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John’s New TV

(Submitted by TOMBC Team Member John Rael)

The day I went to my bank in order to get a personal loan, I came home, turned on my LCD TV (Westinghouse LVM-47W1), which I’ve owned for six years, and started seeing random ‘snowlike’ pixels on the screen. I turned it off in order to turn it on again… it would not turn on again.

I unplugged it and replugged it. Nothing. It was officially dead. Even though its standby light was on, and it kept making a slightly high pitched hum sound.

Keep in mind, without the loan I had just received (that very day), I would not have been able to afford another television until at least October. Anyways, I’m not sure how relevant any of that is to the coincidence, but there you go. Feel free to incorporate any info you happen to know about me personally (career, lifestyle, etc.). Also, feel free to ask me any questions.


Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 241 provided Edward Clint.  Ed Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

TV used to be pejoratively called the “boob tube”, until computer monitors became the rightful heir to that meaning, partly because televisions used to be cathode ray tubes. The cathode tubes of our primitive low-def ancestors were electron guns firing away at the screen one pixel at a time. Today’s liquid crystal display (LCD) TV technology is much more reliable, having fewer moving parts, and no electron gun. Thanks to this tubal migration, today’s tube-less TVs can have a mean-time-between-failure of 100,000 hours. This means that, on average, if you watched 5 hours of TV a day, it would take 54 years for the device to fail. A bit less if you like Peter Jackson movies.

TV failure in general is pretty rare. Then again, John, you’re probably not an average user. I’m told you spend a large amount of time and energy on making and consuming videos for the internets and whatever other media outlets still exist. I assume that means you work with lots of footage of cats and people falling off of things. So maybe you really put that Westinghouse through its paces. Even if you used it 24/7, it would probably take 11 years to reach the statistical breaking point.

What’re the odds you’d just happen to be able to replace a broken set on the day it breaks? A fairer question is, how many different expensive things breaking that day could have seemed like a strange coincidence? I have not been to your house, John, but I know you don’t drive, and I will assume it is populated with a variety of large fancy cameras that aren’t compensating for anything, some high end editing equipment, and at least two fancy blenders with way more settings than anyone could possibly need. I’m not sure why I assume there’re blenders, it just feels right. The breakage or loss of any of these items on a given day still isn’t too likely, but the odds are more moderately unhinged than crazy, which seems about right for John Rael.

A triple play birthday!

Today is my birthday, so here’s a birthday-related anecdote for you.

About a dozen years ago, I went to a lecture at a nearby school.  As we waited for the lecture to start, the lady in the seat to my left started talking with me.  After a little while, she mentioned her birthday is August 11th.  The lady in the seat to my right overheard, and she told us that HER birthday is also August 11th.  At that point, I revealed that my own birthday is August 11th, too!

None of us had ever met or even seen each other before, but we’d all just happened to sit side by side by side!  Since then, the lady on my left has become a good friend, and every year we celebrate our birthdays together.

Gamer’s Timed Coincidence

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Lee Christie)

Hi, I listen to your segment on Skepticality and encountered a coincidence today that I felt would be fun to share with you.

After watching a show on TV, I began playing “NES Remix” for Wii U (a new downloadable game which gives you hundreds of mini challenges lasting usually about 10-20 seconds each from 16 classic Nintendo games from the mid ’80s).

I was playing using the portable gamepad screen alone, and left the TV on the same channel I was no longer watching. It was playing a program called “Rude(ish) Tube” with an assortment of amusing clips and at that moment, a series of clips involving cats.

I had been playing the challenge stages of “Donkey Kong Jr.” for a while and then just as I switched to playing the first underground stage challenge of “Super Mario Bros.” remix (which has a 10 second timer on the challenge to collect 4 coins then ends), the TV clip show started showing a clip (lasting about 15 seconds) of an cute ginger cat jumping around, reacting to the unmistakable music and sound effects from an underground level of “Super Mario Bros.”

I don’t recall another instance of hearing the underground-level SMB theme on a TV show, and certainly not coinciding with me playing 10-second underground-level challenge of SMB.

Note: as “NES Remix” was only released 6 days ago and I assume these shows have a longer time between recording and air, I suspect the people who submitted the clip of the cat were playing the original 1985 “Super Mario Bros.” or a re-release of it, not the recent “NES Remix” as I was playing.

