Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Consciousness Explained (almost)

I'm almost done reading Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett. It's an attempt to tackle the slipperiest of problems, the nature of consciousness (in case you didn't quite get that from the title). Dennett proposes what he calls the Multiple Drafts model, in which many systems in the brain each do their own processing in parallel, and some sort of neurological competition ultimately allows only one process to make it all the way; that's the thought that becomes conscious. He hasn't elaborated on what sort of competition is going on, but I can easily imagine it in a dynamical-systems context.

Of course, it's a purely materialistic theory of consciousness. I agree with that point of view; there is no need to conjure the supernatural.

That said, I can't say I blame people for not accepting the materialistic explanation of consciousness. The feeling that "I am me" is difficult to resolve without leaning on some vital force. Can this feeling of consciousness really have emerged as my brain developed, and will it really just disappear once my brain stops receiving oxygen and sugar?

At any rate, I am enjoying the book. His multiple drafts model reminds me of an explanation I once read about multiple personality disorder; it could be that different brain subsystems become decoupled and partition the "host's" history into separate memory banks. That blew me away!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Birthday numeracy

The other day, I realized something amazing. Here it is.

My birthday is May 14, 1970. That's 05/14/1970. I realized that
5 x 14 = 70.

5 + 14 = 19.

So, you could represent my birthday using only 5 and 14.

I know... I'm so cool.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Poor Tiger Woods, a victim of human biology

Given the media attention that Tiger Woods is receiving after cheating on his wife, it seems an opportune time to mention the book I just finished listening to. It's called Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, written by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton. Here is my review of the book.

This delightful and to-the-point book goes over the necessary material to understand the battle between monogamy and polygamy. It explains how each of the two strategies are evolutionarily advantageous, but also goes over their down-sides. Lots of examples are taken from zoology (gorillas, bonobo monkeys, prairie voles, etc.). Putting humans under the same zoological microscope, a myriad of evidence suggests that we fit the class of "mostly monogamous".

The end of the book is a little patronizing, as if trying to soften the news for those who have trouble accepting our biological reality.

All-in-all, a great little book. Well worth a read (or listen).


Friday, December 11, 2009

Flimflam inoculation 6: Conspiracy theories

9-11 truthers. UFO afficionados. Holocaust deniers. Anti-vaccinationists. And the poor, poor repressed intelligent design proponents. What do they all have in common?

Belief in a conspiracy.

Why are conspiracy theories so popular? For the answer, let's think about evidence. If you want to convince someone that your claim is true, you offer evidence. Evidence can take the form of experimental results, casual observations, logical deductions from agreed-upon facts, or any combination thereof. For example,

Claim: Air has mass.

Evidence: Blow on paper, and the paper moves because of the transfer of momentum. Air is attracted to earth by gravity. Air is made up of various molecules that, themselves, have mass.

Seems simple enough. What could possibly take that scientific process off the rails? Well, a problem arises when someone makes claims that are impossible to prove false, called "unfalsifiable" claims. For example, consider the claim that "the two towers of the World Trade Center collapsed as a result of a secret government anti-terrorism propaganda campaign". With regard to evidence, there are 3 possibilities.

Case 1: Evidence in support of claim
(ie. fire from planes was not hot enough to melt beams)
This is the kind of evidence that could actually be useful, and warrant further investigation. However, a handful of strong evidence is better than an ocean of weak evidence. In the context of conspiracy theories, this often takes the form of "anomaly hunting", looking for anything that seems at all inconsistent with the mundane explanation.

Case 2: Evidence contradicting the claim
(ie. beams are weakened by high temperatures, even if they don't melt)
This is the kind of evidence that SHOULD put the claim to rest. But this is where conspiracy theories go off the deep end... by stating that the evidence was made up by those involved in the conspiracy. This approach is unfalsifiable because it allows the conspiracy theorist to dismiss any evidence that contradicts their theory. The only way around this is to generate evidence yourself. However, that will only work for YOU; telling others will result in you being denounced as a co-conspirator.

Case 3: No evidence in support of the claim
This is where conspiracy theories really REALLY go off the deep end... by claiming that the absence of evidence is due to a big cover-up. Think of how many times you've heard "Government cover-up", "classified", and "they don't want you to know". This explanation for lack of evidence is also unfalsifiable, since the absence of evidence is, by definition, evidence for it.

That's not to say that conspiracies can't happen. They can. The problem is that people get carried away with them because (1) they are unfalsifiable, and (2) they can be used to promote any agenda. And who doesn't like a juicy story now and again?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Flimflam inoculation 5: Inappropriate use of the word "energy"

To the scientifically illiterate, the word "energy" conjures up notions of warmth, life and goodness. However, a thermonuclear bomb delivers energy... at a very high rate.

Pseudo-scientific pursuits often misuse the word "energy". Take, for example, this snippit from the FAQ of the PCU College of Holistic Medicine

What are the fundamental differences between traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine?

With its origin in ancient Taoist philosophy, traditional Chinese medicine views a person as an energy system in which body and mind are unified. Western medicine, however, does not share this holistic view as it isolates and separates a disease from a person. Chinese medicine views the body as a small universe, while Western medicine views it as a planet in isolation.

Diagnosis of illness is also approached differently. In addition to finding information about the history of the illness, traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis looks at different parts of the body such to gain valuable information about internal organs and their energies. For example, the tongue is often carefully examined to give detailed patient diagnosis.

Upon diagnosis, a TCM doctor will prescribe a treatment to restore the balance of energy channels in the body. Treatments such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, food cures, massage and/or exercises will be used. The TCM doctor will treat the entire person, including both the physical and the mental aspect.

Restore the balance of "energy channels"? What does that mean?

As a first-order check, ask yourself if the energy can be measured in Joules or Calories. Those are the scientific units by which energy can be quantified. In that context, what is meant by "internal organs and their energies"? Is it the amount of chemical potential energy stored in the molecules? Is it the organ's kinetic energy (from movement)? I suspect it's none of those, but rather a feeble-minded surrogate for "magic".

In addition to its fallacious use of "energy", what else does the FAQ get wrong? Hmmm, last I checked, Western Medicine (which I interpret to mean "science-based medicine") DOES view the body as a system of interacting mass and energy (measured in Joules). And what's with the rather abstract metaphor of viewing a person as a universe, and not "as a planet in isolation"? A universe is in isolation, is it not? It's the planet that is influenced by other stars, planets, etc. Am I missing something here?

Contrary to the FAQ's implication, science-based medicine infers diagnosis (1) by considering the history of illness, and (2) by looking at body parts, (in addition to other sources of information such as test results, etc.). However, science-based medicine does not make wild claims like the health of one's liver is conveniently displayed on their tongue. But apparently that's part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Misuse of the word "energy" - or "force" for that matter - is often a sign that someone is trying to sell you something by employing science-sounding jargon. "Quantum physics" is another common import for con-artists. When you hear those terms with no obvious relation to their scientific definitions, seek a second opinion from a real medical professional.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Flimflam innoculation 4: Proof by example

If you're still not convinced that the AssBlaster can shave pounds off your hips in just 5 minutes, listen to what these people have to say.

