SGU Episode 328

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You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday October 26th 2011, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella,

B: Hey everybody

S: Rebecca Watson

R: Hello everyone

S: Jay Novella

J: Jet-lagged

S: And Evan Bernstein

E: Heeeey, happy Halloween coming up for everyone!

J: Isn’t it too early?

S: Yeah, that’s true, and this show comes out with two days to Halloween.

R: Yes, Steve and I are on our way to CSICON, for a Halloween in New Orleans.

E: That should be a lot of fun.

J: Are you guys gonna wear costumes?

S: Apparently

R: Yeah, there’s a costume contest

J: (excitedly) Come on! Spill it, guys! What’s the costumes?

R: This will actually go out the day we’re at CSICON, so…

S: I was gonna go as Dr. Horrible, so I’m gonna need a mad scientist’s lab coat, and I found one online, and it’s out of stock.

R: What? Steve?


R: How do you not have access to-

J: Do you need a stethoscope too?

S: No, the mad scientist lab coat that he wears is very different to the medical lab coats that I own

B: That’s true

J: It’s actually more like a fencing jacket

B: Yeah, that’s true, it’s different. I would totally win that costume contest.


R: I know, I don’t know if my costumes gonna get here in time, but if it does, I’m going to be Max from ‘Where the wild things are

S: That’s cool

B: Oh, awesome

R: I think the movie’s been out long enough that not everyone will be dressed as Max anymore, so-

B: That’s awesome, that’s really cool

R: -that’s my plan. Yeah, it’s like a spot-on costume too.

E: With the hood and the right feeties

B: Oh, great

R: Yeah, we were talking about what happens if it gets here after CSICON, and I’m just like, ‘I – don’t – care’

S: ‘I’ll wear it’


R: I’ll wear it, yeah, everywhere I go. So it’s fine.

B: Ok

R: I’m gonna try and find a stuffed-toy version of one of the monsters-

S: One of the wild things?

R: Yeah, and then I’ll, yeah, I’ll cut it open and turn it into a purse.

E: Oh my god

B: Awesome

This Day in Skepticism (2:09)

S: Evan, tell us about witch hunting

E: Because it has to do with this day in scepticism, what with witches and costumes, and Halloween coming up and all.

S: (with British accent) “What with Halloween coming up an’ all”

E: October 29th, 1390, the first trial of witchcraft in Paris takes place, leading to the death of three people. Now, I pulled that single sentence from our friends at Wikipedia, and it turns out, on doing a little digging into this Wikipedia fact, it turns out that the trial that had begun on that date was the second trial for witchcraft in Paris, not the first one. And, in addition, there were only two people killed as a result-

S: Damn Wikipedia

J: Otherwise it was accurate

E: -not three. Otherwise, hey, that sentence was totally accurate. So, real quick, the first trial actually took place, or began, on July 30th of 1390, with two women, Margot de la Barre was a woman of ill-repute, with the added repute of possessing magical powers, and another woman Marion la “Dreygorere” (Droiturière), and that’s they closest I can pronounce this-

S: (laughing) Yeah

E: -14th century last name. Marion’s husband had left her for another woman, so Marion hired Margot to cast a charm first, and then a curse. So, the charm was a love charm, hoping that would save the marriage, but it didn’t. So after the charm failed, to try to keep the husband around, Margot cast a curse that would make Marion’s husband impotent with other women.

S: ah-ha

E: So, upon torture, both of these women confessed to their dealings, Margot admitted calling upon demonic forces, and the two of them were burned at the stake in late August 1390.

S: Well, they deserved it.

E: Yeah.

B: Even though they confessed?

E: I have no, (inaudible)

B: That’s not fair


E: Yeah, to confess and then- well it’s the only way to clear your soul, Bob

B: I see

E: If you confess, you get a more merciful death. If you don’t confess-

R: Yeah, that’ what I was going to say, like, at that point, death is the… good sentence. That’s what you want, you don’t wanna keep getting tortured

