waning slightly, it looks to be holding on for the long run.
   Forty editions. Eighty weeks. Throw in a four month sabbatical due to computer self immolation, and lack of funds with which to procure a replacement, and we are only eight weeks shy of our second anniversary here.
   I thought I would take the opportunity of this quasi-milestone to talk about what, exactly, this CarnivAOL thing is. It's easy to say, "it's a blog carnival," and leave it at that, but how many people out in AOL J-Land really know what that means.
   What does that mean?

   What is a blog carnival? Well, what is a "Carnival?"
   A carnival is a traveling show. It moves from small town to small town, bringing a collection of exhibits and entertainments along with it. For many people, the things they see at a traveling carnival they would never have experienced otherwise.
   Likewise, a blog carnival is a traveling show. It travels from blog to blog on a regular schedule, and features a variety of blog entries collected together in one place for people to read. Hopefully, it will introduce readers to new and interesting blogs they might not have otherwise found on their own.
   Many popular blog carnivals have themes, like
The Skeptics' Circle, which requires all entries to be about skepticism and critical thinking, or The Carnival of the Cats, which requires all entries to be about...well, I guess that's kind of obvious. This blog carnival is what is called a "carnival of the vanities." That means that the entries are submitted out of vanity - because the writers liked them. There is no CarnivAOL editorial committee reading entries and deciding which ones are "good enough" to be included. There is no one picking out entries that are "off topic" and deleting them. Within the framework of a few simple rules, every single entry submitted gets featured.
   The traveling thing is new. For the first year and a half, I hosted each edition of CarnivAOL at the CarnivAOL blog. Starting in March of this year, I began soliciting volunteers to act as guest hosts, and publish each carnival at their own blogs. I did that for three reasons. First, it makes CarnivAOL a true blog carnival, like the hundreds of others out in the greater blogosphere. Second, it will hopefully result in CarnivAOL being exposed to a wider audience. Third, it took a bit of the workload off me. It's not that big a deal publishing a call for submissions, collecting those submissions for a week, and then publishing them...until you have to do it every single week. Being gainfully employed again has limited my time here in cyberspace, and the roadshow helps in a big way.
   So, volunteer, won't you? Send me an email, to, and let me know what week you'd like to host this silly little exercise in community building called CarnivAOL.

Monday, May 28, 2007

What kind of atheist are you?

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist




Militant Atheist




Spiritual Atheist


Angry Atheist


What kind of atheist are you?
created with

Some things I thought about today

   This morning I was drinking my coffee, absently flipping through the newspaper scanning the headlines, but not really paying all that much attention. It wasn't until I left the house and was getting into my car that one of them intruded on my reverie.
   I was standing in the driveway, breathing in the sweet morning air, and gazing at the glory of a late spring/early summer day, and I thought, "damn! It's May 28th. It's sunny, and warm, and fabulous - true picnic at the park weather. And the Stanley Cup final series starts tonight."
   If the series goes seven, the final game will be played on June eleventh. I can't think of one thing less relevant to life during the first two weeks of June, than professional hockey. The media are doing their best to generate the hype: opportunity for the cup the come back to Canada - yada, yada, yada... Who cares!
   You know what? Doc Halliday might start Thursday night in Chicago. Now that's exciting!