Person A: "I was amazed at how quickly my weight dropped."

Person B: "It worked like a charm for me... you gotta try it!"

The part of the interview they don't show you...

Person A: "Come to think of it, that was around the time of my chemotherapy."

Person B: "The AssBlaster was a great warm-up for my Ironman triathlon training."

The point is, testimonials do not give you all the information you need to establish if the claims are true. Instead, testimonials are directed at the standard loopholes in your psychology. They are not meant to prove anything, but are meant to make you BELIEVE. That's why the skeptical hairs on the back of your neck should stand up when someone starts feeding you success story after success story. Delivering testimonials is often a sign that real evidence does not exist.

If they had a product that really worked, then they would do a blinded and controlled study. Here's a recipe:
  1. First, come up with a hypothesis: eg. "Using the AssBlaster for 1 week will reduce your weight by 10 pounds and your waist measurement by 1 inch".
  2. Then, randomly choose a bunch of people and split them into 2 groups (A and B). Have group A use the AssBlaster, and group B do the same exercise as group A but without using the AssBlaster.
  3. Measure the relevant quantities before and after a trial period (eg. weight, and waist measurement). The people doing the measuring should be "blinded"... they shouldn't know who is in group A and who is in group B.
  4. At the end of the trial period, study the data in a quantitative, statistical manner to see how likely it is that the data supports your hypothesis. You're look for a bigger drop in weight for members of group A compared to members of group B. Likewise for waist measurement.
The presence of a "control group" (B, in this case) is very important. It allows the scientists to establish an association between the hypothesized cause and effect while minimizing other confounding factors. This is really the only way to test the claim, unless you know some basic mechanism that is so plainly obvious that everyone believes you already (eg. "Not drinking or eating for a week will reduce your waist size by 1 inch.")

(For more examples of testimonials, see my post on the Canadian Decompression and Pain Centres.)

In summary: If some claim sounds too good to be true, you might be right. If the only evidence they offer in support of their claim is testimonial, run... FAST!


Flimflam inoculation 2: Appeal to consequences

(OK, so number 3 came before number 2)

Ever heard this dull-witted line of reasoning?

Hitler believed in evolution.
Therefore, evolution is not true.

Or how about this one?

Christians all around the world are helping those in need.
Therefore, Christianity must be true.

Even if Hitler DID believe in evolution (I doubt he even understood it), the fact that he was a douche-bag doesn't say anything about the truthfulness of evolution. And while it's terrific that people help each other, the simple fact that many people agree on something does not make it true. Most people used to think the world was round.

The "appeal to consequences" logical fallacy often takes one of these forms:

If X, then Y.
I really like Y.
So X is true.


If X, then Y.
I really don't like Y.
So X is false.

Neither of those conclusions follow logically. But the like or dislike of "Y" can be very compelling and distracting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Britain kills UFO hotline

That's the title of a short article in The Record today. It says that "the Defence Ministry has quietly shut down its UFO hotline as a cost-cutting measure, and will no longer investigate any sightings." A Defence spokesperson said that none of the 12,000 alleged UFO sightings over the past 50 years has panned out to be real aliens.

My favourite line of the article: Roy Lake, founder of the London UFO Studies group, said "I think the government knows damn well what's going on up there, and they're covering it up." Wow, UFOs and government conspiracy... that's a new one.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Intelligent design's only skill is evasion

Whenever someone criticizes intelligent design, ID proponents whine that the criticism was unfairly based on a false definition of ID. For example, Chris Mooney's book The Republican War on Science was critical of ID, so the Discovery Institute quickly drummed up a response, stating

Mr. Mooney's attack upon the scientific theory of ID has a common theme of mischaracterizing the theory and tearing down only a straw-man version of intelligent design.

This is one of the chief advantages of an ill-conceived pseudo-science... the ability to ooze out of the way of any criticisms. I've seen this same complaint lofted by IDers over an over.

So, just what is the proper definition of intelligent design, anyway? According to the Discovery Institute's web page,

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

OK, so we have a definition. Hmmm... let's try to figure out what it means. First of all, what is meant by "best explained"? According to what objective measure? None... it's purely subjective, making the definition useless.

The definition also implies that intelligence is not directed by natural processes. Guess what. Science only deals with natural causes, defined as the "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation". That is, claims made about things outside of nature and the physical universe are not science.

And how about this elaboration on the "science" of ID;

ID theorists argue that design can be inferred by studying the informational properties of natural objects to determine if they bear the type of information that in our experience arise from an intelligent cause.

Does that say "in our experience"? Whose experience? Yours? Mine? Theirs? Science is NOT subjective... if it were, it would be called religion. The whole scientific enterprise is an attempt to find out objective truths about our universe.

Contrast that foggy definition to Wikipedia's first two sentences on evolution:

Evolution is change in the genetic material of a population of organisms from one generation to the next. Though changes produced in any one generation are normally small, differences accumulate with each generation and can, over time, cause substantial changes in the population, a process that can result in the emergence of new species.

Notice how it's stated in specific terms. We can measure the frequency of genetic alleles. We can make measurements of an organism's phenotype. How can you refute any of that... it's really more of an observation than a scientific claim. We already know that populations of organisms can change substantially. The step to "speciation" is just semantics.

Take-home message: While intelligent design proponents huff and puff about being treated unfairly by the scientific community, there is a reason for it. Their claims are not scientific. The ID movement is a sociological phenomenon, designed to allow society to hang onto antiquated irrational beliefs for one generation longer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It looks like Marilyn Monroe to me

This picture accompanied a short article in The Record on Saturday Nov. 28.

Yep, a religious woman in Methuen, Mass., says the image reassures her that "he's listening". It actually looks more to me like Marilyn Monroe. Or maybe George Washington. But Jesus?!?

This is called pareidolia.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Flimflam inoculation 3: Argument from ignorance

From the pamphlet entitled "Creation or Evolution" published by the United Church of God,
These discoveries reveal that the simplest living cell is so intricate and complex in its design that even the possibility of this coming into existence accidentally is unthinkable.
Unthinkable? Maybe to you.

What the author is saying is that if they can't figure it out, then no one can. That's a pretty bold statement, don't you think? Are they the world expert on everything? Nope.

The fact that you don't understand something does not give you permission to conclude that it is false. This irrational flatulence is common, and often called "argument from ignorance".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Flimflam inoculation:

Many of the podcasts I listen to spend time going over some of the common errors in logic that confuse people into believing something silly. I'd love to put together a talk some day on how to detect these logical fallacies, and go on tour spreading the skeptical gospel.

Here is one installment.

Correlation is not Causation

This has a fancy name: "post hoc ergo propter hoc", meaning literally "after this, therefore because of this". OK, I've had my Latin fix for the day.

Consider this common example. Evidence suggests that children with larger feet are better readers. Shocking, isn't it?! Well, not really, when you consider that kids in grade 1 tend to have smaller feet than kids in grade 5. But it's human nature to interpret the statement as meaning either
  1. shoe size somehow affects how well kids read, or
  2. reading ability affects how quickly feet grow.
The fact is that neither is true. The two things just happen to be influenced by a common factor, age! The only thing the data tells us is that reading and shoe size are correlated... it doesn't tell us which caused which. In this case, neither.

