Hey everyone, first, let me say a hearty thanks to everyone who re-circulated yesterday's blog post. It was the second awesome thing to happen to me this week. I'm not on twitter, but goddamnit, it was REALLY tempting yesterday! If you want me to be on Twitter, I'll make you a deal: RT my entries all over the place and I'll make entries worth RT'ing. Thanks for your support, but much more importantly, thanks for helping to correct this hogwash.

Speaking of said blog entry, well, it seems that quiet a few people are also covering this, and a few more facts are coming out. The Globe and Mail has the best-distilled one, so for now, I'll just link you there, rather than go through a ber-jillion other links I came across today.

Some facts that have emerged and can help us paint a better picture as to what happened:

1) Shona originally claimed that she was told she had to wait for 6 months to see someone. She later reduced that number down to 3.

2) Multiple sources now confirm that she had a cyst, and not a tumor. She had headaches, sleeping troubles, lower libido and vision loss that was both temporary (i.e. self-limiting) and reversible.

3) She is party to a lawsuit that is suing the Ontario government, on the grounds that the universal health care system is a monopoly, making it impossible to sell private insurance for medically-necessary care is unconstitutional.

Allow me to 'channel' Steve Novella here, and lets take these in reverse order. 3) The charge that universal health insurance is unconstitutional is an old one. They tried that before, and have been trying it for a few decades now....no dice.

Not pictured: The first time I've used that joke.

Admittedly, I'm not a lawyer, but I know-the-crap out my constitution, and let me assure you that there is nothing unconstitutional about this. However, I encourage you to not take me at my word, and read the constitution for yourself. Merits of the lawsuit aside, it looks absolutely terrible on Shona to try and sue the Ontario government for reimbursement for her non-necessary procedure in Arizona while she's also suing them under the auspices of anti-trust. And then have her on American Television bashing Canadian healthcare.

2) Okay, we know it was a cyst. I still was unable to find out whether or not the Canadian doctors knew it was a cyst during her initial examination or not. I would think, that if the Canadian doctors thought she had a brain tumor, there is NO WAY they would make her wait 3 months. Admittedly, this is pure assumption on my part, and I suspect that the truth on this will come out soon.

1) Now she's revised it to three months. Okay. There are multiple sources that say it was up to three months, and some say that it was less. I don't want to give her the benefit of the doubt here, but fine. 3 months. Shona, you lied about that. Good for you for coming clean, but you did it too late for it to matter, and only when people called you on it. You're not only a liar, but you're a dirty liar.

There are still a few more fuzzy details at this point, but the evidence is pretty damning. No doubt there will be other similar cases like this in the future on the American mediaocracy, to vilify if not Canadian healthcare, but maybe English or French healthcare. We have to stay on top of this and not let them get away with this kind of behavior.

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If you're going to try to drag my blog down into the depths of youtube-level comment threads, this is what I'm going to do to you. Embarrass you. Anonymous, the only smart thing you did was not leave any identifying marks, despite my polite insistence. That's fine. You probably will never visit this blog again, and you likely found it because you googled 'healthcare Canada awesome' or something like that. I'm pretty sure you're clinically douche-tarded, so I won't tear you apart any more than you already have yourself. All I'm doing is copying/pasting what you said, as well as provide a screenshot of your comment. I've also highlighted some of your...ummm...highlights.

Keep reaching for that rainbow.

Fag Communist.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Holmes financed her own medical care at the Mayo clinic in Arizona because she could not receive timely medical treatment in Canada.

Wait times in Canada kill patients - that's a fact.
Ms. Holmes had a brain tumor - another fact.
She asked for reimbursement form OHIP and was told "no" while bureaucrats earning over a million dollars a year to convert medical files to a digital format are charging Ontario taxpayers for alcohol and limos.

Nice to see that bloggers and misfits paid by the Canadian and Ontario governments are tearing up the internet trying to destroy Ms. Holmes character for daring to speak out against socialized medicine.

Canada is a fake democracy run by fag communists. Ms. Holmes will win her lawsuit, Obama will not be re-elected, and anyone who becomes seriously ill in Canada will end up in the United States seeking treatment. Even Belinda went to the States when she had cancer - blog against her and call her a traitor. Oh wait, you can't do that 'cause she's a liberal.

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Beware the Spinal Trap

So, apparently today is a sort of international day of blog action (....blogction?) in support of Simon Singh. If you're here as part of your regular skeptic blogroll, then you know all about it. If you don't know about it, go here and select just about anything about the issue...the story is...interesting.

Anyway, I wasn't going to post this like everyone else seems to be doing, but I guess that this is a little more significant that the average 'in-a-general-sort-of-support-kind-of-way'. Skeptic and medical blogs worldwide are doing this, and I'm happy to throw in my hat too.

Also, I love standing in lines. I mean, after all, every Canadian loves standing in lines for healthcare, right?

Beware the Spinal Trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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***UPDATE***after you read this, there is an update so some of the information posted here in today's entry


If you're a Canadian, you've probably seen by now the story of Shona Holmes, the Hamilton-area woman who was on an American television commercial, telling the story of how she couldn't get treatment in Canada for a brain tumor, so she fled to the United States for treatment and went nearly bankrupt in the process.

