Coyote on my street

This evening at 5:15 about a tenth of a mile from my house a coyote crossed the road right in front of my car. The coyote stopped in the woods after crossing so I stopped my car to look at him, it stared right at me for a few seconds then proceeded on deeper into the woods. Of course I didn’t have a camera with me because I was just making a quick run for some groceries. 😦 This was only the second coyote I’ve seen in my nearly 50 years of life, the first was a couple years ago on Route 44 in Chepachet RI. These guys and the local population of fishers here near the MA, RI and CT borders are the reason we make sure Bootsie is inside well before sunset. I saw my first fisher last fall as it ran across the road in front of me at dusk about a half mile from my house.

Here’s a good coyote picture looking very much like the one I saw, the photo is by marya (emdot) from San Luis Obispo, USA. This photo is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License click the picture for details of the licensing from WikiPedia.

Here’s a picture of a fisher by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee.

Embarrassing Engineers #3

I go away on a business trip plus vacation day and what do I find when I get back, more embarrassingly irrational posts on an engineering mail list. Since this is becoming a regular occurrence I’m stealing the The Bronze Dogs’ idea of a numbered series of posts. These old posts are numbers one and two of the series.

The first thread I read started with someone linking to this news item where Dr. Herberman uses the pseudo scientific practice of getting publicity by engaging in science by press release. Sorry Doc, if you want to be taken seriously you need to wait until you publish a useful study before you go to the press. Two blogging Doctors I read, Orac and PalMD, have posted good information on this press release.

The first crazy reply post contains this glaring lack of the rational thought and curiosity needed for good engineering.

15 years ago I ditched my one and only ever mobile phone (a Motorola M301) when I got worried by the way it seemed to heat my eyeballs up and leave my face tingling strangely. The land line suits me fine thanks!

WTF, heating up his eyeballs and a tingle in his face and he doesn’t investigate this phenomenon. If he does a simple test to show this isn’t just in his mind then he’ll be making a big step towards some new science. Here’s a quick and easy test design that will work for preliminary testing.

  1. Have a friend in another room randomly set the phone on or off, record the setting and put it in a cloth bag to hide what state the phone is in
  2. Another friend who doesn’t know whether the phone is on or off brings the phone near his head.
  3. He tells this second friend what state he thinks the phone is in and the friend records the result.
  4. The 2nd friend now returns the phone to the first friend in the other room.
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 enough times to make sure there is a statistically significant sample of test runs to rule out random chance.

If he is truly sensitive to the tiny signal from a cell phone he’ll be able to tell whether the phone is on or off almost 100% of the time, after all his eyeballs will warm up when it’s on. He wouldn’t even need to get it right every time, just significantly better than random chance to be well on the way to proving he can feel the EMF. To be certain he feels the field he’ll need to replicate the test a few times eventually using trained scientists to confirm the test procedure is correct. The next sentence from him shows why he doesn’t do it:

The website I most often referred to when encouraging people to explore this issue was , which appears to be quite academically and scientifically rigorous.

Now it makes sense, he believes he is electrically hypersensitive, a mixture of hypochondriac and conspiracy theorist. Once you fall this deep it’s no wonder you never want to do even a simple test to see if your beliefs are true. If this condition really existed then it can be very simply and accurately tested similar to the way I outlined above. People have been claiming this phenomenon is real for decades and all the properly conducted tests I’ve seen results from show it isn’t real. A few papers are here, here and here, the FDA’s Cell Phone Facts page is also a good source of information on this topic. Another list member added this to the thread:

I am not sure why cell phone only. To me every things wrong.

1. TV, Microwave, thirty water, drugs any kind, PC monitor, food specially meat, artificial drinks etc. main reason for cancer:

1. weak immune system
2. too much toxic in body
3. not enough oxygen in body
4. I am sure there are more

Oh no, it’s everything popular with the newage crowd including the toxins, I wonder if he’s buying Kinoki pads or using some of the dangerous quackery. Dr. Novella just did a nice blog post covering some of the dangers of this kind of thinking.

There is no such thing as legitimate “detoxification” treatment. Anyone claiming that a treatment detoxifies the body is a charlatan of one type or another. The concept has a psychological appeal – it is easy to imagine bad stuff being drawn out of or purged from our bodies. We evolved an emotion of disgust to help us avoid true toxins and harmful substances in our environment and food – so the detox scam is just playing off of this emotion. But there is no science behind it – so beware.

Fortunately for me a rational list member replied changing the topic title to “Cell phones causing cancer nonsense” and including no comment other than a link to the very rational Professor Bob Parks’ reaction. Whew I didn’t want to write a reply and delve into this level of craziness myself.

Then I start reading a thread about Al Gore’s latest project to try to get us off our butts and do something about fixing our pollution creating energy addiction. A nut job who has appeared in previous blog posts and shown over and over again on the list that he is incapable of rational thought posts this gem.

It would be cheaper to simply invade Saudi Arabia and take the oil. Sooner or later, somebody else will if we don’t.

Wow, the stupid it burns.

What's up with that school wizard story

I’ve had a draft of this post lying around since the end of May but kept putting off finishing it up. At the end of June I saw Mr. Piculas on the Colbert Report so I wrote some more and now that he’s in the news again I figured I’d better finish it up.