Another infuriating example: When someone says, "I went to the chiropractor, and my back felt better within a week", it does not prove that the chiropractor caused their back to get better.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mixed messages

In the past, I've tinkered with iterated function systems (IFS). I recently had this idea to couple (alternate) two IFSs.

I call it "Layers of Meaning". (click for an enlarged view)


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Good News

"Good News" is the title of the free magazine subscription I'm receiving from the United Church of God. The good news is that every couple months I'll receive a magazine with lots of anti-scientific propaganda for me to debunk. For example, the one I got yesterday is subtitled "Creation or Evolution: Which Is More Believable?" That depends, of course, on how you view the world.

Here are some juicy nuggets from the latest installment.

In an article entitled "The Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Debate" (an interview with Dr. Jonathan Wells, one of the senior "scientists" at the creationist propaganda machine The Discovery Institute), Dr. Wells claims that "no one has ever observed the origin of a new species... by variation and selection". That's a bit like saying that no one ever observed continents crashing into each other because of plate tectonics. It tends to happen too slowly for a single person to notice.

Another article, "How Darwin's Theory Changed the World", tries to paint the picture that the theory of evolution has eroded society into anarchy and unbridled self-indulgence. On the topic of sex... "In the minds of many, sex is solely for pleasure, and children are an inconvenience." Actually, the theory of evolution is the first and only natural explanation for sex. Saying that we have sex because God told us to is like saying that we have speed limits because the government imposed them. There is a deeper purpose behind speed limits, and there is a deeper reality behind the phenomenon of sex. But religion won't find it. Science and the theory of evolution are needed to fully understand it.

One more... in the same article they state "Anything and everything can be justified once you take God out of the picture." Sorry, but you've got it backwards. First of all, "anything and everything" HAS been happening since the dawn of time, so clearly God wasn't able to stop it. Furthermore, science is not in the business of offering justification for things. Science is a way to learn about how the world works, and cannot be used to make right-versus-wrong judgements. That's more of religion's territory. For example, the Bible contains a number of references to genocide. And what do we make of religions that contradict each other? They might justify YOUR extermination. Doncha kinda wish we were all on the same page in the book of reality?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The rights of humans and robots

Just finished listening to Love and Sex with Robots by David Levy. It was somewhat interesting. I'd give it a 3 out of 5.

A solid part of his thesis is that if something has life-like characteristics, we instinctively think of it as alive. Even if we know consciously that it's a robot, our brains use the same subconscious circuits as for real living things. It's not uncommon for people to project human qualities onto inanimate objects (eg. "Damn computer, why are you doing this to me!").

Supposing that we can someday have sophisticated robots that are autonomous and intelligent, what sorts of rights will we give them? Will it be illegal to "kill" a robot? Could someone go to jail for raping a robot (the book discusses sex with robots, as the title suggests)?

The answers seem obvious to me. Or at least the factors to consider are obvious.

Perhaps the most fundamental human motive is reproduction and the survival of one's offspring. Indeed, the whole sex-with-robots idea is a result of hijacking the human drive to reproduce. But it doesn't stop at sex; the reproductive instinct continues with investment in one's offspring to increase their chances of success (grandchildren, etc.). This all sounds very unromantic, but rest assured that all the accompanying emotions (lust, love, protectionism, pride, jealousy, etc.) are part of the evolutionary machinery that gets the job done. So, robots will not enjoy the same rights as humans because there is no genetic investment.

We will, however, invest in robots in other ways. Not just financially, but socially. Consider a well-trained family dog. A dog is not very closely related to its human owner, but the owner and dog have formed an attachment because of the time that each has invested in the other. We bestow some rights onto dogs, but dogs typically have fewer rights than humans. I argue that the rights afforded to something are proportional to the human investment in that something. Children are no different from dogs and no different from robots, except for the amount of investment.

In the end, ethical decisions must have a sound basis in evolutionary stability. That is, ethical decisions should be made in a way that promotes our own genes and memes. Everything outside that is simply missing the point.


Poor kitty corpse

I went running with a couple friends last night. As we stood at a quiet street corner talking after our run, a man came to us and asked us if we knew who's cat was lying on the road. We looked down the street and saw a white and black lump on the road. After staring in silence for a moment, we went over. There it was, a black and white cat, motionless on the cold road. Pristine, except for the small puddle of blood that had trickled from its mouth. I checked for a pulse, but -- to be honest -- I don't know how to check a cat for a pulse... the neck doesn't seem to be the right place. Thought the cat was still warm, there were no signs of life. No breathing.

Someone phoned the number on the collar, and a minute later a woman and her teenaged daughter came out. The woman seemed OK as she approached, but then stopped abruptly. We somehow mumbled that the cat was dead, and she instantly broke into loud sobbing. Poor woman... I can relate to her, having lost Meiko a few years ago.

Meiko (a.k.a. "Beeks") R.I.P.

The woman placed a blanket she brought one her fuzzy friend, pulled it up to his neck as if tucking him into bed. Shaking, she said, "I can't look at his face!" and continued wailing loudly.

We all agreed that the cat should be moved, but where and how? A cyclist on the scene disappeared and returned with a few pieces of corrugated cardboard. My running friends and I slid the corpse onto the cardboard, and we wrapped it all in a sheet that a neighbour brought out. Handing it to the woman and her daughter, then cried as they took their lost friend home.

One thing that struck me as odd... in the middle of the ordeal, I expressed to the lady that I could understand her feelings for her cat because we have cats too. She stopped crying at looked directly at me, and asked "Are they outdoor cats?" I said "yes". I think she felt guilty for letting her cat go outside. Vets tend to suggest that indoor cats live longer. In my opinion, a short life outside is better than a long life inside. But that's purely a value judgement.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Musical debut of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking

I would call this video "cheesy" if it weren't so profound and well-done. Instead, I find it inspiring.

This video was created by John Boswell. You can find more similar on his web page Well done, John!

November 7th was the first annual Carl Sagan Day. Carl Sagan is another of my heroes.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Potty-mouth Count

This YouTube video was on Richard Wiseman's Blog. I'm tempted to suggest that you make sure there are no kids around when you watch it, but I'm not sure why.

What does it say about our human tendency to fill in missing information?


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One-sided rubbish

That's the subject line I used in the comment e-mail I sent in response to this ridiculous article. It's part of the "Darwin was wrong" propaganda that the United Church is trying to bolster. Here is the rest of the e-mail.

I noticed that Darwin doesn't really say anything in this faux conversation. He simply sits there and takes the beating.

If you want someone to fill in the stuff that Darwin would say in response, I be happy to oblige.


I doubt they'll take me up on my offer.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Love and Sex with Robots

That's the title of a book I'm listening to right now, by David Levy.

I'm only about half-way through, but would like to share some thoughts I've got on the subject.

The book (so far) has spent a lot of time convincing the reader that relationships with robots will become as common as having a dogs as a companion. David goes to great lengths to make the point that we are quite capable of having feelings for non-human and non-living things. And that robotic mates could be better at making us happy than living mates because they can be programmed to do the things that we like.