   The face of recycling in Ontario is changing rapidly. Sure, I've read the editorials about it, but it really became noticeable as I carried an almost empty blue box to the curb tonight.
we'd already reduced our use of non-reusable bottles a couple of years ago, but our blue box was still usually fairly full. Mostly wine and liquor bottles. That sounds really bad, doesn't it. Still, it's the truth. The wife and I usually have a glass of wine with dinner (for medicinal purposes, of course). I tend not to buy major brewery brand beer, and much of the beer in my fridge is imported, and bottled in non-returnable bottles. So our blue box commonly had several beer and wine bottles in it at every pick up date.
   Recently the Government of Ontario started a program whereby every item sold in the government run LCBO liquor stores has a refundable-upon-return deposit included in the price. Bottles (and cans) are to be returned (to the Beer Store, not the liquor store where you purchased them - could it be any more confusing?) for a refund instead of being put in the recycling box. Now the Beer Stores in Ontario have had a refundable bottle deposit program in place for years. Beer bottles are returned to the brewers, and refilled - a system that makes good environmental and economic sense. The bottles from the liquor store, however, are not being handled the same way. They are simply being put into a bigger blue box by the collectors, and recycled the way bottles from our residential curbside boxes were.
   So why do it? According to the government, a higher percentage of bottles will ultimately end up being recycled this way. Because the bottles are being returned for a cash refund, they figure fewer people will dispose of them in the trash. As well, due to better sorting and handling procedures, less glass will be rejected by the recyclers due to mixed colours or contamination. We are told that better than 85% of our glass wine, liquor and beer bottles will now be diverted from landfills.
   This is a good thing. But at what cost?
   This is costing money. Government money. Public money. Let me translate: tax money. Somewhere along the line, more money is going to be taken out of my pocket to pay for this program. As well, many municipalities are already complaining that the companies who are contracted to do the weekly roadside recycling collection are asking to renegotiate their contracts. Contracts which, they say, were originally based upon expected volume of goods available for them to resell to recyclers.
   Looking at my blue box tonight, I can see why they are upset. One Coke can. One ratty plastic bottle the dog picked up during a walk. A one litre creme container. A yogurt tub. An ice cream container (which I took out and put in the garbage, where it belongs). Slim pickings. So my municipal taxes are going to have to go up again as well, all so the government can be seen to be doing something for the environment. It remains to be seen whether they can come anywhere close to their goal of 85% diversion of glass bottles, but whether they do or not, the fact remains, this was easy, and will be mostly ineffectual. And it allows the Government to avoid actually addressing major environmental issues on the table.

Did you know...

   ...That if you start up Google Earth, and zoom in on the default starting position, you will see a small subdivision of row homes in Lawrence, Kansas?

   ...That in a recent Environics poll that asked Canadians which country "poses the greatest threat to world peace," forty per cent of respondents chose the United States?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is a rock scientific?

   My wife and I had an interesting discussion last night. I was reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and paused to read a passage to her regarding the question of what, exactly, it is about religion that causes it to be selected for in the evolutionary process. Why is a mind prone to religious belief an advantage to human survival?

   Science, the wife postulated, cannot explain or investigate religion (a position, by the way, that Dawkins vociferously refutes in his book). Evolution, on the other hand, is "scientific," she said. Although I understood what she meant, I played a bit of Devil's Advocate with her. (It's just a saying, OK?)

   Evolution is not scientific, I told her, any more than a rock is scientific. Science is a process by which we can investigate, and then describe the rock, but the rock itself, is just a thing. Likewise, evolution is just a normal, ongoing process in our world. Our examination of it may be scientific in nature, but evolution itself is just another thing.


Call for submissions for CarnivAOL #40

   Sharon has published her call for submissions for CarnivAOL #40 at her blog, Golf, and Other Stuff. Drop on over there and say hello. And send her a submission to be featured in the 40th edition of CarnivAOL, which she will publish in her blog on Tuesday, May 29, 2007.
   CarnivAOL is a great way to get a blog entry you are particularly proud of  more exposure in the greater AOL blogging community. It will bring new people to your blog, and who knows, some of them might become regular readers.
   The same is true of hosting CarnivAOL. As of next week, I am officially out of guest hosts. If you are, or have been in the past, a participant in CarnivAOL, won't you please step up and offer to guest host a
future edition? I'm counting on you.
   As well, past hosts who are interested in a second go round can contact me as well. Let's keep this thing going...and growing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Approaching a time that is classic

   Acoverforty, who, by the way, is not a loser, recently wrote about finding deals at HMV. Like him, I am a big fan of pawing through delete bins looking for hidden gems. or, if they are cheap enough, picking up two or three unknowns hoping for a pleasant surprise. The other day, Matthew convinced me to take him to the mall. Seems the new Linkin Park album has just come out, and he just had to have it. Right away!
   His mother has made a deal with him. He has a guitar recital coming up in a couple of weeks, and if he practices his performance piece, in his mother's presence, twice a day from now until then, she will pay for whatever new CDs he wants between now and then. He needs to be careful, though, If he neglects the practicing one day, he will have to pay her back for all of the CDs he gets.
   The visit to HMV allowed me to check out the two for ten dollars rack Andrew mentioned in his previous entry, and like him, I couldn't resist. I picked up CDs from
Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Willie Dixon, and Ottmar Liebert. Great stuff!


