Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I don't respect your views

I have been very busy lately. The exchange of emails between me and Shoe Clinic finished with this:

Thanks for your feedback.

I respect your own personal  views with regard to Power Balance but from my own personal experience I have no negative thoughts on them.

From the people who wear the product or who decide to try it I believe it is their choice to make their own decision.

Kindest Regards

I'm not going to send a reply, because I have nothing polite left to say. All I have left to say, is something that I will write down here, to vent.

If you ever, for any reason, disagree with me, people, I don't want you to say "I respect your views," like the feeble-minded nobody who wrote that email above. I don't care if you respect my views. I care whether you agree with me or not. If you agree with my views, great, let's drink, or whatever. If you don't, then tell me that I am wrong! Explain it! Argue it! Or, if you can't be bothered, like this guy can't be, then tell me that you're not interested, or totally ignore me, or whatever. Just, please, don't be so patronising as to tell me you respect my view. I am not interested.

And the chances are, I don't respect your view. Your view that plastic bracelets affect the functioning of the human body is WRONG. Your view that ghosts are real is WRONG. Your view that you have a personal relationship with Jesus is WRONG. See, look, I don't even have enough respect for your view there, if you believe one of those, to say "I think your view that you have a personal relationship with Jesus is WRONG." I have no respect for nonsense.

The only respect I have here, is respect for your right to hold these WRONG views. Intellectual freedom is something I hold in high regard - the "marketplace of ideas" and so on. I respect your right to believe anything - but unless I agree with you, I will not respect your choice to do so. I am not sorry.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Courses so far

We've just finished our third week of courses, so we're about a quarter of the way through most of the lectures. I must report on how it's going...

Firstly, physics is tough. We're only doing classical mechanics for the first third, so there's no brand-new ideas (not until next year when we do Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics). It's all stock-standard Newtonian stuff, but it is mathematically very intense. We've been throwing around partial derivatives and differential equations right from the outset, and now that we've moved onto energy, there's some decent vector calculus to go with it. I've found the workshops very challenging. I need to actually make more of an effort in them to ask for help if I'm struggling; otherwise I'm not making use of them. Need to improve in that department..

Electronics is ok. Neil Thomson is a fantastic lecturer; the course is quite practical in nature (far less abstract than maths or physics papers; and it has labs!) So far we've done digital electronics, which I really enjoyed, and now we're doing circuit theory.

Calculus has been surprisingly, and pleasantly, easy so far. It's all multivariate stuff; so far we've explored partial differentiation in a bit of detail. There's nothing startling about it really, it all follows pretty easily from the single variable stuff.

Finally, discrete maths is the paper that's really just a spare paper; however I've enjoyed it so far. We started with counting stuff, really much the same as we did last year for the discrete part of algebra; then we did propositional logic. This was much the same as what we did in Critical Thinking (PHIL105) last year, except being treated from a mathematician's perspective. Now we're doing set theory.

I think the main thing that stands out so far, though, is that the most difficult mathematics we are doing isn't in maths, but in physics. Vector calculus is a third year maths paper, and yet we are doing it within three weeks of starting second year physics. All I can say is, what the hell, maths department? Do we really need to be waiting till second year to even do partial derivatives? I could have learned that straight after high school. If multivariate calculus is going to be 200 level, you really need to make it clear: anyone who can pass high school calculus with ease should skip 100 level calculus. Algebra, maybe less so, skip to MATH103 algebra (the algebra half of MATH170) would have been good advice for me. You need to give this advice really, really strongly - emphasize it. (I say this going only on what we've done so far. Maybe it will get harder, and my opinion will change.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lawrence Krauss

... will be giving public lectures on Monday and Tuesday. Monday's talk is "Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense: From Aliens to Creationism." Tuesday's talk is "An Atom From Dunedin."

I look forward very much to both. Lawrence Krauss is very good.

See for more details. (This link will only work while it is current).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I will not judge this reply by its appalling paragraphing and misuse of "there"

Dear Jack,

Thanks for your email about Power Balance. 

We saw the product at a Trade Expo Show in New York last year and like you where very  sceptical at the beginning.

Do go on...

I have read all the positive and negative feedback on the product that is available.
When we saw the Bands in the USA we sort out people over there who were wearing them as well as  the owners of stores in the US who sold them
and discussed the ins and outs of the product with them.
Finally  we decided to purchase 30 and do our own trials as simple as they maybe so that we could decide ourselves if we thought
the bands did anything for us or not ..
(1) So let's see... to find out if it worked, the only people you asked were those who were already selling it? Did you talk to the store owners who didn't sell it? Who was there presenting the case against it?
(2) And your methodology was...?

Over a 4 month period we had people in a variety of different sports from Golf to Surfing to top level  Rugby players wear the
Bands and give us there feedback.
Very scientific. "Here take this. It'll make you feel more balanced." "Oh cool, I'll try it out, I hope it works." Four months later "I reckon it does kind of make a difference."

Yeah." Give half of the people fake, but identical in appearance, ones, where the person conducting the trial does not know which ones are which, and then if you get a positive result you might be onto something.