Here is one of my beefs: WE don't even know what makes us happy. Sure... candy and warm baths make us feel good for a little while. But if all we had was candy and warm baths, or lives would be the sh!ts.

Levy mentions that some are concerned that if we let robots have a will of their own and reproduce, then they might become a threat to us. But it's OK, he puts that fear to rest by stating that all we have to do is make gentle robots. Ummm... that's not how evolution works. If aggressive behaviour helps them to produce more offspring, then that's the direction they'll evolve in. And we'll have a full-blown war on our hands. However, we'd probably kill them all off as soon as one of them showed signs of aggression (a.k.a. genecide).

And this brings me to my final point. OK, maybe loving a robot will hijack the appropriate circuits in our brains to make us truly happy... just like we're in love with our human soul mate. That's just hunky-dory... for a generation or two, until all the robot lovers die off without leaving any children behind. Who's left? The spawn of all those "archaic" types that chose to make it with other humans instead of robots.

Of course, the same could be said of gays. I love books that make me think.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Video lectures

In case you're curious about what my lectures are like -- or if you're aching to find out more about Fourier theory -- you're in luck. You can get a whole 50-minutes worth here.

Of course, I usually show up in person, but this lecture was used to replace the real deal because of a scheduling conflict.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oh Canada

What a nice autumn day. I was outside with the kids, and noticed some very red leaves on the ground. I had this idea...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Q2C - Day 6

Big day. I attended two different Q2C events.

The first one was a talk from 4:00-5:00, entitled "Sense from Chaos: Controlling the Dynamic Networks of the Brain" by Larry Abbott of Columbia University. The talk was excellent. Once again, I asked a question; what's the function of sleep? His answer... "We have no idea". I don't think that's quite true, but I was happy to hear that there is so much yet to be discovered in cognitive neuroscience.

The second event I went to was the Science in the Pub panel discussion "Who Am I?" They talked about memory, consciousness, identity, illusions, and all sorts of interesting neurological phenomena. I was especially pleased when Prof. Abbott referred to my earlier question about sleep; the panel discussed sleep and dreaming for quite some time.

(download mp3)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Q2C - Day 4

I took my mom to a talk entitled "Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species", by Sean B. Carroll. He's an evo-devo expert (evolutionary developmental biology) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He's also a good speaker.

(The talk was filmed, but is not yet available online. I'll update this post when it appears.)

Prof. Carroll talked about some of the details leading up to the discovery of the theory of evolution, outlining the contributions of Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates, and - of course - Charles Darwin. In particular, Darwin seems to have known about the theory in the 1830s, but took his time publishing because he thought the theory would be repugnant to his colleagues and family. However, Wallace independently discovered the theory, and started to publish it. That pushed Darwin to finally publish his own version in 1859, in a book entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. After that, Bates chimed in with an exquisite example of natural selection: mimicry.

Do NOT be confused by the new edition of On the Origin of Species. The ludicrous creationist Ray Comfort is remarketing the book, but with his own warped introduction.

The video is online now. My mom and I appear about 18 minutes into the video.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sqwaak! Polly want a pseudo-periodic function.

Isn't nature amazing?!

Gayness captcha

I encountered this captcha when downloading photos from Photobucket.

Captcha stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart".

Q2C - Day 2

Last night, I attended Science in the Pub. The topic for the panel was "Living in a Quantum World". They talked about quantum computers, and the feasibility of producing them. It was somewhat interesting. The second half of the evening was questions from the audience. Some of the questions were very technical and boring. But some were good, like mine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Q2C - Day 1

I started the day by taking my two daughers, Heather and Addie, to the Physica Phantastica exhibit, part of the Quantum to Cosmos Festival put on by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. The hour passed really quickly. We watched an 8-minutes 3D movie about cosmology and scientific visualization, we saw a miniature traincar hover over a track, we looked at a replica of the Mars rover, we played with polarized lenses, and we formed our own scientific hypotheses that we tested.

After that, I went to a talk entitled "Does Reality Have A Genetic Basis?" by S. James Gates, Jr. I was intrigued by the title, since I've hypothesized that the physical laws, as we know them, are actually the result of an evolutionary process acting on a deep and fundamental substrate, perhaps a handful of truly universal axioms that interact and evolve, and the stable (and self-replicating?) laws persist and make up our universe (and others). Though I learned a lot during the talk, he did not actually address what he meant by the word "genetic" in the title. In fact, I asked about it during the question period, but he didn't answer the question I asked. He did bring up the anthropic principle, and the multiverse hypothesis. I wonder if he thought I was a creationist.

My question appears 60.5 minutes into the video.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth

I recently finished listening to the (audio)book "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" by Richard Dawkins. As you can tell from my previous post, I am a Dawkins fan. And this book does not disappoint. In it, Prof. Dawkins lays out all the most compelling scientific evidence for the theory... he even suggests a different word for a theory that is so close to being an established fact, a "theorom" (similar to "theorem", a mathematical fact that can be proved by deduction).

Even though this book is about the positive evidence for evolution, I was pleased that he included some of the anti-religious vitriol that I enjoyed in "The God Delusion".

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tomato plant, extreme close-up

Check out these cute little vine coils on our tomato plant. Amazing! In case you're curious about the scale, the diameter of the coil on the left is about 1cm.

Paid in full. Thanks Jesus!

We went to the Oktoberfest pancake breakfast today, and as we waited in line an older gentleman handed me a piece of paper. Of course, it's a religious pamphlet (maybe some day I'll walk around handing out atheistic pamphlets... that would be different). The front of it says "Paid in full", to look like a banker's stamp. Here is a sampling of the wisdom from within it's folds.
  • Did you know that you are in debt because of your sin?
  • Do you realize what the cost of your sin debt will bring in eternity?
  • Have you heard that your sin debt has been paid in full?
  • Will you believe the Bible, the record of what God has done for you?
  • Will you trust the eternity of your soul completely to Jesus Christ?
  • Remember, you must trust Jesus and NOTHING ELSE? (their emphasis)
Among the myriad of Bible quotes, we are treated to 2-Thessalonians 1:8-9,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
Doesn't this sound like extorsion? "Hey bub, we'll take care of your sins, see, but you better keep those prayments comin'. We'd hate to see you end up in hell, get it?"

Finally, on the back it gives two check-boxes. You can check either A or B.
    A. I choose to trust Jesus Christ and His finished payment for my sin debt.
    B. I choose to reject the payment of Jesus Christ and trust my payment.
I'd like to suggest a 3rd option?
    C. I take full responsibility for my actions, sinful or not, and don't believe for a second that anyone should - or could - take the fall for me. Thanks anyway, big J.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unintentionally ironic

Though it makes me gag, I sometimes listen to the podcast "Intelligent Design The Future". Grammar hiccups aside, this podcast is simply a propaganda tool of the Discovery Institute. Their function... to help those who can't consolidate their religion with the theory of evolution, supplying fodder to suspend their disbelief long enough to die a believer. They combine muddy thinking with interviews of "scientists", philosophers, medical doctors -- anyone with perceived authority -- and agree that the theory of evolution is flawed, so the universe must be designed by God.