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Prolly not too good for my rep...

   I really didn't want to begin my day by killing a baby squirrel. In fact, it being my day off, how I really wanted to start my day was by sleeping in. Then my wife put her hand gently on my shoulder, kissed me on the cheek, and said, "guess what your dog has done." Yeah, he's her dog when she gets home from work, and he's wagging his tail so hard he's hip checking the furniture, but he my dog when he's "done something."
   It seems he had caught a squirrel, and he was playing with it. The wife had managed to get him to drop it, and come back inside. She then woke me up, at six-thirty in the morning, to inform me that it was lying in the back yard, injured, but still alive, and I had to go deal with it.
   I knew right away it was a baby. No self respecting adult squirrel is going to get himself caught by an overgrown puppy like Shadow. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, slipped into a pair of runners, and ventured out into the too-fresh morning to see what the situation was.

   It was lying in the middle of the yard, hair all matted and wet from being in the dog's mouth. I couldn't see any obvious sign of blood. It was breathing, and looked up at me when I approached. I wasn't sure how badly hurt it was. It might simply have been frightened half to death. I decided to leave it there for an hour, or so, to see if it would regain some strength - and sense - and crawl away. After spending an hour with the dog alternately staring at me, then staring at the door and whining, I went out to have a second look.
   He obviously wasn't getting any better. His head was hanging down in the grass below him. He was still breathing, but he made no movement when I approached. It was clear he wasn't going to be hopping up and running up a tree. With a sigh, I got out a pair of gloves and a plastic bag. I picked him up, and eased him into the bag. "Sorry, little guy," I said, as I tied the bag closed. Then I swung the bag up, whacked it hard on the sidewalk, and dropped it into the garbage can.

   Oh, come on! What else was I going to do?

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Two suns in the sunset

   About a week ago I posted an entry about how easy it is for we humans to be fooled by what our senses tell us. Just a few days after that, I had a first hand experience that served to illustrate the point further.
   I was cutting the lawn in my back yard one evening after work. The sun was low to the horizon, and beaming across the yard strongly from my right side as I pushed the mower back and forth. Every once in a while, I would catch a movement out of the corner of my right eye. I'd turn and look in that direction, expecting to see my neighbour walking along the fence between our yards on his way to or from his own garden shed. There would be nobody there. It happened three or four times, and each time I would look up, expecting to see someone there, and there would not be anyone, or anything to see.
   Finally, a little bit weirded out by what was happening, I decided to figure out what it was I was seeing. I looked westward, over to my neighbour's lawn, shading my eyes against the sun that was minutes from sinking out of sight. As I moved back and forth a few steps, I laughed. What I saw, looking into the setting sun, was my own shadow.

   Sure, there was a shadow behind me as well, being cast against the wall of the house. It never caught my attention, and made me look up that way. Why not? Because that's where my brain was expecting the shadow to be. I'm sure movement on that side was catching my eye all the time, but my brain, deep in my subconscious, was saying, "that's nothing but your shadow," and I never took conscious notice of it.
   What my brain was not expecting, however, was that the sun, reflecting in one of the bedroom windows, would cast an equally strong shadow back the other direction. The very fact that there should not be a shadow there was what was causing me to look up every time it (I) moved. I'm sure an evolutionary anthropologist (if such a thing exists [it does, I checked]) would have an in-depth explanation having to do with a brain evolved for hunting/evading prey. Neither here nor there. The explanation doesn't change the fact. Our brains are wired to perceive things a certain way, and when things appear that don't seem to fit, we have strange experiences. We see ghosts, or angels, or neighbours.
   The effect was so strong that even after I had figured out exactly what was happening, I still could not stop myself from starting, and looking up every time I walked across the area in the yard that produced the doubled shadow. And it occurred to me that when we skeptics tell someone that we believe they have been fooled, they interpret that as an insult. They think we're telling them they're stupid.

   Nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains have been wired by millions of years of evolutionary pressures to respond to certain stimuli in certain ways, and there is nothing we can do about it. I can no more fail to look up at a shadow in the wrong place than I can prevent myself from being misdirected by the magician performing his sleight of hand. I can, however, understand what is happening, and by that understanding, discount false explanations. I know there wasn't really a lion waiting to devour me, and I know the magician didn't really make a coin come out of my ear.
   And I know the sugar pills won't really cure my illnesses, and I know that ghosts aren't really hiding in my closet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

CarnivAOL 39

   Kathi has published the 39th edition of CarnivAOL at her blog, MAIL CALL! Supporting the Troops. She had a good turn-out including several regulars, and a couple of first time participants. Good on you, Kathi! (She said she wasn't clever enough to come up with a theme, but the "carnival" graphics throughout make a liar of her.) A great big thank you to Kathi for hosting, and doing a great job. And, a great big thank you to all who sent in submissions.
   Two weeks from today,
CarnivAOL will be hosted by Sharon, at her blog, Golf, and Other Stuff... Sharon was one of the first people to volunteer to be a guest host back when I first put out the invitation in February. She's had the May 29th slot blocked out since then, and has been really looking forward to hosting. What do you think she's got for us?

   The date for the 41st edition - June 12, 2007 - is still in need of a host. Who's gonna step up and help me out with that one? The 42nd edition is scheduled to be hosted by Stephanie, at
Home in the Heartland, on June 26th, and after that the slate is wide open. If you would like to be a CarnivAOL guest host, send me an e-mail (, and I'll slot you in.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Caption contest

   I was showing this picture around to a couple of people, and one of them suggested a caption for it. I thought, hey, what a great idea to use for a blog entry. You know, seeing as I got nothin' else. Suggest a caption in the comments thread.
   What can you win? Well...lessee...let's say I send the winner(s) an email saying, "good one, heh heh!" How would that be? OK, I'll start us off with the caption that Alec sent me:

"No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Good times!

   A meme via Cin, who finds the best ones.

Which random phallic object are you?
Quiz by Andrea.

   My result in this quiz brought to mind an old TV special I watched years ago (I'm thinking 1984 - why will be evident in a moment). It featured the Canadian band April Wine as they toured the north eastern United States. At one point they were on their tour bus, driving through D.C., and passed by the Washington Monument. One of the band members was reading out loud from a tourist brochure about how the momument had been erected in 1884 when one of the others quipped, "I'd say it looks pretty impressive for a one hundred year old erection."
   Hey, I was nineteen. I thought it was pretty funny. Of course we don't need to mention the fact that it took 36 years for the builders of the Washington Monument to "get it up."

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CarnivAOL #39 call for submissions

   The thirty-ninth edition of CarnivAOL will be hosted by Kathi at MAIL CALL! Supporting The Troops, this coming Tuesday, May 15, 2007. Get the word out! Send Kathi your submissions to before Sunday at midnight for inclusion in next week's carnival. Read Kathi's announcement of the carnival for more information, or explore the CarnivAOL blog for an explanation of what, exactly, a blog carnival is, and what CarnivAOL is all about.

   There have been some excellent and fun guest hosts so far, and I am looking for more. If you are interested in hosting an edition of CarnivAOL send me an email to and let me know when you are available to do so. For open dates, look at the CarnivAOL upcoming editions page. For a description of just what is involved in hosting an edition of CarnivAOL, read the hosting guidelines, and visit some of the past editions.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The "amazing" colour changing card trick

   I came across this at the Bad Astronomy Blog, and it so perfectly illustrates a point I have been thinking about recently that I had to pass it along.

   One of the things we skeptics harp on a lot is the double blind test.
   A blind test is one in which the subjects being tested have no knowledge of the preferred outcome, or even of the range of possible outcomes of the test they are undertaking. This is important because studies have shown that subjects tend to try and respond to tests in the way they perceive the tester wants them to. If subjects have foreknowledge of what a study is all about, the results can easily be artificially skewed.
   A double blind test is one in which the person administering the test does not know the preferred outcome either. For example, in a medical drug trial, the physician dispensing the medication, or the practitioner administering the dose, do not know whether their patient is receiving the actual medication, or a placebo. You see, studies have also shown that the testers can - often subconsciously - communicate the desired outcome to their subjects. Which, of course, results in the phenomenon described above. The only way to ensure the results of your test are not being affected by subject or experimenter bias is to control for every possible leakage of information.