E: Right, now the second trial, this one actually began on October 29th of 1390, Wikipedia take note, and again, this one involved two women: Jehane de Brigue and Macete de Ruilly. Jehane had a reputation as a diviner, and she had once even been hired by the authorities of a local church to help recover some stolen artefacts from the church. And, because she was deemed to have been successful, for her efforts she earned a year in jail for the crime of practicing magic. She was only spared death because she made a promise to never practice magic again. But once she got out of jail, she sort of fell right back into the magic business, as it was. Now, the story gets a little bit sketchy because I found two different stories about what happened next. So, I’ll give them to you real quick. In version one, Macete conspired with Jehane to cast a love charm on Macete’s husband, Hennequin, which resulted in Hennequin asking for Macete’s hand in marriage and the two were wed, however, Hennequin turned out to be not such a great catch after all, and Macete didn’t like the arrangement, so she and Jehane got together again and performed more mumbo-jumbo on Hennequin that would render him fatally ill. The second version of the story is that Jehane was summoned to treat the already ill Hennequin, upon suspicion that he was suffering from a curse due to, of course, his infidelities. Now it turns out that Macete had admitted casting the curse on her own, but in both cases it was reported that all of this was confessed upon …(expectantly)

S: Torture

E: You got it, torture of the two women, and on August 19th of 1391 they were both burned.

S: See, women are such trouble-makers, that’s the lesson here.


R: The only way to handle a mouthy woman is to burn her at the stake.

S: Yeah, they need to be singled out, tortured and then burned.

R: It worked for them for quite a while.

E: And deemed hysterical in the process, just for added salt in the wound.

R: Well, that’s what the uterus is for.

S: Now, in 1398, in reaction partly to these trials, academics from the university of Paris pronounced that magic is real and dangerous, and this contradicted the current doctrine of the church, that magic was imaginary. So we have a case of the church being the voice of reason in this particular case, and the academics from the university of Paris saying ‘yup, magic is real, and dangerous.

R: mmm, brilliant

E: What a world that was.


S: It’s like a crazy world!

E: It’s a mad house!


R: Cats and dogs living together…

S: Total chaos.

E: I mean, really, the medieval times were… a brutal, brutal time to be alive.

R: But a fun restaurant to visit.

S: Right?


E: You’re right, as long as you can go home at the end of it all, I guess it’s ok

R: The jousting is just amazing!


B: I like the chicken


News Items

Seeing Through Walls (7:15)

Science Daily: Seeing through walls
MIT news: Seeing through walls (inc. video)

S: Alright, well, Bob, tell us about seeing through walls

E: It’s called a window


B: Well, I wouldn’t call it a wall, but-

E: Excuse me? I’m looking at a window on the wall right there! I’m lookin’ at one right now

B: Ok

E: Alright, well we’ll leave it to the pros to tell us how it happens.

S: To do it the hard way

J: (laughing) Right.

B: MIT has come out with yet another cool piece of tech, a radar system that can see behind walls, but no windows involved. Now it’s not yet like making a wall completely transparent, but it is still pretty cool and useful, especially for a first-gen device. And the science behind it, of course, is pretty awesome. Even when you look at people through walls, you can’t really get around the basics, and the basics are, essentially, you get light to bounce off of something, get that light back to the detectors, then you have to interpret what you’re looking at. Now, like I said, the team at MIT uses radar instead of photons to see the people, the antennae consists of two rows, there’s a top row of eight receivers lines up next to each other. And the bottom row has got thirteen units that are used, not to receive the radiation, but to transmit the radar. And of course, there’s also the associated computer technology and all the other parts to actually, to control it and interpret it, and do everything. Now, the test performed at MIT didn’t go through wood or wall-board, they did a demo using 10 feet of Krell metal[1]

S: (laughs)

J: Oh yeah, no, you wish

E: Huh?

B: No, sorry, Steve, I knew you were gonna laugh at the one. Sorry, it was four inches and eight inches of concrete walls, and I guess that’s pretty good too.

S: Yeah

B: You may think the walls would block all the light hitting it, it’s kinda like why they call a wall.

S: Were they opaque?


B: Yeah, opacity. Walls block most of the light, meaning that some does actually get through, surprisingly. And in this case, walls like these concrete walls block 99% of the radar light that hits it, which actually sounds like, you’d think it’d be more than that, but still, 99%. So then of course, light gets through it bounces off of something, reflects off of something, and then it’s gotta come back, and it’s gotta come through the wall again. So again, 99% of that 1% is blocked, so what you have left is pretty much a signal that’s weak, and it’s really only point-oh, let’s see, 0.0025% of it’s original strength, so it’s pretty attenuated. But, so there’s not much to work there, but of course amplifiers these days are cheap, and powerful, and surprisingly, that wasn’t even the hard part, according to the researchers. The real challenge was developing a system that could provide three key things. They had to have speed, resolution and range, without them, they wouldn’t be useful for real-time applications, which is the key application they had in mind for this. It was military, of course, but it had to be real-time, otherwise these things wouldn’t be as key. Now, Gregory Charvat of the technical staff of Lincoln lab, and he’s a leader of the project, he said “If you’re in a high-risk combat situation, you don’t want one image every 20 minutes, and you don’t want to have to stand right next to a potentially dangerous building”. So, in terms of range, this thing can operate 60 feet from a wall, which is pretty good, I did some googling around for other devices that can see through walls, and the ones that I came across were these devices that you actually had to hold up to the wall. So, I’m not sure if they were real-time, but having to hold this up to a dangerous wall obviously wouldn’t be good for these urban combat situations.