On the episode of Sept. 25, 2009, Bruce Chapman interviews "skeptic" David Berlinski. They proceed to pat each other on the back, congratulating themselves for being on the winning team. Then they whine about how creationists ID proponents are being bullied by the Darwinists. Berlinski likens it to the crumble of the geocentric worldview. The dominant worldview used to be that the earth was the centre of the universe, geocentrism. But people like Kepler and Gallileo proposed that the sun was the centre of our solar system, a view called heliocentrism. These poor scientists were victimized for their dissenting opinions. In Berlinski's analogy,

geocentrism = dominant evil bully = theory of evolution
heliocentrism = marginalized noble truth= intelligent design

His analogy is based on good versus evil. The evil geocentrists eventually lost the fight to the noble heliocentrists because the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that planets revolve around the sun. Thus, Berlinski's analogy concludes that evolution is evil, and ID is good.

But let me frame the analogy in a different way, based historical beliefs versus evidence. At the time, geocentrism was the historical view, but it gave way to heliocentrism because of the evidence. Intelligent design (a.k.a. creationism) was the historical view, but it gave way to the theory of evolution because of the evidence. In my analogy,

geocentrism = outdated historical view = intelligent design (creationism)
heliocentrism = view supported by evidence = evolution

The irony... Berlinksi's use of the analogy actually does shed some light on what's going on. In the podcast, he reminds us that Gallileo was persecuted by the CHURCH for his dissenting opinions. The take-home message: religion will do whatever it can to stifle dissension, even if it means denying evidence.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This will F--K your vision?

You MUST check out this optical illusion!

Just like daddy?

I saw this ad in one of Trish's magazines.

Ummm, I don't drive an ATV, or a tractor, or a digger for my job. I took the liberty to suggest a different photo.

That's better. Yes, daddy draws mathematics on blackboards.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My hero is in Toronto today

Richard Dawkins is my hero. If you haven't heard of him, he's the guy that wrote "The God Delusion" a couple years ago; the book received lots of press. He's also written a number of other books, mostly explaining the theory of evolution. I've read "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker". I thought I understood evolution before. But these books showed me a whole new depth. I'm looking forward to reading more of his books.

His latest book, released just this month, is entitled "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution".

I'm currently listening to the book, and so far (25% through) it seems like it covers all the details that one needs to know to be confident that evolution is as surely a fact as gravity (in case you hadn't realized it, the name of my blog is a gravitational version of "Intelligent Design", the creationists' attempt to explain the diversity and complexity of living things by invoking a creator).

According to, Prof. Dawkins is in Toronto today, and will be doing a reading. I'm so bummed that I only found out today, and it's sold out (no surprise). But Richard Dawkins will be interviewed on The Hour tonight at 11pm. I'll stay up and watch that for sure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's clearly designed... or not

Proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) claim that we can infer design. That is, they split the world into two categories of objects: those that were designed by something intelligent, and those that were not. And they claim that we can tell the difference.

Well, was this designed or not? ...

It's the famous neanderthal bone flute. Some say that a neanderthal created it purposefully for making music (intelligent cause). Others say that the holes were made by the teeth of a hungry animal (non-intelligent cause).

If it's as easy and clear-cut as IDers claim, then why is there so much controversy?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Trish returned from her sewing class, which was held at Fabricland. She bought some fabric (go figure), as well as a few small sewing supplies. Then she asked me, "Guess how much it was." I said the first reasonable number than came to mind. Her jaw dropped to the floor as her eyes bugged out. I was exactly correct, right down to the penny.

OK, now don't freak out. Here's the full story.

A correct guess, right down to the penny, is very unlikely in general. But the reason she was asking me to guess is because the bill happened to be an integer dollar amount. Most people, when asked to guess a price, only give the dollars. That's what I did, and that narrows the number of options down by a factor of 100.

I didn't think it would be less than, say, $60. And I figured (hoped) it would be less than $100. So, given than I'm choosing an integer between 60 an 100, that leaves only 40 options. I guessed $98. NAILED IT!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Semi-finalist for a $25,000 home makeover!

I just got a phone call in which a woman told me I had been selected as a semi-finalist for a


from DirectBuy. The woman, who was very nice, told me that she just had to confirm my name and address, and then would be sending me an information package with a key. I would then go to the store and try the key in some door, and if it opened... HOLY %##%$ I JUST WON A

$25,000 HOME MAKEOVER!!!

What if it doesn't open the door? Well, something to do with two other prizes from the list: $500, a 52" flat TV, a set of luggage, a Dell computer, etc. I can't remember the specific wording... it sounded like I'd get one of those, but I'm sure the true meaning was a lot more subtle.

What is DirectBuy? It seems to me that it's a Costo-like store, but for home improvement. And the dollar-values are proportionately larger (if you've ever owned a fixer-upper house, you know what I mean). Here is something that makes me uncomfortable; their web page prominently features a "Testimonials" link. Another red flag is that I can't easily find a listing of the membership fees. If memory serves, it's on the order of thousands of dollars! Let me know if you can find the fees anywhere.

I asked her what the fees were, and added that I'd been called before and thought the membership fee was far too expensive (something like $2500 / year). She said that there are different levels of membership, and then reminded me about the


I thanked her for her call, and wished her the best of luck.

Maybe I just passed up a huge opportunity. But most likely I avoided getting fleeced.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Do you have chronic low back pain?

That's the title of a full-page ad in The Record this weekend, stating that the Canadian Decompression and Pain Centres (CDPC) can help us. They have a three-phase approach that is not available anywhere else. Why? Probably because no one believes it's worthwhile.

OK, here are the details:

Phase 1: Spinal Decompression System.
This basically sounds like traction. So far, so good.

Phase 2: Oxygen Enhancement.
Have you seen the idiots in those oxygen "bars" inhaling different flavours of oxygen? Well, the reason they look so stupid is because they don't realize that oxygen is actually in the air! Unless your doctor is making you drag around you own O2 canister, you probably get all you need just by breathing.

Phase 3: Neuro-Supplementation.
This is so good, I just have to quote. "The patient is given a premium natural herbal blend in capsule form."
Translation: "premium"="costly"; "natural herbal blend"="we wish we could call it a drug, but its efficacy falls below the standards of what Health Canada allows"

OK, and here comes my favourite part. "During the course of the treatment program, the patient is given a nutritional detoxification drink". Detox?! If you know me, you know I don't dig that detox crap. When you hear someone say "detox", run the other way.

The ad never mentions any evidence that their method works, except for statements like "Many patients feel immediate relief from pain". Hmmm... "many". Is that "many" like 10... out of 1,000,000? I bet an empty statement like that would be equally valid for a healing technology like iCure; "Place your stiff lower back close to the monitor to catch the healing rays. Many patients feel immediate relief from pain."

But they DO offer proof! Four testimonial statements. Proof by testimony is another sign that you should stay away. If they really had objective proof, they'd tell you about it. But I expect they don't have proof, so instead they try to take advantage of your faulty human decision-making circuits and throw a few compelling cases as you. The problem is that these testimonies are hand-picked, and probably don't give a good indication of what the average person experiences. Moreover, they also imply that these patients felt better BECAUSE of the therapy. But they might have gotten better for an entirely different reason. Maybe they withdrew from the Ultimate Fighting competition a week earlier. Testimonies do not give enough information to infer that the treatment caused the healing.