   The first mistake often made by a woo-woo is the belief that they cannot be fooled. I can't remember which one of the woo-woo trifecta - Dean Radin, Rupert Sheldrake or Gary Schwartz - it was who said it, but one of them claimed that double blind experiments were a good thing for young science students, but unnecessary for experienced researchers who had learned how to avoid bias in theirstudies. (That sound you just heard, the soft susurration just on the edge of being audible? That was the sound of tens of thousands of scientists simultaneously shaking their heads in sad resignation.) Any serious scientist will tell you that being fooled is one of the easiest things to happen. It can happen to you. It can happen to them. It does happen to them, with embarrassing regularity. That's why science is a peer reviewed process, so that other people can point out to you your errors.

   Just how easy it is to fool you is the subject of the following video clip. Dr. Richard Wiseman is a Professor of Psychology, and the head of a research unit at The University of Hertfordshire, in England. As a former professional magician, he has taken a special interest in the psychological phenomena routinely exploited by stage magicians, as well as psychics, astrologers, and alternative medical practitioners, in the plying of their craft. In the video below, he demonstrates just how easy you are to fool.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A to Z again

   Dawn has been the meme-inator recently, devouring online quizzes like there was some possibility they might all disappear tomorrow. I have been the invisible man, popping in once a week or so to make sure y'all know about CarnivAOL, and doing little else. Maybe, with a little help from Dawn, I can get a few entries posted this weekend.

A-Available or Single? Neither.
B-Best Friend:  Yeah, uh, I'm not in high school anymore.
C-Cake or Pie: On the Internet, the answer to that question is always, "Pie."
D-Drink of Choice: Single Malt Scotch.
E-Essential Item(s): A very sharp knife.
F- Favourite Colour(s): Colour(s).
G- Gummy Bears or Worms? Gummies=Blech! I'll go with good jujubes anyday
H- Hometown: Maple, Ontario.
I- Indulgence: Single Malt Scotch.
J- January or February: February. My Birthday's then. Also, leap years are cool.
K- Kids: Uno. Teenager. Headaches coming.
L- Life is incomplete without: Single Malt Scotch.
M- Marriage Date:  September 29, 1990.
N- Number of Siblings: One sister.
O- Oranges or Apples? Depends on the day. 
P- Phobias/Fears: Gotta go with Dawn on this one. Spiders give me the heebie jeebies.
Q- Favourite Quote: "You can't reason someone out of something they didn't reason themselves into."--Jonathan Swift.
R- Reasons to smile: What, I need a reason? OK, so usually it's because I'm looking at my wife.
S- Season: Fall, crisp dry fall air... leaves aflame.(Dawn's answer left complete and unedited here.) 
T- Tag Three: Homey don't play dat. Besides, I wasn't tagged for this one. Just thought I'd jump in and play. Feel free to do the same.
U- Unknown Fact about Me: Sometimes I get interconnected itches. I'll scratch my elbow, and my knee will start to itch. When I scratch that, my elbow starts again. Sometimes I think I'm nutso.
V – Vegetarian or Oppressor of Animals? Definitely oppressor of animals. My chosen instrument of oppression is the Bar-B-Que.
W- Worst Habit(s):I'm an asshole.
X – X-rays or Ultrasounds?: A few, here and there.
Y- Your Favourite Foods: Single Malt Scotch. (You expected me to say something different?)
Z- Zodiac: Irrelevant.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I have been remiss

   Here it is Wednesday, and the newest edition of CarnivAOL was published yesterday, and I am only now getting around to mentioning it. Bad Paul! Slap my hand.
   Head on over to
Life and Faith in Caneyhead for the police report, and the latest rap sheets on this week's crop of CarnivAOL participants. A great job was done by Barbara this week, and she had a lot of fun making up a theme for the CarnivAOL entries she posted. Thanks to Barbara for guest hosting this week.
   Two weeks from yesterday, on May 15th, CarnivAOL will be hosted by Kathi at
Mail Call! Supporting the Troops. Get ready to send your submissions in to her for that edition. If you would like to be a guest host for an edition of CarnivAOL, I want to hear from you. Send me an e-mail to and let me know what date you are interested in. For information about what dates are still available, look at the upcoming editions page at the CarnivAOL blog.