R: Bob, as I understand it, those only return one frame every, like 20 minutes or something, so it’s not like a real-time thing.

B: Yeah, the ones I saw were actually kinda small too, so it doesn’t surprise me that there wasn’t much processing power. Now, for the speed, it’s real-time, which, as I said, is pretty key for lots of these applications, and for resolution, it’s claimed to be good as well because of the state-of-the-art digital processing that they do, and they’ve got all these sophisticated algorithms. So they’re saying that the resolution’s good, and I’ll mention size as well, the size is manageable, they had to kind of balance the size a bit, because if you go with a longer wave-length of radar, then your penetration would be a lot better, but the device you would need would be way too unwieldy. So, the one they ended up with is still kind of big, someone’s not going to carry it around. But they could mount it on a truck, and that’s ok, that’s pretty good for that application. So one of the websites described it as big as a grocery cart. So now for the drawbacks of course, the imaging processing uses what’s called a subtraction method, so each image is compared to the previous to see what the difference is, to see what’s changed. Now that means that static objects are essentially invisible. And that’s kind of ok too, because, even if someone’s trying to stand perfectly still, they can still be detected because of all the small involuntary movements that can’t really be controlled. Oh yeah, the frame rate, it was like 10.9 fames per second, which is decent, it’s not the standard 24 frames a second, but it’s still decent enough. But the real disappointment for me was the image that it creates, I mean they’re actually described as blobs, I mean they just use the word ‘blobs’. Now, I guess just knowing a blob is a person is valuable intel’, but I mean, come on, Star Trek wouldn’t have a device that sees through walls and only shows a stupid blob, I was kind of disappointed when they described it, and Charvat said that- he said something else that was kinda disappointing too, he said “To understand the blob requires a lot of extra training,”. Now, what does that even mean?


B: A blob is a person, how much training does that require?

R: Ok, well, you know, but have you ever seen a sonogram? That’s a blob that you see professionals say ‘here’s the head, and there’s the feet’, and I couldn’t pick out anything, it just looks like… mush

B: I know, so, yeah, apparently there’s lots of training-

J: I don’t know, it’s still-

R: The training is mostly ‘you see this part at the top of the blob? That’s the head’ (laughs)

B: Yeah

R: (laughs) ‘this part at the bottom of the blob, that’s the feet’

J: I bet they’re talking more about, like what direction it’s moving in, and things like that, because it’s probably very blurry

B: Yeah, I guess, Jay, that there’s subtleties to the shape of the blob that could inform you as to what, you know, more precisely what you’re looking at, or maybe what the person might have on them. Or even how it moves could also potentially provide additional important information. So, currently, they’re working on algorithms that can convert this blob into they’re calling a ‘clean’ symbol so it’s more user-friendly, so it’s kind of a, you know, an easy to identify blob. But the things that I wanted to know that I couldn’t find was, what would it really take to get a fairly clear image of a person through something like a concrete wall? What wavelength of light would you need? How big would the device be?

B: They should just use that Adobe, that new Adobe anti-blur technology, that should work.

J: Yeah, that’s great stuff, man, did you see those before and after pictures?[2] Incredible.

R: It’s amazing! They can do anything.

B: I can’t wait to check it out

J: What are you talking about? I don’t know.

R: It’s a new anti-blur thing, like filter, that you can do in Photoshop that literally takes a blurry, out of focus picture and puts it into sharp focus

E: Recreates it

R: There’s an amazing example online showing a crowd scene, and the ‘after’ you can see everything in the crowd, it’s amazing.

B: Anyway, like I said, it’s a pretty slick device, it seems like it could be very useful, especially in urban combat situation. And if it saves some lives, and helps us take out others, then who am I to argue?