That’s Textbook

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Rich Catalano)

I am an English teacher in Japan. I have used a variety of ESL textbooks over the years, but this year caused a stir. Why?

In one of the stock images, I appear in the background. I checked, and this particular photograph was from Getty Images, a famous stock-image company. The setting is a museum, and it shows two people looking at an unseen piece. I am in the background, alone, looking at a different piece. It is obvious that I am not the focus of the photograph, so perhaps I was captured inadvertently.

I showed this photo to everyone who knows me, including my ever-doubting wife, and they all concur that the image is me.

In the past, I went to Europe every summer with a group of students and always visited museums. Perhaps this is when the photo was taken.

Not sure if the odds are against this, but they seem to be.


Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 240 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

Rarely can someone say that they have a “background in teaching ESL” and mean it so literally. The odds must be astronomical. No, probably worse than that, because the odds of liking astronomy are pretty good. Who doesn’t want to tool around the universe in a giant chrome leech with Neil deGrasse Tyson? When scientifically analyzing likelihood in questions such as this, we separate the larger question into two smaller ones termed the “boring part” and the “interesting part”. It’s a Bayesian method. Probably. Anyway, the comparatively boring part is how likely is it you’d wind up in a stock photo in the Getty Images library? Or, not just Getty but any similar image supplier? For a world-trotting agorafile like you, maybe not as bad as you think. The top eight such services have a combined 155 million images. There is a constant demand for new images, and every day thousands of these get sold to hundreds of clients from cable news networks to product catalogs. Not all of those 155 million images are photos of people, but your odds of being in there are higher if you are a in a labcoat holding a clipboard, like to stand in front of a lot of sunsets, or, in this case, were looking at one of those dumb Louvre statues that doesn’t even have arms.

The more interesting part is, what are the chances that image would find you once it was in the Getty bank, and in a textbook you’re teaching from? Unless you’ve been doing this job for 60 years, probably on the low side. On the other hand, our increasingly visual media-rich global culture might be making this sort of thing more common. Just two weeks ago The Nation website reported a math textbook in Thailand had to have its cover changed because the bespectacled professional woman center frame is Japanese adult cinema actress Mana Aoki. You and Ms. Aoki have something in common: your images might have been sold or used dozens or hundreds of times by now. Plus you’re both apparently highly recognizable by a small set of Japanese people. That’s a feather in your cap.

Coincidence? I think so!

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Michael O’Dea

Hi there,

I enjoy the show and want to tell you my against-the-odds-story.

I am from Dublin, Ireland and I was on vacation in Boston, visiting my cousin about 20 years ago.

There was a free public concert in the Boston Common park. (It was Kid Creole and the Coconuts, not that that is relevant!)

I was with an American friend who was a server in a Boston restaurant (Legal’s) at the time. As we enjoyed the music he met a colleague from the restaurant who was with a companion and they chatted for a few minutes as we watched the gig. My friend then went to introduce me, when the companion turned around it was my next-door-neighbour from Dublin!

We had not seen each other for years and had no other connection of any kind other than growing up in adjacent houses.

What do you think?


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 239.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

I think this is an interesting coincidence! Normally, I would talk about the factors that would increase the probability of this happening, so I will, but there are really very few. People living next door to one another are much, much more alike than two people chosen at random from the global population. They are more likely to be close together in S.E.S. (socioeconomic status), for example. They are more likely to be exposed to similar cultural icons (such as music genres). Factors such as these may exponentially increase the probability of running into each other at just such an event.

However, given the astronomically small base probability (e.g., given all of the people in the world, the probability of any two people, chosen at random, would meet), this is still a story with crazy odds.

Consider the factors that don’t really come into play here, but have in similar stories we have encountered. For example it is unlikely both been inspired to visit by the same event (e.g., hearing a mutual friend talk about visiting Boston). They may have been inspired to visit (assuming the companion was also visiting and not living there) by cheap airfare to the U.S., but then why choose Boston? The probability that they all met each other through mutual friends is greatly reduced by the fact that the Americans know each other because they work together (unless, of course, they knew each other before working there).

So we must rely on the mathematical rule that we should expect at least some low- and even astronomical-probability events to occur in our lives, given the large number of events that occur.