"I survived a brain tumor, but if I relied on my government for healthcare I'd be dead"....Indeed...?

And if indeed you are a Canadian, I'll give you a moment to keep your lunch down. The sheer number of just flat-out lies are too great to count. "Many drugs and treatments aren't available because Government says 'Patients aren't worth it' ". Holeeeee Moses! In case you are American and are unsure of how things are run up here, rest assured, things do NOT run like that!

Now, it's time for a few facts and analysis.

1) Shona did not have a brain tumor! Ummm.....what? Turns out she had a Rathke's Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland. These cysts are non-lethal. While it's true that they can cause some pretty nasty symptoms, such as temporary blindness, her life was never in jeopardy because of the cyst.
2) Shona had appointments booked! Because the cyst (not tumor) can indeed cause tremendous discomfort and serious (temporary) side effects, she was booked to see the specialists she needed to see. She refused, and chose to not wait the few months to see them. Instead, unable to jump the line and get in front of people that actually had life-threatening illnesses, she fled to the U.S. for private treatment. That's fine, she's allowed to do that, but it's not the urgent-as-hell "I'm going to die because my government is letting me die!" scenario painted in the ad.
3) Shona is complicit in the attack ad! "Holmes, it should be noted, is not just some naive flake being used by a right-wing group to help spread their anti-healthcare reform message. She's actually an activist herself, one who has been all over the American media airwaves giving interviews about Canada's healthcare system." (source). I've seen this woman on several American media outlets telling her story, such as here with the human-weasel hybrid, Neil Cavuto:

Now, it's clear from the ad, and this is true, that she mortgaged her home for $97,000 to get treatment. Now, let's just say for the moment that she did have a brain tumor (did mention yet that that's a lie? Because it's a lie. A dirty, dirty lie): What I'm unclear of, is how on earth anyone could see this and think "good for our system! We allow the people the freedom to go bankrupt in order to get life-saving treatment!"

Shona has sued Ontario Health Care for financial damages. What did Ontario do? THEY SUED HER RIGHT BACK! I don't think I'd normally support that particular course of action, but for two things:


An official in Attorney General Chris Bentley's office said there will be no comment on the case since it is before the courts. Ms. Holmes said Tuesday she also does not want to discuss the lawsuit to keep it from being “played out in the media.”

O rly??? Yeah. You don't want this getting out into the media. You don't want this becoming a circus. Right.

2) I have to agree that doctors and administrators for Ontario Healthcare are getting sick of having their names, and their careers dragged through the mud for some low-life, unscrupulous political attack ads in the United States (read: a foreign country!). George Bush pulled that on us in 2004, and people lost their shit. It's got to REALLY suck to have the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity call you a crook, a liar, and a thief on such a regular basis...for political purposes. It's like the Serpent King calling you out for snake-like behavior. I can't blame the Ontario government for biting back.

Shona Holmes has now made for herself a pretty little career out of being professionally angry at the country that offered her help...for free. Instead, she chose to not get the free help for her non-lethal condition, went nearly bankrupt, and went to the United States for airtime, sympathy, and to act as a mouthpiece for the what I will charitably call the conservative element.

She lied through her non-tumor teeth in order to get her 15-minutes of fame on American television. Now, she's persona-non-grata here. She may very well have to move to the United States just for purely social reasons. There, she can enjoy all the house-mortgaging health-care costs she likes. Except that the private insurance companies won't cover her because this is a pre-existing condition. Awwwww, SNAP!

Shona: I hope for your sake it was worth it. Because your entire country now hates you.

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Hot for teacher

Okay. Allow me to get a little mushy here.

The past few months has been really, really, difficult for me. I haven't had a proper job in over a year, and I've had that "I-just-turned-30-and-why-the-hell-is-my-life-going-so-absurdly-off-course?" malaise. I know I'm not the only one who gets/got/will get this way, so I'm not saying this for sympathy, merely to set the scene. Depression is a nasty damn thing even at the best of times, but it can be especially trying if you're desperately trying to find work. It's not just that you feel bad, or like a gloomy-Gus, but you actually feel valueless. Having a bunch of robots tell me that I wasn't good enough to answer phones for a damn airline really stuck in my craw.

A few weeks ago a good friend had a wedding, and it was great. Except for one thing: seeing all my old friends and an old girlfriend and catching up and all that "what are you doing these days?" kinda vibe, I had nothing to tell them. Yeah the astronomy and blogging things that I do now are great, but as of now, they're little more than glorified hobbies. Rewarding as all hell, but ultimately just hobbies (the friend who got married works for the Ontario Legislature....I write about astrology and the colour green on the internet).

I largely kept a lot of this from you, my beloved reader, because if there's one thing I've learned in all my life, is that if there's someone who cares less about your problems than you, it's everybody. That's fine. Dick jokes are still funny no matter what.

Those of you who follow me on facebook know my great news already, but regardless: I got a job today. Not just a job. The kind of job that I can not only be proud of, and not only be unafraid to tell people about at weddings, and not only the kind of job I can go home at the end of the day and not feel like I just robbed a bunch of orphans. I can go do this job that I may reasonably (and finally) call a career, and knowing that I am definitely making a positive difference in people's lives.