E: Well, ok, but if you’re seeing a blob, how do you know whether it’s a friendly or a non-friendly?

B: Yeah, that’s true, I mean, so a lot of times-

R: It’s a different color

B: Yeah


R: Like in video games

E: Yeah, the bad guys are red, the good guys are green

J: No, maybe the way they add those-

B: Don’t be silly

J: -those cheesy 8-bit sound effects too, that’d be awesome


S: You guys familiar with Troy Hurtubise

J: Of course!


S: He’s the guy that won the ignoble award for making the anti-bear armor, remember him?

J: Yeah, he’s awesome

R: Oh yeah

B: That’ wasn’t really worthy of an ignoble, I mean, that was a pretty-

S: Well, he got it for surviving.

R: And ignobels aren’t just given to idiots, you know

E: Or cranks, yeah

R: They’re not just mean awards, they’re for people who do science that makes you laugh, and makes you think.

B: Oh

S: Yeah

E: And idiots

B: I didn’t pick that up so much

S: So Troy has a device that will enable you to see through a wall.

J: It’s called a drill!

B: Or an RPG

S: Yeah, and it’s called an ‘angel light’-

B: Oh god

S: -but he makes it sound like you could see through a wall, invisible light, as if the wall’s not there. Claims you can read, like, look through the wall into his garage and read the license plate number.

B: Heh, MIT wants to talk to him.

E: He has this device? Or a theory about this device?

S: No, he says he has a device, he tested it and did it

E: (laughs)

S: But he also could knock planes out of the sky with it too. It shuts down any electronic device that-

E: Within 35,000 feet

J: Yeah

B: Well yeah, you make the plane invisible, the pilots can’t see which buttons to press, and it crashes.

J: Get back on your medication, pal.

S: and he says he put his hand in the beam, and he could see his tendons and his blood vessels, as if the skin were removed.

B: All from a light, huh?

S: But then-

E: He got whacked around in that bear suit a little too often

S: But then he started to get some symptoms, it had negative side-effects, so he decided he had to dismantle it.

B: Dismantle it. So, forget the idea that the principles he discovered might be helpful in other things, let’s just take it apart, let’s destroy it.

R: He’s like, ‘you know what, guys, I ran out of batteries in my remote, and the only ones left in the house were inside the machine, so, you know, sorry’

E: Maybe he’s a lucid dreamer or something

S: I think he’s just nutty, he’s clearly off the deep end on this one. And he’s talking about it like he’s going to win the nobel prize and change the laws of physics, and, you know, how amazing it is. Compare that to the story about the strengths and weaknesses of this new device that Bob was describing: this is real science, this is fake science.

E: And the real science that Bob just described is the first generation-

B,J&S: Yeah

E: -of whatever’s going to come next. Like the first generation of radar that came along. They couldn’t tell the difference between planes and flocks of birds, right? There were inherent, you know, limitations, and it will only get better from here on out. They’ll keep working on this.

B: So what’s going through this guys mind? Is he batty? Or is he just knowingly lying for some nefarious purpose? What’s he thinking?

J: No, I think he’s bat-nut!

B: Sounds like he’s a little delusional.


R: Go with bat-nut!


S: (inaudible) fruit bat? Or…


B: Oh my god, I mean, does he really think people are going to go along with him and say ‘aw, that’s so awesome, here’s your nobel prize’

J: Yeah, Bob, because he’s kooked-out! He does.

R: Yeah, sounds like it.

S: Right (laughs)

Malaria Vaccine (18:22)

Reuters: Malaria scientist celebrates success after 24 years

S: Well, let’s go on, let’s talk about the new anti-malaria vaccine.

R: (quietly)Hooray!

S: Did you guys hear about this-

J: By the way, I got vaccinated today.

S: I’m proud of you.

E: Excellent

S: My two daughters got vaccinated today as well.

E: Excellent

R: For what?

J: Flu

S: Flu, it’s flu vaccination season

R: Ok, but you also could have gotten whooping cough, for instance.

E: Yeah

(inaudible, multiple voices)

R: Something like that, that’s a vaccine adults can get on a regular basis

E: Yeah, a little booster

S: So, Joe Cohen from, working for Glaxo-Smith-Klein, that’s GSK, spent 20 years trying to develop a vaccine for malaria, and finally succeeded.

E: Awesome

S: Came up with the vaccine called 'RTS,S' vaccine, or Mosquirix. Like mosquito, Mosquirix.