Of the 30 people involved of which I was one every person came back very positive and said they would continue to wear
them and believed the product had benefits to them. Most have recommended them to their friends because they believe the product is of benefit
to them.
The Golfers and Surfers just raved about the product and both had major improvement in their chosen sport.

If, as seems to be true here, the golfers were among the most positive about it... that's extremely consistent with the "placebo effect" - seeing as golf is a confidence sport (I imagine surfing would be too). Believing that you have better balance gives you confidence - and with confidence, you play well!

I have instructed our staff to make sure they tell people who are interested in buying the product that there is  as much negative as there is positive feedback out there on them and it is up to each individual person to test the product and decide if they believe that the product is of benefit to them.

Kindest Regards...

That's not good enough, unless you are also telling them that there is no scientific evidence that it works, and that the product description is undoubtedly utter nonsense.

Anyway, I'll send in a reply to the email this evening.

EDIT: My reply:

[the guy's name]

Do you have any evidence that the effect of these bracelets is anything other than the placebo effect?
It is all very well and good to say that people report a difference, but in sport confidence is a massive factor, and the mere belief that a bracelet might improve blood flow (or whatever it claims) could very easily give people the confidence to push themselves a little further. Studies on magnetic therapy conclude, every time, that the effects of it can be explained by the placebo effect. It is easy to test this; all that is needed is identical in appearance, non "magnetic" bracelets. Give (say) ten magnetic bracelets to ten people (selected at random from twenty), and ten non-magnetic bracelets to other ten, and ask each group whether they notice a difference. If there turned out to be a significant difference, then further research could be carried out on larger groups, by researchers. My point is, if the bracelets actually do something, you'd be able to find proper evidence for it - and it would be revolutionary. Sadly, I suspect evidence would have been found by now if there was any.
Short of that, you cannot claim that there is any evidence that these bracelets work. The product description is still nonsense; it still makes a complete mockery of physics and chemistry.
Consumers who buy this product are still not being informed even when you tell them that there is "equal negative and positive feedback." For them to actually be informed, they would have to be told that the only plausible reason that it might work is the same reason why we might offer to "kiss it better" when our children hurt themselves very slightly. (Would it be right to sell "kisses better" on the street to small children for five dollars each?) Short of that, selling this product is preying - consciously or not, (I don't think that you're quite aware of it) - upon the gullible and the credulous. This is still deeply unethical.
Regards, Jack

Monday, March 8, 2010

"When Power Balance comes in contact with the body's energy field, it resonates at a low-level frequency that improves the flow of energy throughout the body and helps regulate its static energy."

One of the hallmarks of total, utter, woo, is sentences such as the title. If you can't understand what's wrong with that title, then ... well ... put it this way. I'm betting you can't understand what it's on about. Take my word that I don't have a clue either. Further, take my word that not a single scientist in the world would understand it, because it makes no sense. It's part of the description of a product called "Power Balance Wristbands."

POWER BALANCE bracelets contain two Mylar Hologram's which are embedded with frequencies that react with your body's electro-magnetic field.

When the static POWER BALANCE Hologram comes in contact with your body's energy field, it begins to resonate in accordance with each individual's biological energy system, creating a harmonic loop that optimizes your energy field.

This maintains maximum energy flow while it clears the pathways so the electro-chemical exchange functions like the well-tuned generator it was designed to be!

This results in immediate improved balanceincreased core strengthgreater flexibility, increased range of motion and overall well-being

How Does Power Balance Work?

When Power Balance comes in contact with the body's energy field, it resonates at a low-level frequency that improves the flow of energy throughout the body and helps regulate its static energy. 

Like a tuning fork, Power Balance creates cellular harmony that allows you to perform at your optimum level.  The high density Disk acts much like a switch, resonating within your system and turning on your energy field while it clears the pathways so the electro-chemical exchange functions like the well-tuned generator it was designed to be. 

Energy Balance & Systemic Harmony Are the Keys

Optimal health and peak performance occur when your body maintains ionic balance (the exchange between negative and positive charges) and free flowing energy pathways (harmony) at the optimum frequency

The Power Balance silicone wristband comes equipped with two, visible Power Balance holograms. The 3mm thick wristband is made from 100% Surgical Grade Silicone that is extremely durable , featuring a 40% stretch feature for extra stretch over the hands. It is built to last.

Is Power Balance safe for everyone to use?

Yes. Research conducted by Yale University Professor & Independent Laboratories

Obviously this isn't a unique product - this sort of thing pops up all over the place. None the less, it's definitely worth a complaint. My brother was brief and vicious:

The "power balance wristbands" (as retrieved from are a pseuodoscientific hoax and it is a disgrace that a respectable company such as The Shoe Clinic should take advantage of peoples gullibility by selling them a piece of plastic at an inflated price on the basis of a pseudoscientific bombardment of misapplied chemistry and physics principles. This sort of product is highly unethical and you should distance yourself from it

I wasted even more time with my complaint, which I directed straight to head office;

To the manager

I am concerned to learn that your store is selling the product "Power Balance Wristbands." My brother has submitted feedback on this; I would like to complain slightly more directly.