I am a music teacher.

And it feels really, really good to be able to say that.

Now I can show people how to play like:

and like:

Thank you to all my bloggy-friends big and small who continued to read this blog and comment and all the awesome stuff that makes us a (relatively) cohesive community of skeptics and of bloggers. You, and I, know who you are. This blog has been enormously cathartic and the thought that people give a shit about what I have to say....that's really nice, and it helped stave of the feeling of having no value that unemployment kept beating into my face for months and months and months.

Thanks again. Oh, and I tend to get like this when a huge, cumbersome weight gets lifted off my shoulders.

Now enough of that. Isn't Homeopathy a total douche? Totally.

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Enter: Multiple Moon!

If you visit this blog with any sort of regularity, chances are you have a complex array of uncomfortable social skills and hilarious odors. But there is also a good chance that you've seen my many moon photos. I've decided to try something here:

Okay, there are a few missing phases here, but the weather doesn't always cooperate, and I've only had my 3x barlow for my 8" refractor as of May, so there's not been a lot of moons to cooperate with. The moons are taken from the following dates, from left to right: July 20th, July 17th, June 12th, July 8th, Feb 4th April 1st. The original file was 720 megs, and made up of a ber-jillion high-resolution photos, so I had to way-shrink it down to bloggable size. For my astronomy photostream go here.

I'm not going to be able to update for a couple of days, as I'm leaving town to give it my all for a helluva job-interview. If my 16 years as a professional musician have served me well, I just may be a music teacher by the time I update next. Wish me well!

or else...

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H'okay, so, it's time I asserted some of my millions of years of Political Science/History education on you people. Seriously. Millions.

With the anniversary of Apollo 11, we've all got moon-on-the-mind. Specifically, how the crap could NASA loose the footage? It's the footage of the first man on the moon! How do you LOOSE something that monumental??? Not only did you loose a bunch of tapes, but you even taped over a bunch of them! DERP! Silly, NASA experts! All the time that you were sending tiny people to the moon, you'd think that just one person would think to hit "record" and know where they put the tape! Or if they did, surely they MUST know to not record over it with an episode of Night Court!

Top row from left to right: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Sheppard, Jim Lovell
Bottom row from left to right: Neil Armstrong, Markie Post, Edgar Mitchell

Well, it's a little more complicated than that.

Some key elements which I think need to be addressed: cost, technology, administration.

Those old magnetic tapes were massive, bulky, and from a quick glance: identical. Historians need regular access to those tapes, which are often held in huge, gymnasium-sized rooms, and it's entirely reasonable to assume that one person just misplaced, or misread a label. That's all it took for that kind of thing to happen in those days.

Those old magnetic tapes were also expensive as can be. NASA certainly needed a historian on-staff not just to tell them that this is significant, (DUH!) but more for proper archival purposes in order so that the dumb mistakes identified above wouldn't happen to these. Recording on magnetic tapes is so costly, that I'm sure that one person with a slightly-less-than broad appreciation of history might weigh recordings which we all saw on television with his supervisor breathing down his neck to cut costs.

It sounds silly, but these things happen all the time. If you've ever tried to do some historical research in an archival setting, you know how absurdly unnavigable it can be and how much has been lost.

So yeah, I sincerely doubt it was that NASA didn't think about the historical significance, or that none of them knew how a lock-box worked...it was probably just that the historical/archival know-how just wasn't to be found, and at the time, they were probably busier with not-killing their astronauts atop a Saturn V rocket than to think about what people 40 years in the future will say of them.

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An update on the Peterborough Ghost Hunters Society/Some Canadian Skeptic Joint-venture

I got a really positive reply, and here it is, with the author's permission (but identity removed)

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the offer, I am more then willing to bring people along who are skeptical and I don't have a problem with your skepticism. I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to draw up their own conclusions about things and I don't ever believe in shoving what your beliefs are down someone's throat. If someone tells me that they don't believe in ghosts or spirits or GOD, I just say okay, and no longer bring the subject up.
What I do have a problem with is when people tell me that I am 'stupid' or that I need to 'get a life' for what I believe in and what I do. As a matter of fact, the same day that I recieved your email, I had another email from someone telling me to 'grow up.'
Like I said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I've never told someone that they were 'stupid' or 'needed to get a life' because they 'didn't' believe in what I believe in.

As of right now, we don't have any ghost hunts lined up but when we do, which I hope will be in the soon future, I will let you know!

And yes, you have my permisson to post this on your blog as a response to your letter (or was I supposed to reply to your email through our blog???)

Hope to talk soon,


[name deleted]

And my reply

[name deleted],

First off, I sincerely hope that the person who sent you that derisive email was not one of my readers. I've asked tem not to behave that way, and if they did, it was against my wishes that I made explicit.

More importantly, I was delighted to read your email and I think we can get a good project together. I think the next step is that once you get some more information for your next investigation, your group and mine should get together over a coffee (I recommend the Silver Bean Cafe by the river)and start hammering out some details. I don't mean just where and when, but what you would need from us in order to do the best investigation possible, as well as what we would need in order to ensure that we can be...well....skeptics.