R: That’s terrible

S: It’s terrible

E: Yeah, I’d rather RTS…


R: It sounds like a Batman villain.

S: Let’s take on RTS, yeah, right, or an X-man or something


J: What the hell are you talking about?

R: That really got Evan.


S: This reduces the risk of developing Malaria by 50%.

E: Nice

S: In the trials. This is the largest clinical trials ever conducted in Africa, were done on this vaccine. 16,000 children were tested.

R: And previous to this, I mean, the best efforts I think we’ve made are just in terms of reducing the mosquito populations, right?

S: Yeah, so, interestingly, it was recently reported that the malaria rate has dropped by 20% worldwide, but that’s due to just anti-mosquito efforts, netting, you know, basic stuff.

R: Netting, and there was that fairly recent breakthrough with scientists breeding mosquitoes that they could then let out into the wild which would then breed with native mosquitos and render them unable to carry malaria.

S: Right

R: I don’t know if that ever actually came to fruition.

S: Then there were those giant mutant lizards they released in Africa that would eat up the mosquitoes.

E: And half the population

R: And then there were the giant cats to hunt down the giant lizards

S: Yeah, it all got a little out of control

R: It all kinda-

E: That’s the Australia story, right? With the toad-

S: Before you know it there were elephants running all over the place

E: -and dogs


E: Huge ones, huge!

S: So, but seriously, it’s not ready for use yet, they say they can probably roll it out by 2015, but they did finish the first clinical trial and present the data. So this is a tremendous breakthrough, this was a hard problem to solve, it took a lot longer than they thought it was going to when he first started on the project 24 years ago. But they’ve found a way to interrupt the plasmodium life cycle and reduce the exposure turning into an actual infection. They’re actually hoping to eradicate malaria worldwide, that would be nice. This is one more step, and this is again-

E: Except that the anti-vax crowds of people will still have malaria.

S: Yeah, right, they’ll do their best to hinder our efforts to eradicate malaria, I’m sure. Like with the ‘seeing through the walls’ technology, this is first-gen, but they’re hoping that as they continue to work on it that they’ll get the success rate higher and higher, you know. Still, 50% is a lot, I mean, that’s a lot of child and infant deaths that they will be able to prevent with this vaccine.

E: Glaxo stock went up a full point the day it was announced

S: Yeah, I’m not surprised.

Luckiest Cities (21:42)

MSNBC: San Diego ranked luckiest town in US(text removed)
Men's Health: America's luckiest cities

S: So Rebecca, tell us why San Diego is the luckiest city in America.

R: No malaria

S: Yep

E: I’m moving there

R: For starters-

E: I hear it’s a beautiful city.

J: So, we’re gonna start with no malaria?

R: Right, that’s what we’re leading with. Yes, San Diego is a beautiful city with beautiful weather, however, that’s not the reason it’s the luckiest city in the United States, according to Men’s Health magazine, which listed America’s 100 luckiest towns. And they found this out by looking at a set of qualities for each city. Those qualities included the most lottery and sweep-stake winners, the most hole-in-ones on the golf course, the fewest lightening strikes, the least deaths from falling objects, and the lowest debt due to playing the lottery and race betting.

J: Oh, man

E: Yeah

R: Which, I find that particular quality to be most baffling, because, don’t most people who win the lottery end up bankrupt?

S: Yeah

R: Isn’t that the usual story?

S: Wouldn’t that depend a lot on whether or not you have a race-track in your state, your city?

R: And also, to me, the biggest thing is how you manage your money when you put- it’s not luck what happens after that. I don’t know, it doesn’t really make any sense. So, San Diego came on top because of its multiple jackpot winners, low lightening strike count, and low number of lightening-related injury and death

S: And skilled golfers, apparently


R: Apparently

E: Well, the weather’s nice so much , you’re playing golf constantly, you know, so you probably have more rounds of golf being played-

S: Evan, are you saying there are confounding factors in this study, is that what you’re saying?

E: (laughs)

R: I refuse to believe that.

E: I’m saying the climate had something to do with it.

S: It’s not magical luck?

E: And the fewest lightening strikes, well, ok, jeez, how much lightening rolls through a city that sees, what, seven rainy days a year?

R: It’s funny, because it almost seems as though, yeah, there’s more to this than just being luck. But here’s the weird thing, so you can kinda see San Diego being on the top of a list like that. Supposedly it’s a beautiful place to live, and who wouldn’t want to stay in beautiful San Diego. Number two luckiest city in the US is… Baltimore. Baltimore, Maryland.