When NPR and iTrip Collide

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Charles Dahlheim

Back in the bad old days before bluetooth became common in automobiles people often used FM transmitters on their cellphones to listen to their music in their cars. These transmitters often used low FM frequencies and would override reception in nearby cars.

One day I was listening to a fascinating story about how some outstanding grade school science teachers were rewarded by being given a ride on NASA’s Vomit Comet. The teacher’s students had designed experiments for their teachers to perform under microgravity conditions and I was very interested to hear about their experiences.

Just as the story reached the part where the teachers were going to describe how it felt to be weightless, I suddenly heard music coming from my radio and Lionel Richie started singing “Ooo what a feeling, when you’re dancing on the ceiling”.

It’s a good thing I was pulled up at a stop light or I’d have driven off the road. The coincidence was awesome.


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 238.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

Hahaha! Very cute.

The odds are not as crazy as people might think. Lots of music might have been funny in that situation. A line from Space Odyssey, maybe, or any line about floating or feeling. I can think of several off the top of my head, some more fitting than others, but all pretty funny, like “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now”, “I can see clearly now”, “I’m hooked on a feeling, high on believing”, or “Up, up, and away”. And I’m sure there are many more that are even better.

But of course none of that reduces the humor of the story, and it was a low, if not crazy-low probability event.

The Candy Man Can!

(Submitted by Friend of the Blog and Skepticality listener Brian Hart)

As my wife and I turned on the TV to watch the latest episode of Nurse Jackie on Showtime, it was randomly on another channel.  The movie it was showing at that time was the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we switched over to Showtime.  The Nurse Jackie episode was called “Candyman”, and was about the death and funeral of the hospital’s news and candy vendor.  It featured the cast singing the song “Candy Man”.

Only one fly in this (chocolate?) ointment, that song only appeared on the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory back in 1971.  Who can possibly tie this coincidence together?

“The Candy Man can 
cause he mixes it with love 
and makes the world taste good”

Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 237 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

There might be more pop culture and media references to the beloved 1971 film than you realize. The classic Wonka film has had it’s fire rekindled after the advent of VHS home video, then with the DVD release, and again following the 2005 theatrical re-make (which does not include the song in question!) In fact besides Nurse Jackie, there are at least 17 different references, playings of the song, or parodies in recent media including films the Ice Age (2012 sequel), and TV shows including Futurama, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Gilmore Girls, and Malcolm in the Middle. The younger folks on the internet are also acutely aware of the Wonka image meme still widely used and circulated today.

Would it be considered a coincidence if you saw the movie playing after hearing a song by the band “Veruca Salt” on the radio or internet? The band is named after the rich, spoiled girl in the movie. How about when Wonka was quoted in the comedy classic Super Troopers? …The entire episode from The Office which revolved around Wonka’s “golden ticket” idea?

Still, Brian, the two references co-occurring and you just happening to see them seems pretty unlikely. Do you think it’s more unlikely than the runaway success of the film? A film about a creepy shut-in CEO using candy to lure a starving child into a “private tour” full of secret rooms, deadly machines, and fetish-geared pygmy slaves human-trafficked into his candy sweatshop? Maybe we’re better off not not knowing the odds, or what schnozzberries actually are.

The Anniversary Coincidence

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Arthur Lavigne

Me and my wife Amy decided to go out on a special brunch on our 28th wedding anniversary.  I made reservations at a very classy restaurant and we had a wonderful time. The they sat us next to the window and sitting behind us was another couple. About half way through I heard the waiter next to me ask if anyone was having their anniversary today, I looked up ready to answer that it was us when the couple behind us said proudly that it was their 28th anniversary today!  Two couples seated next to each other married the same day 28 years ago. I am sure the odds of this are high enough but this is not the first time it happened to us; something very similar happened before.

Three years ago our children gave us a 25th anniversary party but since our actual anniversary was on a weekday they did it on the weekend. So my wife and I went out to dinner at another restaurant that day (this time a not so expensive chain restaurant).  Halfway during dinner the servers made a grand announcement that a couple was celebrating an anniversary, but not just any anniversary but indeed a very special wedding anniversary with them tonight and they headed towards our table with a cake. My wife looked at me and asked did I tell them, “no” I said confused to what was happening. They passed us right by and went to the table BEHIND us as that couple was celebrating their 50thanniversary!