What kind of equipment do you use? I'd appreciate if you could be as specific as possible (ie: if you're using a video camera, what model and make, age of the camera, technical specs etc...), so that we could have as much technical knowledge as we can going into things.

As soon as you get more information, let me know and I'll wrangle up my colleague and we can start arranging meeting times.

Thanks again,

This will be the last email I will publish on the blog. If I wish to publish another of mine, I will tell you first, and if I wish to publish one of yours, I will of course ask your permission.
So there we have it. Within a few minutes of the first email received, I got another one saying that they did just get a call for a potential ghost-hunt. So something may come of this sooner, rather than later.

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The robots rejected me.

I hate the Germans.

"That's pretty terrible!" you might protest.

Fine. I don't hate the Germans, but I hate the way they do business!

"That's not much better!"

Fine, I hate the way this one particular German company rejected me during a recent job interview. Here's a story. Please excuse the occasional indulgences into self-pity....I do it for the narrative value, I assure you.

A few weeks ago, I received a LOT of news ranging from the mildly inconvenient, to the soul-shatteringly depressing. The week before, I had a bunch of great news, which the subsequent week then proceeded to completely undo my feelings of accomplishment and that maybe, just maybe things were gonna turn out okay after all!

Week 1: a) The Science Museum, Science North had finished the cut of their planetarium movie, complete with a whole whack of my photos (go and see em! All but two of the amateur astro-photos are mine....I'll give you a hint: mine are the ones that are totally radical). B) Canada Day was a pretty mediocre day, but I took some great pics of the fireworks, and now I know how to do that. c) TAM was looking to be a go d) most indulgently, I made a blog post that I am particularly proud of. Yeah, I said it. I'm proud of this entry. What of it? e) After a LONG time of being unemployed, I had a job interview at a place that looked like it would REALLY be a (financially) rewarding place work...it is this place that is the focus of my story.

Week 2
TAM fell through at the last minute, I had creditors and my landlord yell at me, I hadn't been able to get out with the telescope for a while, about the 100 or so resumes I had sent out , about 97% of them didn't bother telling me no, opting for ignoring me instead. Oh, and the job interview? Went about as bad as any interview I've ever had.

The job was a pretty mediocre, recessiony-type of job for someone who can't lift heavy loads (as per my delicate, child-like frame): an in-bound call-centre for Lufthansa Airlines. No sales calls, just customer service. I've got many, many, many years of customer service experience, and quite frankly, I'm super-rad at it when I need to be.

The interview started at 10:00 am. No problemo senor. There was four of us competing for the same job. Little extra-stress...but fine: that's how these things are occasionally done. Rather than have us talk with anyone (after all, this is a CUSTOMER SERVICE job), they had us sit and listen-in on incoming phone calls....that makes sense. The callers were all civil, and the employee I sat with seemed to know her job perfectly well. 20 minutes later, we were pulled off, and THEN, I thought we would actually have a chance to talk to a human being.

No, we were set into a little side-room to do a computerized testing of our literacy/geography/logic/mathematics skills, and in that order. Funny thing about that order: those are the skills that I would rank myself at from best-to-worst, and it was that order that the company ranked from least-important-to-most-important. Odd, and a little stressful. But fine. I've got 7 years of post-secondary education experience, goddamnit, and I can write a bloody test! Lets do this! YEEEAAHHH!!!"

Actual footage.

"The test is designed to get more difficult as you progress" We were told. Rightly so.
"The test should take you about an hour" We were told. Wrongly so.
"The test is mostly in English, but there's still some German in there, hopefully it won't affect the results too much". Ummm.....what?
When I started the test, the computer title screen said in bold, efficient, yellow-on-white German lettering, "COMPUTER-ASSISTED-PSCYHOLOGICAL-ANALYSIS" Friendly.

Each section of the test was at least twice as long as the previous section. The first section was simple geography: seeing unlabeled parts of continents and countries and effectively filling in the blanks, and naming the occasional capital city. I'm super-rad at that, but too bad there was only 7 questions.

The 2nd section was a literacy test, the kind that you might find in an SAT, "Steve is to awesome as politics is to _____" (the correct answer is 'elephant'). Never took an SAT (not a big thing in Canada), but I understood the format well enough thanks to Head of the Class. There were also a few questions like "which of the following 4 words don't belong" Easy enough. Hyoomanitess edukayshun. I haz one.

Let me say at this point that the 'some German' in the test turned out to be about half the bloody test. It wasn't just at really obvious points like "back" and "proceed", but the German words were interspersed throughout the entire test, at every section. Try doing a test for a job where half the words in every single sentence is in a language you don't understand. It's miserable.

To further add to the stress, there was a little ticking-clock in the bottom corner of the screen ticking away the time left you had to finish the section. That's when I started to wonder if this was a stress test as much as anything else.

The 3rd section was basic math. Just addition and subtraction. By now, I was a little out of my element, and the German didn't help. Oh, and the lettering at this stage of the test was in red. My eyes. They burned.

The 4th section was basic multiplication and addition. This section had 75 questions. I didn't finish.