S: I actually lived in Baltimore for five years.

R: Did you feel lucky to be living in Baltimore? Is that the main feeling you had?

S: It isn’t the first word that would pop into my head when I reminisce about Baltimore.

R: It’s not- I think if you were to do just a general survey of the people within the bounds of Baltimore, and just ask them, you know, ‘do you feel lucky?’, they would probably run because they would think that you were about to shoot them. Like Clint Eastwood.

S: Yeah: “well, punk, do you feel lucky?”


R: Not that I don’t love- I grew up in New Jersey, I spent some time in Baltimore going to the ball-games and stuff, but dear lord, Baltimore, come on.


R: Number three is Phoenix, Arizona, which-

S: It’s an up-and-coming city, growing very quickly

R: Arizona?

J: I like Phoenix

R: Ok

E: (laughs) Wow, they actually graded these cities A through F, A+ through F

R: Number four, Wilmington, Delaware

S: Delaware has a very low tax rate, very low corporate tax rate.

R: I, it does, it-

E: People go there to open businesses to-

R: And it has a zero percent sales tax, so it is the home of tax-free shopping. And, yeah, I have family who live there. I’m not sure how lucky they feel to be living in beautiful Delaware.

E: They’re lucky cos they’re not living over the river in Camden New Jersey.

R: Hey now, hey

E: I’m sorry, any listeners in Camden, I’m sorry.

R: Never, never besmirch the good name of south New Jersey

E: (in high voice) Ok, alright, alright, sorry

R: No, I’m just kidding, I have no allegiance to New Jersey. Number seven is Las Vegas. Number seven luckiest city in the US, which is idiotic considering that Las Vegas is built on the dashed dreams of unlucky people.

B: That’s gotta be a joke

S: They didn’t include casino losings or winnings, though, in their calculations, just race-track losses.

R: Yeah, so, you know, it’s not really the most scientific list, but I found it interesting, MSNBC printed a press-release that had this quote from the editor of the magazine: “luck is basically our modern-world magic” said David Zinczenko, editor in chief of the magazine “people need to believe in luck because it allows them to give a name to the randomness in life and, when you name something, you have more power over it”. For a minute there, he was actually on track.

S: He was, I mean, I think he needs to add you have ‘the illusion of more power over it’, then that’s fine.

R: Exactly

S: But maybe that’s what he meant, that’s what he meant. If we’re being generous.

R: Ok, yeah, let’s go with that


S: Seeing as you’ve been trashing some cities throughout America, maybe we can be generous at the end of this-

R: That’s true, good point.

E: And also I noticed Loserville was nowhere to be found on this list


S: Quittersberg and Loserville


S: Yeah, but this is just a giant exercise in dredging the data for clumpiness.

R: Clumpiness!

S: Yeah

J : Yeah, you’re right, they’re looking for a pattern

R: It’s worse than that, I think, because they don’t have to find any patterns, really. It’s kind of like our problem with The One, you know, the show where they try to find the world’s best psychic, You know, at the end of the show, they’re gonna find the world’s best psychic, because they’ve determined they will. It doesn’t matter if the person is any good at it, it just happens that that person is better than anyone else at the test they give.

S: The world’s least horrible psychic, right.

R: Right, and it’s the same thing with this, they’ve set out to-

S: Yeah, some city had to be on top

R: -find which city is luckiest, that one, does that actually mean that the residents are actually lucky? No

S: I betcha they got a nice bell-curve, you know? In terms of these variables. Someone had to be at the end.

R: Yeah

B: Bell curves are so unnatural


S: Alright, well, just a couple of quick ones left

New Name for VLA (28:29)

BBC news: Very Large Array telescope in public call for new name

S: Jay, tell us about the Very Large Array, big changes coming.

J: The Very Large Array, or the VLA is-

S Or the “vlaah”, as I like to call it.


J: You guys have definitely seen it, it’s been in movies, it’s a, you know, one they use a lot in news items whenever they talk about radio telescopes. This one is located in New Mexico in the United States, there’s 27 of those radio- those wacky giant radio arrays-

B: Telescopes

J: The telescopes, they’re real cool looking, and do you remember, these were the ones that were used in the movie ‘Contact’?