The product is clearly a sham. A clear effort is made in the product description to make it sound scientific; scientific buzzwords such as "resonate, electro-chemical exchange, energy field, frequency, energy flow, biological energy system, ionic balance, energy pathways" and so on. However, the explanation is completely empty; the words simply make it sound impressive (it always sounds impressive when people talk about energy fields. On closer inspection,  for example, if you search Wikipedia for "energy fields," (I am a physics student; I have never studied or heard any physicist talk about energy fields) you get to a page talking about spiritual and alternative medicine, not a technical science page that you might expect. This clearly reveals, then, that the effort the writer of the description goes to to make the wristbands sound scientific is misleading, because this product is not based on any of the sciences it wantonly abuses - physics, chemistry, biology - but is an "alternative medicine."

Although the scientific principles the product description scratches the surface of are clearly totally mis-used, this does not fully address what the most important question clearly is: does it work? The description claims, firstly, that the product causes "improved balance, increased core strength, greater flexibility, increased range of motion and overall well-being."  This claim receives no support - it's not even a "studies have shown the product creates improved balance..."

So, there is no science behind the product, and the best evidence that it works is a link to an article in a surfing magazine, which turns out to be an interview with a company representative - not an "independent review" as your page claims (please change that. it is false and deceptive).  The sad truth is, thousands of products like this turn up, and they do get tested, and not a single one has been shown to work. The only effect they have is the placebo effect - people are influenced by their belief that they work. I'm not sure how much the wristbands cost, but unless they are exceptionally cheap they are too expensive for a placebo.

Products such as this should not be sold. They are useless and deceptive, and are bought by the gullible and the credulous. I suspect that the only crime your store's management is guilty of with regards to this product is the same gullibility and ignorance - but to sell this product in the knowledge that it does nothing would be deeply unethical, and I urge you to remove it from your shelves and demand a refund from your suppliers.

With regards, Jack Cowie

So I'm looking forward to receiving a reply full of corporate-speak.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ghosts for sale!

That's right, on TradeMe! In good old Christchurch! The bidding is past $1000, and it doesn't close till Monday...

Captured ghosts from our house

Captured by an exorsist from a spiritualist church

one spirit we believe is a man by the name of Les Graham, managed to track down a photo. He died in the house in the 1920's.
Exorsist believes this spirit likes to make himself known and spook people. but he is not a very strong spirit.

The other spirit came from when me and my partner stupidly did an Oujia Board. We believe it is a little girl who likes to move things and turn things on and off. Exorsist says she is VERY strong and if left will get stronger.

We have had no activity since they were bottled on July 15th 2009 . So i believe they are in the bottles.

They are bottled with holy water as aparantly the water dulls the spirits energy, sort of puts them to sleep.

To revive the spirit, i have been told that you pour into a little dish and let it evaporate into your house.

I just want to get rid of them as they scare me. But someone might like these to play with.

So if you like ghosts, heres two real ones!

 Looking down the questions and answers... good grief. Sounds like the seller has been in the paper, on the radio.... riding high, floating on sea of gullibility. I asked a question of my own, a very polite enquiry (there's plenty of people not being polite; I'm not totally against occasional rudeness, but diplomacy is needed when they can easily ignore rudeness; I would prefer my comment to be read and absorbed, and preferably replied to) about whether the seller has heard of confirmation bias.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I am aware that I need to give an update about how I'm going now I'm away from family and friends in Christchurch. I shall post it here, because, hey, it's my blog, that's vaguely what this is for.

 Well, I've been in Dunedin a few weeks now, and the flat is going, running smoothly. My room is still a total mess (I have one set of drawers, which fit most of the clothes I wear often, and none of the rest. The rest are in plastic bags, strewn around the floor. One of these days, I intend to give it all a sort out. The rest of the flat is more organised!

Anyway... uni started on Monday. My schedule this year consists of four maths papers, three physics papers, and an electronics paper - basically the standard 2nd year physics course with an extra maths paper (Discrete) added because I enjoyed the discrete maths we did in first year (which means I have a full 2nd year maths schedule too).

Our flat, henceforward to be referred to as Islington Manor (which I christened it on account of no-one else thinking of anything) is a long way from uni, but the Science II building is on the near side of the uni to us, exactly 20 minutes' walk, which frankly isn't that bad, and I walk through the Gardens every day so it's a nice walk too (after the Gardens we get a daily tour of good old Castle Street).

The current plan for the future is pretty straightforward: go to lectures, knuckle down and make sure I understand what we're being taught. I want to be able to keep my fitness stable, and not be too cold (feeling it already some nights. We will definitely need to use the heat pump some time this year...

And because I like being arbitrarily negative and complaining about things, here is a list of 10 things that are annoying me at the moment:

1) I can't find my keys
2) Our fridge is too small
3) Our oven is too old
4) My window doesn't open
5) Mornings are freezing at this end of the house
6) My doorhandle is crap
7) I lost my favourite hoody at the uni
8) Textbooks are a pain in the posterier, especially when I have three for PHSI231
9) People's heads got in my way in Calculus today (even though I am tall); I must find a seat at the front of the classroom next time.
10) Fussy eaters. Sigh.