The 5th section was logic. Now, I love logic puzzles. I've been doing them since stumbling upon them in college, and knew I could ace this part. Ho-no! This logic quiz was strictly symbolic, showing a 9x9 matrix with various symbols, and we had to figure out which of the NINE symbols would fit the missing square. Oh, and the 10th selection was "none of the above". That's helpful. It took me a while to re-orient myself to the nature of the test and by the time I figured out the groove of it, my 30 minutes for this section was up.

the 6th, and final section was, in principle, also simple math. Multiplication and addition. The questions were something like this:
Then we were given a choice of 5 to chose from (again, a 'none-of-the-above' option was there), and each option had a range of about 100 from each other. Oh, and we were not allowed pen/paper, or calculator.

That last section killed me so hard, that by the time I was up to question 127, I couldn't even subtract 6 from 13.....it was THAT bad. I'm pretty sure they had raised the temperature of the room over time. I can't be certain that it wasn't my own stress that caused my heat, but I can be reasonably certain it wasn't the number of people in the room (there were 4 in a room built for 30). I was wearing normal job-interviewey clothing: dress pants and dress shirt, but by the end my chair was sopping wet with my gross man-sweat, my top three buttons were undone, my sleeves were pulled up to my biceps (which are, I assure you humongous), and my hair was sticking to my neck/brow. Stress does increase body-heat, the room was cool when we walked in to the point that I had to put my jacket back on. I ain't crazy.

The results were sent off to Germany (!) and I had to wait the next day to hear. Unsurprisingly, I was turned down.

So, Lufthansa Airlines: you have a weird, robotic way of doing things. It makes so little sense to me that a customer-service job would have an interview with almost zero human interaction.

Are these sour grapes? Perhaps. I needed work pretty bad (still do) and having a robot tell you that you're not good enough to answer phone calls stings really, really bad.

I'm 90% certain that once I left, every employee of the Lufthansa call centre took off their human shells and came out like this, relieved to not have to put on airs in front of the future-slave.

Does this story have a moral? I don't think so. If you ever book a flight on Lufthansa Airlines and don't get a lick of help from the people you dealt with, don't blame them. They're robot-approved people.

Oh, one more thing: Lufthansa Airlines: fuck you, and suck my irony. You heard me. If you didn't understand that, perhaps I should intersperse my words with another language.

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An open letter to the Peterborough Ghost Hunters Society.


My name is Steve Thoms and I'm very interested in your ghost hunting project.

First of all, let me say in the spirit (ha!) of openness, that I am a skeptic. I say this in the truest sense of the word, in that I withhold my belief until convincing evidence is brought forth. I also run a skeptic-blog (http://somecanadianskeptic.blogspot.com), which puts me, in my own meek way, among the ranks of the Skeptic community. I realize that the skeptic community and paranormal communities are often at odds, but I assure you I write in this good faith.

I'm also a resident of Peterborough, and have been since 2004. I wasn't aware of your group until my friend forwarded me an ad they found on Kijiji , and I have a proposal, which, admittedly, is outside the scope of your ad. I understand that you wish to write a book compiling local ghost/paranormal stories. I cannot help in this project directly, but I may be able to make it more interesting.

I would like us to work together. When you go on ghost hunts (with psychics, and an array of technical equipment), let me come with you. Contrary to the popular belief of what the skeptic project is about, we very much want to be convinced. As people grounded in the world of science, naturalism and materialism, we would love for many claims of the paranormal society to be true, because all of humanity could benefit from entirely new branches of knowledge! All we want is convincing evidence.

All I'm asking is for myself, and a fellow skeptic from the area to come along with your next ghost hunting trip, and we both could offer a perspective that perhaps you might not be used to. We would be patient and respectful.

I think this could be a tremendous opportunity for both of us on several levels:
1) The paranormal community can be seen as making an honest, bona-fide attempt to reach out to the (lets face it: sometimes hostile) skeptic community.
2) The Skeptic community can be seen as making an honest, bona-fide attempt to reach out to the paranormal community without being a bunch of rude bastards
3) Both of our camps may end up learning a great deal about the other side, even if no one walks away thinking they were wrong, maybe we could understand each other a little better.
4) Who knows? Maybe one of us will truly be convinced of the opposing arguments, in which case we all win, skeptic and paranormalist alike!
5) This could also be of great interest to the local community....a local human interest story worthy of a noteworthy discussion about skepticism, the paranormal, and the role that both play for Peterborough and Ontario.

Also in the spirit of openness, I have made this an open letter, which I have posted on my blog. Should you wish to reply in the same manner, I would encourage you to do so (I'll also link to it with your permission). I can be reached anytime through my email, steve_is_good [at] hot mail [dot] com, or on my cell, (***)***-****

Lets get together and do some great works for both our communities, and we can all learn a great deal!

Steve Thoms
Some Canadian Skeptic.

**A note to my readers**

Thank you for your helpful advice the other day. You help keep me honest and civil. I must insist that no one send them derisive, mocking emails....that kind of behavior belongs at 4chan. I want to do an honest, thoughtful investigation with these fellow members of my community, and I don't want them to think that my intentions/motivations are anything but honest. I'm not lying to them, I'm not insulting them, I will not hide anything from them, nor will I hold back. I know that I can sometimes come off as caustic in my own right, but this is different: this is (hopefully) going to involve the real world, and I ask that you respect my wishes in this regard. That may be the most forceful language I've ever employed to my readership, and I want to impress upon you all how grateful I am of your support and advice. The ball is in their court now, and I will keep you all updated when news comes in.