S: Oh yeah

J: So the national radio astronomy observatory, who runs the facility, decided that they wanted to update the electronics, cos when the array was built in the 70s, the electronics were the original electronics, so we’re going back… 30 years. Things have progressed a little bit since then. So they decided to do a massive overhaul, it took them 10 years to update the electronics, they weren’t updating the actual telescopes themselves, because they do a fine job of collecting information, it’s just, being able to take the information, process it, do the things that they need to do to sift through it and everything, they updated their computers and everything. It was actually very extensive update that they did, and the array’s actually now 10 times more powerful, an order of magnitude more powerful than it was-

B: What is it? 10 times, or an order of magnitude?

J: Exactly, yes. The reason this has been in the news, is not only did they update it and they’ve finished the update and they’re all very excited about it, but they want a new name for it. And that’s where people like us, the geeks of the world, come in, because we, the general public, get to submit a name on their website. Which I think is awesome that they’re opening it up to the public, so you can go to, and you just have to give them your email address, and you can submit your name, the idea you came up with. I’m not sure if you can do more than one, it didn’t say if you could or couldn’t. I’m gonna put in as many as I can think of, actually, I have one-

S: But also, we’re gonna have our own contest, right? We’re gonna have listeners send us their suggested name.

J: Yeah, so we’ll read out the names we like best.

S: And we’ll submit it too.

J: Well, I think the people should-

S: Not that they couldn’t do it themselves,

J: Yeah, they should send it in themselves before they send it, and before we read it out online so they get credit for it. But I did come up with a name that I liked, and I’ll tell you guys if you’re interested.

B: Naah

E: Oh yes

S: Sure

J: The ‘SGU observatory’


R: No, I don’t know if they’re gonna go for that one.

J: No, I actually came up with ‘Mag 10 observer’

B: That’s not bad.

J: Like mag 10, magnitude 10, 10- no…

B: But it’s not 10 magnitudes, it’s 10 times better than it was…


S: How about ‘Magnum’


R: The ‘Magnum P.I observatory’

S: ‘Blue Steel’

E: (laughing) ‘Blue Steel’! Oh no, here we go.

B: I got one, I got one

E: ‘Hal 9,000’

B: The ‘Argus array’, what’s that from?

E: Oh, that’s Star Trek!

B: Yeah, it was Next Gen, one of my favourite episodes, the ‘Argus array’

J: Ok, listen, the director of the NRAO (National Radio Astronomy Observatory), Fred Lo, said

“We want a name that reflects this dramatically new status. The new name should clearly reflect the VLA's leading role in the future of astronomy, while honouring its multitude of past achievements.”

S: Alrighty, alright, I like ‘Blue steel’


E: It’s not blue!

Another Failed Prophesy (32:12)

Neurologica: Camping’s Doomsday Prophesy

S: So Evan, how did Harold Camping’s latest doomsday prediction turn out for him?

E: It went perfectly, his batting average is fully in tact, he is 100% perfect when it comes to predictions about doomsday.

S: Yeah, he didn’t want to spoil his perfect record of being wrong.

E: For those of you who don’t know, our dear friend Harold Camping, (laughs) a preacher and biblical scholar and engineer, told us back in May, or said as May was approaching this year, that May 21st was going to be the end of the world. And when that didn’t happen, it was ‘oops, well, his math wasn’t exactly correct’-

S: Well, Evan

E: -for the judgment, yes?

S: He always said that, to be fair, that May 21st was gonna be the judgement, and then October 21st was going to be the end of the world. In between, though, there would be, basically, hell on Earth. There’d be earthquakes-

E: Gotcha, yes

S: So then he concluded that May 21st was just a spiritual judgment

E: That’s right

S: Which was indistinguishable from nothing happening

E: Indistinguishable, yes

S: Yes

E: Yeah, look, he did predict, Steve, that earthquakes were going to happen that day, on May 21st.

S: Oh yeah, he was wrong about that, and that’s when he revised

E: You know what he said about the earthquakes, actually? He said they’d apparently come in the form of manquakes, since mankind shook with fear from the rapture, and the book of Genesis describes man as made from dirt. Ah, see? See that?

S: Ok. So now, October 21st there was supposed to be, no matter what else happened-

E: That’s right

S: That was the ultimate, final end of the world, gonzo, and… yeah

E: Yep. Well, to quote Camping, he said people “will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21st 2011”.[3] Now, there’s not much ambiguity there, I’d say, that’s pretty definitive.

