Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Never so broke we can't pay the psychic

Oh the humanity! The week off has given me the chance to listen to daytime NPR. The woo seems to permeate the programming.

Here's one from today's Day to Day. Turns out the economic downturn is a bonanza for "psychics." This one tells us that her johns used to be primarily women asking about love, but are now men asking about business. She channels guides and angels from the other side to set her clients straight.

And out of consideration for the economy, she's dropped her fee from $155 to $125 per hour. How will she make ends meet? Makes you weepy, the altruism. Then again, I bet she's not sending any of her profits to the other side.

How could you, Madeleine Brand? Sure, there was a whiff of skepticism in the piece, but it was more of a straw man meant to be blown down. It amounted to a puff pice for woo.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scamming Granny using the first rule of cold reading

Listening to daytime NPR on my week off, and the woo jumps out of the radio.

Take this tale of woe from Talk of the Nation. Scam artist from Canada (Oh, Canada!) call numbers in the US. If the person picking up sounds elderly and female, they launch into their scam.

"Hi Grandma, it's me--your favorite grandson," they begin. They tell Granny that there in trouble up in Canada, please wire money ASAP. "And don't tell Mom and Dad; I'll be in so much trouble." Often enough, the money comes through.

You might wonder how the scammers can succeed in such cold calls without knowing so much as the name of the person they're impersonating. That's because you've never worked as a cold-reading "psychic." As is the case with Jonathan Edward and James Van Praagh, the scammers let their marks do their work for them.

"Hi Grandma, it's me--your favorite grandson!"
"I that you, Jimmy?"
"Yes Grandma; it's me, Jimmy..."

It's wrong to blame victims of crimes. But we're such easy marks. If we don't see cold-readers as scam artists, we'll be wiring that money to the Canucks in no time and with no questions asked.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

High-speed water balloons in zero-g

Thanks to Rick Pam at Stanford for pointing this out to me. Über-groovy!

D-oh! The embedding code failed, so you'll have to click the link.

Predictions in review

Ah, the predictions shows. Who doesn't enjoy knowing ahead of time what is to transpire in the following year. Slight downside to the yummy predictions made by the psychics: they're generally wrong. Witness these gems from Sylvia Brown.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NCNAAPT Foothills meeting photos are up

The Fall Meeting of the Northern California and Nevada Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers was held at Foothills College in Los Altos on Saturday, November 8. Here are the photos to prove it.

As is nearly always the case, the photographic conditions were less than ideal. The solution involves patience, and high ISO, noise-reduction software. To get anything worth keeping, it helps to have a zoom with significant reach.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A body at rest tends to remain at rest

The nice thing about physics is that it's all around us. We live it. Sometimes it leads to consequences we hadn't anticipated.

Submitted for your approval: an object lesson in Newton's first law of motion, the law of inertia.