Thanks again, friends.

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Holy moses, smell the roses. While moping around online this morning, I received this notification:

"You have received an email from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich"


My immediate thought was that I was on some mailing list without realizing it, or it was something forwarded to me through the Peterborough Astronomy Association (which I'm a member of).

But no, the email continued,

Hello, and congratulations from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich!

Your photos have been shortlisted in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2009 competition.

Well, Hi-de-hi-de-ho! Truthfully, I actually forgot about this contest. It took me a while to find the blog post from the time. I've seen some of the other pictures in the contest, and quite frankly, I was so impressed with them that I thought I was a write-off. I don't know how many other people were also shortlisted, and frankly I don't care. It's an honor just to be nominat....er......shortlisted.

One day, Sally....that will be mine.....one day...that envelope....that envelope will be mine. Also, can I have that dais?

There are still a few more steps that I have to do, and all I did was make the first round. Still nice though, and I could sure use some good news these days. The pictures that were selected were this one and this one. Does that first one look familiar? If you read this blog, it should look familiar.

I don't think I can call myself a finalist at this stage just yet. But hopefully fortune will smile my way some more.

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For Britta:
For me:

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Important Futurama News!

Fellow Futurama Fans: Our duty is clear. Fox is trying to pull some alienating shit on the fans that brought this back to life (Twice!!!!). Spread the rage. Spread the anger. Rise up. Revolt! REVOLUTION!

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Astrology Fail

I did a little computer-simulation on astrology a while back, and a recent discussion on skepchick got me thinking 'why the hell didn't I post the results here?' To call it a computer simulation is a tad on the grandiose side, but it's still technically that, and compared to the astrologers, what I did makes me Niels-bloody-Bohr!

Pictured: Ahm with yer jeenyus: chillin like a villain.

I was born May 6th, 1979. This, I'm told, makes me a Taurus. From astrology.com:
With sensual Taurus, the Bull, as your star sign, the Sun shone through an earth sign on your birthday. The Sun in astrology stands for your inner nature, the stamp of your true character. The second sign of the Zodiac, Taurus is ruled by Venus, the planet of love and desire. A fixed (strong and solid) sign, Taurus governs practicality and security. It is a feminine sign and very magnetic.

Oy. So, apparently, on the day I was born, the sun rose in the constellation Taurus. And it's true that on that day, the sun rose in Taurus.....2000 years ago when the Babylonians invented the 'discipline' (though even back then the personality traits assigned to the zodiac were kind of restricted to the lunatic-fringe, and gained traction much later).

On May 6th, 2000 years ago the sun did indeed rise in Taurus. On May 6th, 30 years ago, the sun did not rise in Taurus.


Astrologers have two problems which they cannot reconcile themselves with:
1) Precession. As we know (now), the axis of the earth rotates a little by an approx. 23-degree circle every 26,000 years. The position of the sun relative to the constellations will invariably change along a predictable path over time, and when you start stacking up thousands of years, you're inevitably going to be stuck with an entire pantheon of houses that don't match anymore, and it will only get worse.

2) Constellations. Unfortunately for astrologers, the entire basis of their pseudo-religion, the Zodiac, is fundamentally problematic at best. The Zodiac are the 12 (13 if you count Ophiuchus) constellations that lie on the ecliptic: that invisible line in the sky that all the planets, the moon, and the sun travel on (or very near, because orbits tilt a little bit). When the ancients identified and named the constellations (at least, the constellations that we know....Chinese, Indian and Native American ancients had entirely different mythologies attached to the heavens), some ended up being simply bigger than others, and the time it takes for the sun to pass through them varies greatly. For example, Scorpio takes 43 days for the sun to pass through, but tiny-Aries only takes 9. You can't have the sky evenly divided into 12 parts with those kind of variables.

So, I put my theoretical money where my virtual mouth is, and I plugged my date and place of birth, into that wonderful program, Stellarium (amateur astronomers of ANY skill level would be well-served to get this free program...I use it several times a day). This is what it revealed:

So, not only was the sun NOT rising on my birthday, but it seems that my entrance to this world was heralded by what was surely an awesome conjunction of the three inner planets! Why did astrology not tell me of this? Amateur astronomers like me LOVE conjunctions! And THREE of them! Can someone please get the president of astrology on the phone for me? How about a peer-reviewed academic, well-versed in the predictive power of the sky. After all, it's based on the stars, right? It's an ancient science and art, right? These people must surely know what they're doing, RIGHT?

Now, this is not a scientific analysis that I did: I ran a commercially available program that works on known celestial trends and motions, and makes VERY accurate predictions based on math. But what astrologer do you know that has ever tried anything CLOSE to that kind of attempted falsification?

I don't know of anyone either.

To borrow from Phil,

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Life begins at 40

As you all know, Apollo 11 turns 40 (unless you count the day that the mission started, in which case the anniversary was on Thursday), and as we all know, 40 is the new 20.