Two times:

One the same day and same years

The other the same day but x2 the years

So tell me what are the odds?


First, Wendy’s amateur analysis:

I can figure out part of it: I think people tend to go out and celebrate landmark events, 25th and 50th anniversaries, as well as the usual annual birthdays and anniversaries. It doesn’t seem that unusual to me to go to a high end restaurant for a special occasion and another group to be there also celebrating. But my analysis is strictly amateur hour…


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 236.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

You’re exactly right. There is no way to calculate the odds that there are multiple couples celebrating anniversaries at an upscale restaurant, but they very high. The higher you go in numbers of years married, less likely they will match, but there are a finite number of years to work from. So, if they said it was 5 years, the chances are better that they’d match than at 28 years, but in either case the odds are not outrageous.

On a side note, it’s nice to see that so many couples are making it that far. My own parents celebrated 50 years last October.

The Hot Hand

Are ‘Lucky Streaks’ Real? Science Says Yes

Maybe you’re not a gambler, but you probably have a grasp of the concept of a “hot hand” or a lucky streak. I’ve wondered before–is this a real phenomenon? My own experience suggests it could be, but one person’s anecdotes are just that. Luck-ily, a new study of online betting shows that the concept of a “hot hand” is real, but perhaps not for the reasons you might expect. The study found that when a person wins a bet, they become increasingly likely to succeed after each win. The converse is also true: Once you lose a bet, you become progressively more likely to keep losing.

The fascinating study looked at 565,915 sports bets made by 776 online gamblers in Europe and the United States, and found that, all things being equal, you’re likely to win or lose 48 percent of the time (draws presumably account for the remaining 4 percent). After a single winning bid, the chance of winning a second goes up ever so slightly to 49 percent. But here’s where things get interesting. After the second win, the chance of winning a third time increases to 57 percent. After that: 67 percent. Following a four-bet winning streak, the chances of scoring a fifth haul increase to 72 percent. The probability of a sixth win is then 75 percent, and finally, after six wins, bettors had a 76 percent chance of notching lucky No. 7.

What the heck is going on here? What probably explains this pattern is that after each win, people selected bets with better odds. Bettors appear to assume that after each win, they were more likely to lose–to regress to the mean, as they say–and so they compensate by making safer bets.

‘Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds. By doing so, they became more likely to win.’
The study, published this month in the journal Cognition, also found that losses can breed more losses. After losing twice, the chances of winning decreased to 40 percent. After four losses, the chance of winning was 27 percent. After six duds, you have only a 23 percent chance of winning. The explanation: after each loss, gamblers on average choose bets that are less likely to turn out, apparently assuming that they are more likely to win than before–and perhaps to make up their losses (although, on average, people gamble less after each loss). As you probably know, bets with a lower chance of winning have higher payouts.

The idea that one is more likely to lose after winning, or more likely to win after losing, is known as the gambler’s fallacy (in reality, all things being equal, one is just as likely to lose or win on any given bet, assuming one is betting on independent events that don’t effect each other’s outcomes, as is the case with the vast majority of sports bets). This stands in contrast to the “hot hand fallacy”: that one is more likely to win while on a hot streak. Bettors apparently don’t generally believe this to be true, or at least their behavior suggests they don’t.

“The result is ironic: Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds,” the researchers wrote. “By doing so, they became more likely to win. The losers expected the luck to turn, so they took riskier odds. However, this made them even more likely to lose. The gamblers’ fallacy created the hot hand.”

The researchers, Juemin Xu and Nigel Harvey at University College, London, conducted the study by examining the online betting activities of people on sports such as horse racing and soccer.

In Popular Science by Douglas Main


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 235.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog. This phenomenon was discussed on Virtual Skeptics, #90. Listen, watch and enjoy: It’s like Meet the Press, but with chupacabras.

You’re perhaps not understanding what they studied.

They didn’t study something with a consistent bet. It’s more like craps. The subjects were able to choose from among different odds. After winning, people made more conservative bets–bets with better odds of winning (and presumably lower payouts). After losing, people make riskier bets, probably because those bets would pay more if they won.

So, overall, you wouldn’t win more money. You’d just win more often.