Another red flag... consultations are free. What they mean to say is "We won't charge you for our high-pressure sales pitch."

The ad even has an FAQ section, including the question "What are your doctors' qualifications?" Answer: "The team at CDPC includes doctors of natural medicine, medical therapists", etc. According to this web page, "Naturopathic Doctor" is an accredited term, but "Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine" is not. This is consistent with the language used by the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

But why am I even talking about accreditation of naturopathic medicine?! If any of these therapies had the balance of evidence in their favour, then mainstream medicine would be all over them, and they would no longer be referred to as "naturopathic".

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Atheists for Jesus!

One of my favourite blogs is Pharyngula. It's written by P.Z. Myers, a very vocal atheist. One of the ad banners caught my eye. It was for the web site Here is the screen capture.


Fractal Quotes

Over the years, I've had lots of silly thoughts (that's what happens when your job is mental gymnastics). Some of those thoughts can be captured nicely in a quote. I call them "fractal quotes". Many of them are cheesy, but maybe some of them will make your head spin. Enjoy, and remember to hit the reset button on your brain when you're done.

  1. "First of all, the last word of this sentence is first."
  2. "I washed my hands, for the tap handles were dirty."
  3. "Would you ever say no to me?"
  4. "One of my favourite numbers is e."
  5. "I've learned my lesson... three times now."
  6. "I can't stand sitting."
  7. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, except for those things
    that maim you for life."
  8. "This sentance is not worth mentioning."
  9. "Punctuation matters, period!"
  10. "It goes without saying."
  11. "My brain has a mind of its own."
  12. "This is the least I've weighed since I was slighly heavier!"
  13. "I'm tired of losing sleep."
  14. "The number-one cause of death is life."
  15. "A picture is worth a thousand words. Here's proof.
    This 40x50 pixel graylevel image has 8 bits per pixel, for a total of 2000 bytes, or 1000 words."
  16. "My calculation was off by a factor of 1."
  17. "This line has intentionally been left blank."
  18. "The first word of a sentence should always evoke interest in
    the reader."
  19. "I refuse to use 'Buzzwords'."
  20. "A little bit of pain never hurt anyone."
  21. "Please refrain from reading this line."
  22. "Do we really need rhetorical questions?"
  23. "This is a self-reference (taken by permission from Orchard2000)."
  24. "My opinion is the right one, but that's just my opinion."
  25. "I could sense the presence of her absence."
  26. "I'm pretty well-rounded... especially when it comes to specific
  27. "You can make your own decisions, or you can let me make them
    for you. It's up to you."
  28. "Using a simile is like taking someone else's art work and signing
    your name on it."
  29. "There comes a time, in every person's life, when a time comes."
  30. "Incy-wincy spider went up the water spout.
    Down came the rain and this verse doesn't rhyme."
  31. "Don't be afraid to be fearless."
  32. "I'm younger now than I am now."
  33. "I leaned over to pick my ruler up off the floor.
    And as I leaned, my arm shifted and nudged my binder,
    which pushed the ruler on my desk, and it fell...
    right to the place where my hand was reaching.
    So I picked up my ruler."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Difference between worldviews of scientists and believers

Religious people see the world differently than those of us who prefer a scientific or naturalistic interpretation of the world. I thought this might be an interesting and visual way to encapsulate the differences.

The world

How scientists see the world

How the religious see the world

Creationists tend to jump around from topic to topic, poking their little fingers through holes in our scientific knowledge. A creationist (and by "creationist", of course I mean "intelligent design proponent") might challenge you with "What came before the big bang?", or "Radio-carbon dating is based on false assumptions", or (my favourite) "Show me the transitional fossils between species X and species Y."

If you're willing to give up if you can't answer every one of their questions, then you should choose a religion and just be happy. However, if you can accept that we don't (and probably won't) know everything, then the best we can do is our best. And our best is to try to piece together all the thousands of experiments and bits of knowledge that we've acquired over the ages and try to come up with some coherent theory to explain it all. Hence, the scientist's view of the world, though somewhat cluttered and confused, shows a consilience of information.

consilience (noun)
  1. (logic) the concurrence of multiple inductions drawn from different data sets
  2. Agreement, co-operation or sharing of methods between or convergence or overlap of academic disciplines

Every tidbit of data adds something to our understanding of reality. Take the theory of evolution as an example. It's one of the most successful theories ever. Genetics, molecular biology, anthropology, geology, developmental biology, mathematics, and physics (to name a few) all tend to point toward the same general conclusion, that life on earth evolved over a long period of time by natural selection acting on genetic variation. It would be difficult to be so confident of that conclusion if you drew from only one of the academic fields. But the fact that they all converge on the same conclusion... that's consilience!

If instead you pick'n-choose a small number of facts, you can arrive at any of a number of conclusions that are inconsistent with the vast majority of other facts. Religions tend to fit in that category.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Anal-retentive photo archiver

Hello, my name is Jeff Orchard, and I have a problem. I find it very hard to delete photos.

As you can surmise from my previous post about digital cameras, we take lots of pictures. We got our first digital camera in Dec. 2002, and have gone through several since. And we've accumulated over 23,000 photos. And I can't throw any of them away. OK, I guess I can part with the odd blurry shot, or "oops I didn't realize the camera was on" picture of the sky or ground. Other than that, I keep'em all.

Part of my reasoning: you never know when you might want that picture of the yard before the deck was built, or that photo of the left-side of the van to see if that dent was there last April.

We capture about 2GB of photo data every month or so. That means our photo/video archive is a stack of DVDs that looks like this...

Maybe that's even healthy. The insanity becomes obvious when I tell you that I keep duplicates, one copy at home (hence the text "home copy" written on the DVDs), and one "remote copy" that I keep in my office at work.

Oh, I can hear the sirens. They're coming to take me away!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kids for sale

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the absence of an apostrophe after "kids" in this sign suggest that Jennifer is selling kids?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Murder: Right or Wrong?

Thanks to all those who commented on my earlier post. Though ALL the comments were on Facebook, rather than on the blog itself. In case you didn't know, these blog posts are from my blog Intelligent Falling, and are automatically posted to my Facebook page. I'd prefer comments to appear on my blog, especially since Facebook seems to limit the length of the comments on notes.

It was such a great response that I thought I'd stir the pot a bit more.

Murder, right or wrong? I say neither, since I don't believe in right and wrong. Or, at least I don't believe in any absolute, cosmic notion of right and wrong. In my view, right and wrong is only defined by our society. Whatever doesn't jibe with those that live and work with us... well, that's what we call wrong. And it doesn't take long for a murder-happy population to hack-and-slash itself into extinction. So, the only ones left are those that outlaw -- or at least manage -- murder.

As you might have noticed, this view is consistent with the views that I expressed in my previous blog post, that there is really no fundamental difference between living and non-living matter. We're just organized piles of chemicals. And there's nothing fundamentally wrong with rearranging a glob of chemicals.