Actually, I'm not really in the mood to force jokes right now. I'm actually feeling really emotional about this subject. There's no point in me being super-poetical about this either: you know how you feel, and you don't need, nor particularly want me to guild the lily for you. Even Phil, whose prose about such topics tends to transcend into beautiful, opted just for a much more humble, and indeed touching, personal anecdote from his childhood.

I have no anecdotes. I was born in 1979, and the civilization-altering missions that were Apollo have no personal resonance with me. I grew up in the generation of the shuttle program, and the earliest space-memory I have is of the Challenger explosion. Like many who watched Apollo and Gemini live, I too watched Challenger live.....in school....in Grade 1. Owch.

I have sense of distance from Apollo, and those like me have to rely on the stories of others to get a sense of attachment. Thankfully, there's no shortage.

I'll leave you with this, which I took this morning. Thankfully, the weather (and the phase of the moon) cooperated, but just barely.

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I feel like talking about the North America Nebula. Like all nebulae, this one has its own quirks and quarks to it. It's really close to the star Deneb (part of the asterism, The Summer Triangle), and shines at magnitude 4. Magnitude 4 objects are just barely visible to the naked eye; for perspective, the bright orange star at the bottom-right is the star ΞΎ-Cyg, which shines at 3.75 magnitude, just a tad brighter, and clearly visible if you have a dark sky. But the light North America Nebula (an emission nebula) is terribly diffuse, and is spread out over a region that occupies more of the sky than the full moon! Like butter, scraped over too much bread, the light is simply too thin to see with the naked eye. Through my 8" reflector, I can just barely make out a slightly grey blur.


But, when I point the camera at it, even a 2-minute exposure can reveal a lot of gorgeous colour.


This is because a camera can collect all the photons I tell it to, and pile them on top of each other until they reveal shapes that my eyeballs just can't. Our brains are designed to process visual stimuli real-time: collecting, processing and interpreting data at a constant rate. Cameras act like light buckets, and can reveal super-rad images that in reality, are surrounding us at all times.

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If you smell...

Well, I have some ideas.

1) I can treat it very credulously. I wouldn't hide it from this blog at any stage....if they were really wise, they would do that kind of research before taking me at my word. I would effectively be lying only to them. Which still makes me a liar, but I think a greater good will be served, and I'd get some great footage from it (and I definitely would record it). I could easily concoct a huge elaborate story full of the vagaries that we all know to the point of tedium. I'm a good enough actor that I don't think I'd break character. If professional wrestling and taking 7 power-bombs to the head didn't make me break my concentration and character, I doubt this would.

2) I can treat it with faux-credulousness. That is, I can approach it like I was sort of curious, but was scientifically literate. A sort of weak-agnostic. I could approach it like I truly WANT to believe (which isn't untrue), but I know enough about the brain, cameras, energy, and electromagnetic fields to be able to stop them in their tracks at every turn. I could end their "investigation" with an air of relief. "Ah! I was so worried! I thought that all this shit would be going on....turns out it was all in my head, and I have a bit of a dust problem! Thanks so much for helping me realize how little there was to all this spooky-hocus pocus!"

3) I could treat it like a skeptic, who brings in these people purely because a loved one showed grave (ha!) concern, and I was doing it for their sake, not mine. Oh, sorry, she couldn't be here (my hypothetical wife). She's working right now. Poor thing was up all night last night and I love her so dearly that I feel I should do just about anything if it will ease her state of mind, even if I don't believe in it, and why the hell are you waving the EMF detector around like that? It's not a PK meter for god's sake!

I don't like to be a liar, but I hate this kind of stuff quite a bit too. I've always carried with me a bit of strange suburban envy of the people who live in big cities, and have access to this stuff on the constant. Peterborough has a culture of believers, but I don't think it's any larger, or more active than any other small, university town in Ontario. It's awfully average. Here, something is basically dropping in my lap, and I'm hesitating. All because I don't want to be a liar. But I still would love to do this. Suggestions?

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In my own backyard!

Oh man. Oh man. Ohmanohmanohmanohman!

Should I?

It's in my own city! This looks golden!

Should I?

Oh, Lawd, should I?

If I should, how should I? I would need to play this as expertly as I can, and I don't want to be a shit-head.


Should I?

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Serendipity smiled upon me this morning. The night was muggy, mostly cloudy, and had about as charm as a graveyard. There were enough punctuated holes in the clouds that I thought it would be okay to lug out the telescope and see if I can snag a few crescent moon pics. I did, but while more clouds rolled over the moon, Jupiter opened up.

I wasn't planning on it, but I got a picture of Io transiting Jupiter! I didn't even think my technology could snag tiny Io as is transited in front of bright-as-hell Jupiter, but, there it is. In order to confirm that it wasn't a dust grain or something on the mirror or lens, I took about 30 pics from various positions of the field of view, and I also plugged in the exact time I took the pictures into Stellarium, and yes. It's Io. See?

This has been an abysmal summer for astronomy in central Ontario (at least in terms of weather cooperation), but ever so often things work out better than you planned.

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Dear Visitor # 20,000

I'm lying to you.

Truthfully, Visitor #20,000 probably rolled in around January, but this is a very rough guess because I have know way of knowing. I installed the web counter at the bottom of this post in mid-October, and that's when the numbers start.

I'm very, very sorry.

I like being the 20,000th anything.