 

Here are links to references John Rael made in the Skepticality episode.

  • A new study of online betting shows that the concept of a “hot hand” is real, but perhaps not for the reasons you might expect.
  • ‘Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds. By doing so, they became more likely to win.’ The study, published this month in the journalCognition, also found that losses can breed more losses.
  • The idea that one is more likely to lose after winning, or more likely to win after losing, is known as the gambler’s fallacy  (in reality, all things being equal, one is just as likely to lose or win on any given bet, assuming one is betting on independent events that don’t affect each other’s outcomes, as is the case with the vast majority of sports bets).

 

Message in a Shark Tag

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Shawn Wilson)

A shark in Canada was tagged.  It never broadcast its information successfully to the satellite, but (the tag) came loose after a couple months and was found years later on a beach in Wales.  The person who found it recognized it for what it was, and after considerable sleuthing, found the researchers.  It turns out, the person who found it knew the cousin of the researcher’s wife.

CBC News – Windsor

A satellite tagging device a Canadian researcher attached to a Greenland shark in the Arctic in 2012 and used to record migratory data was recently found washed up on a beach 6,000 kilometres away.

The tag was found in Wales, just a short distance from where the wife of the researcher used to spend her summers.

Based on the data they recovered from the device, Nigel Hussey determined it must have come off the animal in December of 2012 in the middle of the Davis Strait, between Baffin Island and Greenland, and floated all the way to Wales.

The devices are programmed to release from the shark, float to the surface and transmit data to a satellite, which the scientists can access from their labs.

The data helps paint a more complete picture of the animal’s behaviour. However, not all the data collected by the tag is transmitted to the satellite, so finding one is extremely rare and could prove to be a potential gold mine, Hussey said.

“We’ve never got one back before. It’s really fantastic,” said Hussey, a scientist in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “We never would have thought that after putting it out in such a remote place that it ever would have been found.”

This tag is of particular interest because it never transmitted any data to the satellite.

Hussey said satellite coverage in the remote area of the Arctic can be spotty.

“It just seemed to disappear,” Hussey said.

Although it only stayed on for three months, it still contains a wealth of information.

“This is the most detailed data we’ve ever had for a Greenland shark,” said Hussey.

Mari Williams found the tag March 6 during a volunteer beach cleanup on West Dale Bay in Pembrokeshire.

Hussey’s wife Anna’s family originates from nearby St. David’s, and that’s where she spent her summers as a teenager.

“I’ve still got an aunt, an uncle and several cousins there,” Anna Hussey said. “In fact, Mari knows one of my cousins. They used to work on one of the tourist boats there together.”

Not knowing what the device was, but suspecting it might have been a shark tag, Williams, who has an undergraduate degree in environmental science, posted a picture of the tag on Twitter and tweeted it at the Shark Trust, a shark conservation charity.

Simon Pierce, of Marine Megafauna Foundation, recognized the device and recommended she contact Wildlife Computers, the device’s manufacturer.

She sent them the serial number, and the Seattle-based company traced it back to Hussey.

“I just find the whole thing amazing,” Williams said from her home in Wales.


Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 233 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

Six Degrees of Canadian Bacon, or, The one that didn’t get away

There are two unlikely events in this story, though each is not quite a astronomical as you might think. First, what are the odds anyone would find the tracker, wherever it ended up? We can’t be sure how long the tracker was on that beach, but it must have taken a couple months to arrive. That leaves 6-9 months it might have been at the Westdale Bay Beach which is described as a “picturesque sandy beach” popular with surfers. Many hundreds of people might have seen the device, but only a person who recognized what it probably was, as Williams did, would have bothered to pick it up. Since Williams was part of a voluntary beach clean up activity, it’s no wonder someone policing the beach would take an interest in unusual bits that don’t belong there.

That being the case, what are the odds one UK dweller would happen to be related to another who knows the original researcher that placed the tracker? Not all that bad. The original “six degrees of separation” concept was popularized by psychologist Stanley Milgram. But in 2011 a University of Milan study determined any two people in the world are separated by an average of 4.7 acquaintances. (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/technology/between-you-and-me-4-74-degrees.html?_r=0) In Williams’s case, it’s about 2 degrees of separation from the researcher. But that’s only about three degrees more than you have. Or me. Or anyone.