That said, I want to clarify that I have no interest in going to jail, so I don't kill people. I also have a human brain, so I come ready-equipped with all the irrational behaviours that we've come to know and love.

Ants working together

Why do societies abolish murder? Because society invests in each person; every member of a society holds a piece of that society's capital. That's why societies have a process in place to try to distinguish its productive members from its unrecoverable liabilities (we call it the court of law). Abortion can be gauged on the same societal-investment basis, but that's a topic for another blog post.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Deathday Anniversary

D. H. Lawrence wrote that "Every year you pass an anniversary unaware - the anniversary of your own death." Whoa!

I heard this in the closing remarks of the appendix of the (audio)book "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Going to Hell

I haven't always been an atheist. There was a time when I was young when I cried myself to sleep because I was so scared about going to Hell. Belief in Hell is, by definition, theist. Not certain where I got such an impression of Hell, but I have a hunch. My family joined the Velvet Hills Baptist Church. In fact, my dad helped build the... umm, building. The preachers visited the Sunday-school classes and told us their stories. Great story-tellers; they were extremely impassioned.

On Sunday mornings, my dad used to have the TV or radio tuned into religious shows while he was milling around, working on the house; so one would think my dad a religious man.

I don't think I ever bought into that view of my dad. One day my mom told me that my dad didn't believe in God. I think I found that difficult to comprehend, but I'm glad that seed was planted. That singular event might have opened my mind just a crack to the possibility.

You see, somewhere along the line I switched. I stopped believing in God.

The rock-opera Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a fixture in my family. My parents used to play the soundtrack on our stereo. Later, we owned the video and watched it many times. That movie left me with the impression that Jesus was probably just a cool guy. Except for the end of the movie, where the song "Jesus Christ Superstar" goes rather Broadway, there is nothing in the movie that suggest Jesus was the son of God. No miracles, divine intervention... nothing. In my view, it told the story of a sociological phenomenon.

At some point, I learned about the theory of evolution. I guess it was grade 10 when I first heard about it. It was a feeble introduction in science class; we watched a video that I don't think I really understood. No class discussion. I'm not sure if our teacher didn't believe in it, or if was too much of a hot-button topic to be worth dwelling on. Regardless, over the next 10 years or so, I would come to respect that theory a great deal. To me, it's one of the most profound ideas ever conceived.

I also recall thinking that if there really was a god, he'd be OK with the way I live my life. I am nice to people, and give a lot of thought to the way the world works.

Today, I'm pretty public about the fact that I am atheist. The only caveat is that I am technically agnostic. I am a scientist in the sense that I believe we should look to explain our world through natural causes, not super-natural causes. The God hypothesis is unfalsifiable in that there is no natural observation that can disprove the existence of God. So, that's why I hope that if there is a God, he's understanding about people like me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Recursion tutorial

To learn about recursion, click here.

Recycling tautology

In the washrooms on the campus of the University of Waterloo, all the paper-towel dispensers have been replaced with ones that look like this...

The front face of each unit displays the following environmental feel-good message:

Hmm... isn't EVERYTHING made of "up to 100% post-consumer material"? I've never heard of something being made out of more than 100% of anything. Rather than an upper-bound on the amount of recycling, wouldn't a lower-bound be more informative? For example, they could use zero recycled material, and still claim that they use "up to 100% post-consumer material".

On the more positive side, perhaps the paper-towels are entirely made of recycled material, but they wish to point out that a large portion of it comes from post-consumer material (that would have been garbage), as opposed to materials recycled from factories, etc.

This blog post is from

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Alone with the kids: Day 2 and 3

Lauchy woke up around 5:00am, but I shoved the soother into his mouth and laid him back down. He slept until 6:00am. That's late enough. Heather also got up at that time. Addie was about 20 minutes later.

8:30 : Off to my dad's house. Lauchy looked like he might fall asleep on the way there. So when we were almost there and he wasn't asleep yet, I added a 15-minute loop to the drive; it worked. He slept for about 45 minutes in total. Diane (my step-mother) did a great job of looking after him while I helped my dad with his computer. The girls were extremely well-behaved. After helping my dad, I came into the kitchen and found them glued to a Spiderman cartoon.

11:15 : Left papa-John's place and headed home. While driving on Alexandra street (almost home), Addie said "Hey dad, there's a sweater that looks like Lauchy's on that tree." I gave one of those "That's nice" responses. But a few seconds later it dawned on me that it just might be Lauchy's sweater. I hadn't noticed it missing, but couldn't recall seeing it in the last day or so. We HAD walked by there with it the day before. In fact, as I turned the van around I remembered that I had perched it on the stroller behind Lauchy, and that he had reached behind and pulled it onto his lap. Objects in that category invariably end up on the ground. Blankets (and apparently sweaters/fleece jackets) are silent when they fall, and it's remarkably easy to walk over them without noticing. That must have been what happened, because - sure enough - it was Lauchy's fleece jacket. Thanks Addie!

Yadda-yadda... luckily for you, I've grown weary of the hour-by-hour log. Instead, I'll just give the highlights.

Heather and Addie are in a phase where they like to put water under the swings to make mud in the patches of dirt where the grass is warn off. I got a cute video of Lauchlan walking in the mud, so I edited it, added music, and uploaded it to YouTube. Here it is.

We had a bonfire tonight, after Lauchy went to bed. The girls seemed more interested in the marshmallows than the fire itself. After 15 minutes, I was sitting by the fire alone, and the girls were throwing stuff over the fence at the neighbours kids. Ahhh, on second thought, I'm pretty proud of them.

This blog post is from

Friday, July 17, 2009

FutureShop extended warranty pulls through

FutureShop has recently received some bad press on my blog. Well, I have some good news. Recall that I took a camera back because the lens wouldn't deploy anymore. That camera was purchased with an extended warranty. FutureShop fixed the camera at no cost. It seems that they replaced the entire lens housing. We are now a two-Canon family. Thank you FutureShop. I'll never doubt you again. Well, I probably will... but still, thanks.

Alone with the kids: Day 1

Warning: This is an extremely dull blog post, and should only be read if you REALLY DO care about how my 1st day went while Trish is away.

OK, if you've made it this far, then buckle your seatbelts and put on your bib. It's daddy time!

Trish left last night around 8pm. Here is what we did on the first day.

midnight-3am : The 3 kids tag-teamed keeping me awake. I was up 6 or 7 times, and probably didn't sleep for more than a half-hour at any one time.

3:00 - 5:30 : Slept, finally. Lauchy awoke at 5:30, his usual time. I took him to the basement so that Heather and Addie wouldn't wake up.

6:45 : After watching 3 rounds of the early news, Heather awoke, followed shortly by Addie. Gave Lauchy Advil.

7:45 : Put Lauchy down for a nap. He needs it, even if it's only a short one.

8:30 : Sharon, our bi-weekly cleaning lady, arrived.

8:45 : Lauchy is awake.

9:00 : Off to the new Early Years Centre (161 Roger Street). A quick stop a Tim Horton's on the way.

10:15 : Left EYC. Rob called as I was putting the kids in the van. We decided to go the the Allen street park. Right after hanging up the phone, I heard Greg's voice. He was just getting his boys out of the bike trailer. He said that Bill and Connell were on their way to the EYC too. Oh well.