Well, I don't like being the 20,000th person in line. Or the 20,000th person to date a particular girl.

But I do like it when balloons and flashing lights celebrate my arrival. It wasn't my planning, but I always like a party when its for something I had no idea I was doing.

I don't know if I like 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I haven't read it.

But you're not the 20,000th visitor.

I'm so sorry. I regret lying to you.

But I'm so glad you came.

Please keep coming back.

I'll serve you waffles.

If you keep coming back, then I can hit 50,000. At which time, I will look back at this post and be fucking embarrassed at the amateurish concept.

Too late.

I'm better than this.

But it's early, and you might come at any moment.

Christ, I'm lame right now.

Don't you hate astrologers?

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Holy crap. Glenn Beck is even crazier than I thought. I knew he was crazy in that "all vitriolic mega-right-wing pundits are crazy" kind of way. But check this shit out:

Wow. He's actually screaming like a baby. A little baby who doesn't want to leave McDonald's because he's having too much fun. I would pay money to see a video of him in the studio when that was recorded.

People like Beck are really, really driving the right-wing into even crazier, scarier depths. Like this one, of Catherine Crabill, republican candidate in VA, who is suggesting that Americans may have to very soon use their 2nd amendment rights no just to own a gun, but to overthrow the goddamn government.

Man. She must REALLY not want poor people to get medicine!

I find it really hard to joke about people like this lately. They are creating a culture of not just fear, but of actual panic. They've already killed George Tiller and now people running for office are seriously working people up for a fucking revolution. Over universal health-care? Holy shit!

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Today is a pretty significant day in history for us astronomy-folk. It's the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunch in 1969 and when Comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 ker-slammed into Jupiter in 1994, making the surface look as pimply as I was that very same year.

This is my best picture of Jupiter so far. I'm glad to see that both Jupiter and I have recovered from our adolescent acne....well, mostly.

Apollo 11 has been talked about to death in such beautiful and inspiring prose that I wouldn't dare sully it with my usual array of dong jokes and ker-prefixes. So instead, I'll just say that, as a person who grew up in the shuttle-era, I am envious at the generation who were inspired by NASA at such an achievement. The shuttle has us stuck in low-orbit, ker-wanking each other off...probably with dongs.

The darker area to the left-centre is the Sea of Tranquility, landing zone of Apollo 11. I recently moved all my moon pics around and this was the best one I could find without looking through thousands of almost identical shots. Forgive me?

For me, I remember the comet slamming into Jupiter, and teenage regret at not having a telescope to view the damage. I remember the oft-maligned (in those days) Hubble Telescope which had only recently been brought up to full running order, delighting the world with those amazing pictures of Jupiter taking a beating (appropriately, it's entirely probable that I took a beating the next day, but only at Contra). My journey to astronomy has been an interesting one (to put it charitably), but I have very clear memories of being particularly stirred by this event. Dare I say, it was even a little formative.

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So, the other day, I went out to a local gas station. I go there often, and the clerk knows me at least by face.

I'm told I just have one of those faces. One of those very distinctive, card-throw-into-able faces.

He's a nice enough guy. Homespun, towny, incurious, content, jovial. Sort of like a sedate Johnathan Winters. Unlike when I usually go to the station, I decided to help myself a magazine before I left. I picked it up, along with a few other trinkets and intended to pay my bill, say a few kind words and be off.

He took a look at the magazine, a copy of Scientific American, and a look of surprise came over his face.

"I didn't know you were a scientologist!" he exclaimed.

".....", I replied.

It was probably a simple slip of the tongue on his part. It happens. People not exposed to the science-culture often will freely exchange Scientology for science, astrology for astronomy, and Andromeda for legitimate television. (ba-zing!) But is it possible that there is some ignorance behind his error-in-neologism? Probably, though it gives me no pleasure to speak with such derision. I know the guy enough to say with a reasonable margin of error to say that he probably does not know the difference, and is likely to, at least partially, intermix science and scientology whenever they cross is path (which I suspect is rarely).

Am I so squeamish to get uncomfortable when such a decent, harmless man makes such an egregious error in nomenclature? Should I just suck it up? If I do, what then? Do I just reinforce his ignorance and say "yes, I'm a scientologist", or do I correct him, "Umm, actually, it's scientist", coming off as a right-prat in the process?

And I'm not even a scientist! At best, I'm science-literate, but that's barely even a thing to be!

All this bombarded my head in the moment he said that. My spine tightened and I didn't know what to say. "Why are you a scientologist? How did you get into it?" He actually asked me. Oh man. I had no choice (in the moment), I had to correct him, politely inform him that I'm not a scientologist, nor a scientist....just a guy who likes science. He asked "What's the difference?". I briefly explained (other customers were about to come into the gas station), and we said our goodbyes.

You said it, buddy.

I'm not going to avoid that gas station or anything rash like that. But still. That was uncomfortable, and I hope to be ready the next time someone asks me, "How is your astrology-thing going?"

I have to keep telling myself that for MOST people, it's a simple slip-of-the-tongue, born not out of ignorance, but because of simple alliterative similarity.

Pictured: Jupiter, taken with my astrological telescope. Man, even joking about it makes me feel dirty.

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Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic - Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column