J: But I also read somewhere that he said ‘approximately’

S: He started back-pedalling significantly, saying things like, maybe, probably, approximately, in a month or so. He also said it’s going to be very low-key, very quiet, people are going to quietly just pass away, while the believers quietly ascend into heaven, no fanfare or horsemen or whatever.

J: But what about the whole book of Revelations? I mean, I wanna see trumpets and people’s faces melting off.

E: Well people, I think his followers’ faces all melted when. in preparation for May 21st they were selling all their possessions, and buying advertising space, and ruining their lives, basically, based on that May 21st prediction.

S: Evan, so what’s he saying now that the world is still here?

E: He apparently sent an email out to some his followers, which leaked out, of course, onto the internet, and here’s what his email had to say: ‘seeing that it is now clear that the lord didn’t return on October 21st, we are left with two possible conclusions. Number one, the biblical calendar discovered about 40 years ago is incorrect in some way. Number 2, the biblical calendar is correct, but we are missing some additional information’.

S: Number three, I am a hopeless fraud


S: He didn’t include that one

E: (laughing) No, he omitted that last one, I can’t explain why though. Two possible conclusions! Only two.

S: Only two

E: You can only have two.

J: Well, sorry, you know, to sum it up, sorry, you’re wrong, you’ve been wrong two times-

S: 12!

J: I’m dying for him to make a (inaudible

S: This is his 12th failed prediction.

E: Yup, according to some of his followers

J: Two times this year-

E: Yeah, two times this year, but-

J: -but I hope he does it again.

E: Jay, this might cheer you up, and I’m hoping this will also cheer up some other followers of this story and Harold himself. I wrote a little limerick to kinda sum up the occasion:

There once was an eschatologist named Camping,

Those he swindled, their feet were all stamping,
Mad as hell that he’d promised,
The rapture was upon us,

So his story, he is now revamping.

S: That was your haiku?

E: No, that was a limerick.


E: We went over that off-air last week-

J: That was so bad, Steve, it was a low-ku

E: To save me the embarrassment of having said ‘I’ve written a haiku! Oh wait, it was a limerick’

S: When it was in fact a limerick

J: You should actually call it a haiku


Who's That Noisy? (36:32)

S: Alright, well, Evan, let’s go on to Who’s That Noisy

E: To remind everyone, we’re going to play, once again, last week’s Who’s That Noisy:

(Applause) “Ladies and gentlemen, the great Randi!” (applause)

S: (laughing) Ok, so who was that introducing the great Randi?

E: Well, there were a lot of people that thought that maybe that was Johnny Carson actually saying it from one of Randi’s many-many-many appearances on the Johnny Carson show-

S: No

E: But no, no, that was the name of an actor, his name was Peter Lawford. Do you guys remember Peter Lawford?

S: Oh yeah

E: A member of the Rat Pack, the original Rat Pack, you know, Frank Sinatra’s band of brothers, and Sammy Davis Jr (laughs) just thrown in there as well

???: (impersonating) Yeah, baby

E: Well, in any case. So, he was in fact referring to our dear friend, James Randi, who was appearing on the show ‘I’ve got a secret’, when it was hosted by Steve Allen back in 1965. Randi was on the show, he had just performed one of his amazing escapes, handcuffed in a box or some-such thing-

J: What’s in the box?

E: What’s (laughs) And the audience, as he breaks out of the box with no handcuffs on, they’re all applauding, and Peter Lawford says “Ladies and gentlemen, the great Randi!”. I think someone forgot to mention to Peter that his stage name was actually the Amazing Randi.

S: Amazing, great, “the fabulous Randi!”

E: (laughing) It’s like Rebecca-

S: We have to make a point now, of introducing a different superlative at the beginning, yeah

E: “The unbelievable Randi!”

J: “The hipster Randi!”

S: Who was the guy who got it correct?

E: From the message boards, from our forums, Dr Atlantis, good friend of the show, long-time listener, he was the first one to guess correctly. Congratulations, doctor, if you are a doctor.

S: Good work, well what have you got for this week, Ev?

E: Alright folks, put on your thinking caps, and listen to this week’s WTN

(music) ”I’m your lover, come to my side. I will open the gate to your love. Come settle with me, let us be neighbours in the stars”

J: I don’t know where you come up with these, Evan

E: Sometimes listeners send them in, sometimes I just find them on my own

S: Thanks Evan

E: You’re welcome, good luck everyone