10:30-11:45 : Allen street park. Snacks and play.

12:00 : Home for lunch.

12:30 : Lauchy down for his nap. He sure seemed tired. Gave him more Advil before putting him down.

12:45 - 2:00 : Girls watched TV while I had a nap on the couch.

2:10 - 2:30 : Heather had a freak-out for no apparent reason. It started because I offered her a snack, but she wanted something else. Then, she complained of being too warm... sitting in the sun with a long-sleeved shirt. Unfortunately, she lost her movie-treats privilege; tonight is (moods willing) family movie night.

2:30 - 3:00 : Girls played nicely in the backyard while Lauchy finished his nap.

3:00 - 4:30 : Drove to FutureShop to pick up fixed camera. Also went to Rogers Video to get a movie for later on. It was tricky selecting a movie that Heather, Addie and I all agreed on (yes, I give myself a vote in these things), but we decided on Cars.

4:30 - 6:30 : Dinner at Greg's. Two words: utter chaos. In the middle of it all, Trish called my cell phone. Evidently, their back-woods camping adventure includes cell-phone reception. The conversation was difficult with all the commotion of trying to jam hot-dogs down the throats of our herd of kids. But we agreed that Trish would check her voice-mail every day around 5pm, to see if there were any EMERGENCIES (Tricia's emphasis).

6:30 - 7:00 : Drove home, gave Lauchy a quick bath, and put him to bed. Of course, more Advil.

7:00 - 9:00 : Watched the movie with Heather and Addie. Two hours long, indeed. Poor Addie couldn't wait for the movie to finish.

9:15 - 11:30 : I tidied up, wrote (am writing) blogs, and watched online videos about how to write applications for the iPhone.

One last story. While driving to the Early Years Centre, I heard a screeching of car tires, and saw a cloud of dust. As we drove by, I saw a hedge with a car-sized swath plowed over, and a muscle car on the lawn. I guess the car went out of control and jumped the curb. I don't think anyone was hurt, but an hour or so later (as we returned from the Early Years Centre), we saw 4 or 5 police cars on the scene. Not sure what the deal was.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thanks FutureShop

Our Canon camera bit the dust during out family camping trip this year; the lens wouldn't come out, probably because of sand in the gears. We bought it from FutureShop, and also got one of those extended warranties. So, FutureShop has it right now, and hopefully they'll fix it.

In the meantime, though, Trish and I decided that it was time for us each to have our own digital cameras. This decision was inspired by our friends Rob and Shannon; they each have their own. Moreover, Rob's camera is waterproof to a depth of 3 metres. Since I tend to keep my camera in my pocket when on trips, it is more susceptible to getting dirt in the gears, so I wanted a waterproof camera too.

Back to FutureShop. My friend's waterproof camera is an Olympus. So, I decided by buy the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 camera. The only one in stock was an "open box", previously sold and returned. But it was discounted, so I bought it.

Then the trouble began.

The first problem: the box was missing the USB cable, so I couldn't hook it up to my computer. My wife raced back to FutureShop to get the cable. Not great, but we did it.

Next problem: after she got back, I realized that the box was also missing the battery charger and the software. The software I can do without, but I NEED the battery charger. I called them the next day and made it clear that it was there turn to bring it to ME. They couriered a charger to me... it arrived the next day. Great, FutureShop has redeemed itself.

Not quite. It was the wrong charger. I called them again and said to the store manager that we needed to find a resolution soon. She suggested that I return the camera since they don't have those chargers.

At this point, I was torn. I actually ordered a third-party charger online. But after checking out Rob's camera, I was utterly disappointed. One of the things that bugged me most about my Olympus was its start-up time. It took over 3 seconds to be ready to take a picture. I figured that all Olympus cameras must have the same issue. However, I tried Rob's camera, and it started in less than a second!! I decided that the FutureShop manager was right.

So, I returned the camera and the misfit charger.

I then walked across the street to Henry's and dropped a wad of cash on a Canon Powershot D10. It turns on in much less than a second. Also waterproof. I love it!

Woman's Intuition

I'm always floored by the capabilities of Tricia's intuition. It's not magic. Just an amazing ability to use a vast amount of information to -- subconsciously -- arrive at a conclusion.

Case in point: Yesterday morning she noticed that our double stroller/bike trailer was missing off our front porch (Already she's way ahead of me; I wouldn't have noticed that until the next time I went to use it). The situation was similar to what happened to our friends about a month earlier. Luckily, a neighbourhood character (I'll call him "Freddy") located the stolen stroller and returned it to the family. He was awarded $20 for his efforts.

Our missing stroller was bugging Tricia all day yesterday. She filed a police report, and posted a blog entry. After dinner, we were outside with the kids, and she was pacing around. She told me she wanted to go see Freddy. I must admit, the idea seemed irrational to me. I asked her "What do you hope to accomplish?" Her answer, "I don't know." Having witnessed the genius of her intuition in the past, I agreed that she should pay Freddy a visit. She walked down our block, and disappeared around the corner.

Fifteen minutes later, I saw her coming back down the street, this time pushing a double-stroller and accompanied by Freddy. I was dumbfounded. Freddy explained how he found the stroller abandoned in the bushes in a nearby playground. He's been known to find bikes and take them to the police station (so he tells us), so he took the stroller to his house. We gave him his $20 finder's fee, and listened to a few more of his heroic tales about taking bikes to the police station, and how the guy that stole the last stroller just finished a 2-week stint in jail.

After he left, Tricia said, "I don't buy it one bit." I, too, was slightly skeptical, but hearing Tricia's side of the story really tipped the scales for me.

She walked to Freddy's house, and into his backyard. He refurbishes and sells used bikes, so the gate to his backyard is more like the storefront to a junkyard. And there was our stroller, sitting in the middle of his yard. Tricia said, "That's my stroller!" I'm not sure what happened then, but it seems to me that Freddy told about how he found our stroller, and our friend's stroller, and how they gave him $20 for finding it. Tricia didn't have any money with her, so Freddy accompanied her for the walk back to our house. As they left Freddy's house, he yelled across the street to a woman, "Sorry, the stroller's already gone." Was he about to SELL our stroller? Wait a minute. Is this the guy who finds bikes and takes them to the police station? And he's preparing to turn over our stroller less than 12 hours after it was noticed missing?!?

Very fishy. Anyway, that's how Tricia managed to locate our stroller.

I could chalk it up to luck... simply being in the right place at the right time. Such coincidences are bound to happen from time to time. Perhaps a better explanation is that Tricia, without knowing it, integrated a collection of subtle leads to infer that the best place to start looking was at Freddy's. She was right, and I am in awe of her astounding intuitive intelligence.

As an epilogue, let me make it perfectly clear that I do NOT equate intuition with ESP, clairvoyance, divine intervention, or any other paranormal phenomena. The vast majority of what goes on inside our brains is below our conscious awareness. Information processing happens on many levels, and our consciousness is really only one layer on top of all that. Everyone has intuition, but some seem to be better than others. Moreover, some are more willing to listen to their intuition.

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