Archive for March, 2013

InKredulous: Episode #019.5

Here is a mini episode featuring the extra round three material from episode 19. We hope you enjoy it and are looking forward to episode 20 which will be recorded live at QED.

Your host is Andy Wilson (@InKredulosi) of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and co-organiser of QED conference, April 13th-14th 2013.

Appearing this time are:

  • Brian Thompson of the JREF and Amateur Scientist Industries (@AmSci)
  • Rebecca O’Neill of Skeprechauns podcast (@restlesscurator)
  • David Robert Grimes Journalist, scientist and author of 3menmakeatiger blog (@DRG1985)
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Be Reasonable: Episode #003 – Duncan Lunan

Duncan Lunan is an author and astonomer, whose 2012 book ‘Children from the Sky’ explored the tale of the Green children of Woolpit. According to a 12th century folklore, two children – one a boy, the other a girl – were found in Suffolk, England, with skin and hair of a green pigment, dressed all in green and speaking in a tongue unlike any earthly language of the time. Many at the time thought their appearance was supernatural…

Marsh and Hayley spoke to Duncan about his investigations into the story, how he thinks the children came to be in 12th century England, and why he believes them to be of alien origin – dismissing the more commonly-accepted terrestrial explanations for the story.

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Church Of Fear : Inside The Weird World Of Scientology

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When: Thursday, May 16th, 2013 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool

Tom Cruise and John Travolta say the Church of Scientology is a force for good. Others disagree. Award-winning journalist John Sweeney investigated the Church for more than half a decade. During that time he was intimidated, spied on and followed and the results were spectacular: Sweeney lost his temper with the Church’s spokesman on camera and his infamous ‘exploding tomato’ clip was seen by millions around the world.

John Sweeney tells the story of his experiences for the first time and paints a devastating picture of this strange organisation, from former Scientologists who tell heartbreaking stories of families torn apart and lives ruined to its current followers who say it is the solution to many of mankind’s problems.

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #094

Heretics, redox signalling, anti-retroviral therapy and General Health. Plus native water, Aubrey de Gray, quacking videos and Richard Dawkins. Challenging the men of steel, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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Can the sale of pro-rape T Shirts really be attributed to misfiring design algorithms?

Keep Calm And Carry On spoof shirts on Amazon-1740208Last Friday, a storm erupted when someone noticed Amazon were selling t-shirts bearing offensive slogans like “Keep Calm and Hit Her” and “Keep Calm and Rape a Lot.”

This discovery provoked a strong reaction, leading to outrage on Twitter and critical articles from CNN, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and more.  The slogans were condemned in the strongest possible terms, with criticism directed at both Amazon for selling the shirts and at the US firm Solid Gold Bomb for creating them.

The following day, a blogger named Pete Ashton argued that the slogans were likely generated by computer and “nobody made, or approved, the design.”  He claimed a combination of the Amazon Marketplace, a print-on-demand service, and a simple piece of software could result in the offending t-shirts appearing online without any human approval.

After reading this article, my wife asked me how likely Ashton’s explanation was.  Could a product really go on sale that no-one had ever seen?

I’ve been a web developer for fifteen years, working with many of the technologies required.  The chain of events seems plausible enough to me.  It would be trivial to write a program that took words like “drink” or “carry”, and combined them words like “on” or “beer” to produce thousands of t-shirt slogans.  It would be trivial to use something like ImageMagick to create images of what t-shirts might look like and upload them to Amazon.  I could probably do it in an afternoon.  So the explanation makes sense, but is there any evidence that it’s true?

If the “computer did it” hypothesis is correct, I reasoned, I should be able to analyse the products still on-sale and calculate the original words used to create them.  I can generate a list of slogans with those words and check if they appear on an SGB product.  If every possible slogan is on sale, that supports the theory that this was an unsupervised computer program.  If some are missing, it could indicate a human editor.

I quickly wrote a program that fetched any SGB product featuring the words “Keep Calm and”.  It picked apart the description and recorded which verb had been used and which words terminated the sentence.  Within minutes, I had a list of 759 verbs and eleven terminators.

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #093

T-shirts, asteroids, Russians and worrying. Plus phone boxes, Amazon, the lizard overlords and your rubbish sex life. Recovering from a fever, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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