Via this post at the Bad Astronomy Blog and further research, I’ve learned some new information pertaining to a story I wrote about two months ago. In the May 18th St. Petersburg Times, staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek has an article titled, Internet story of Pasco ‘wizard’ teacher spreads like magic. The article says there where many abusive calls and emails delivered to the school and school board members. I find it very stupid of people to have contacted the school and school board to ridicule and insult them. I certainly didn’t advocate this and neither did any of the blogs I linked to or read.

In going over the coverage of this story I found some very odd inconsistencies in the documents that the school board provided to WTSP-TV. On this follow up story page there are PDF copies of the official dismissal form and the official letter to Mr. Piculas. The dismissal form and official letter are no longer available at those links, I still have copies I downloaded if anyone needs them.

These are the odd things I noticed:

1. Letter mentions the magic trick but the dismissal form does not.

2. Dismissal form mentions inappropriate language but the letter does not.

3. Letter says incident occurred 1/16/2008 the dismissal form states it was 1/17/2008.

4. Dismissal form has a placeholder for the substitute teachers signature but it is blank.

5. Dismissal form has a scribbled over date at the start of 2/??/08 and next to it 1/23/08.


6. Dismissal form was faxed from the school on 2/12/2008 (upside down on the bottom of the form, picture rotated).


The most suspicious discrepancy to me is the crossed out date by the principal. The crossed out date of 2/??/08 points to the document actually being written after the letter of dismissal, not before as implied by the 1/23 date. It looks like he originally wrote 2/12/08 but of course it could just be pareidolia. Viewing the original document under magnification would provide a clearer picture of the situation.

If the principal and school board wanted to cover up the original complaint of wizardry as Mr. Piculsa described it, they could have filed a second dismissal form on 2/12 with a false date making it appear as if it was filed on 1/23. It looks to me as if there was a previous dismissal form filed before the 1/28 letter and this was a later revision to remove the wizardry accusation that was on the original dismissal form. But that’s just my opinion, without further examination of the original dismissal form the truth of the situation can not be determined accurately.

Now I read that Mr. Piculas has filed a lawsuit based on unspecified discrepancies in the documents. I wonder if faking County School records is a criminal offense in LOL Florida.

Here’s a couple of quotes from the latest Tampa Tribune article emphasis mine:

Jeffrey Gordon, the Tampa attorney representing Piculas, said the school district defamed his client by making untrue accusations about his classroom performance that have affected his efforts to teach in other districts.

Gordon said he thinks the evidence will show the other claims about Piculas’ performance were trumped-up charges that were added later and that documents mentioning them were retroactively predated. None of the other complaints came up in the conversation with the human resources supervisor, Gordon said.
“They never suggested he did anything wrong other than performing the magic trick,” he said.

I’m glad Mr. Piculas got someone to look into these documents, I emailed Ronnie Blair of The Tampa Tribune pointing out these oddities back in May but I never had a reply. I’m guessing my email was written off as some conspiracy minded rambling as I’m sure much of the email they get is. I’d really like for the whole story to come out but I won’t be surprised if the County simply buys Mr. Piculas and his lawyers silence.

Links to local media reports:

Substitute Teacher Says Wizardry Accusation Cost Him Job by Ronnie Blair, The Tampa Tribune, Published: May 5, 2008

Presto! Teacher Out Of A Job By Ronnie Blair, The Tampa Tribune, Published: May 6, 2008

Here’s The Trick To Becoming A Laughingstock by Daniel Ruth, The Tampa Tribune, Published: May 15, 2008

Magic trick costs teacher job WTSP-TV May 5, 2008

Magician: I’ve worked at Pasco County schools WTSP-TV May 13, 2008

Dismissal Form & Letter @ WTSP-TV no longer available at those links

Since these documents are still gone from the news sites I have put copies here: Dismissal Form & Letter

Internet story of Pasco ‘wizard’ teacher spreads like magic By Jeffrey S. Solochek, St. Petersburg Times, Published: May 18, 2008

Former Teacher Plans Lawsuit By Ronnie Blair, The Tampa Tribune, Published: July 8, 2008

Fired Pasco substitute teacher plans lawsuit By Jeffrey S. Solochek, St. Petersburg Times, Published: July 8, 2008

An update to this article is here.

Coulomb's Birthday

Charles Augustin de Coulomb was born on June 14th 1736 in Angouleme, France. Coulomb worked as a military engineer for 20 years after graduating from the military school at Mezieres in 1761. During this time when most engineering involved only practical numerical solutions he applied physics and mathematics to the study of mechanical engineering problems. While the advanced solutions weren’t applied by many of his engineering peers, they were instrumental to the rapid advancement of mechanics in the following centuries.

The enormous body of work produced by Coulomb over the next twenty years includes major advances in our understanding of electricity and magnetism. His work during this period that most impacts my job was the development of Coulomb’s law. To honor this great engineer and scientist, the SI unit for electric charge is named the coulomb.

University of St Andrews


Sesquicentennial of the public debut of Darwin's Big Idea

One Hundred and Fifty years ago today on July first 1858, Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker read a paper to the Linnean Society of London. The important paper was: On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection, By Charles Darwin, Esq., F.R.S., F.L.S.., & F.G.S., and Alfred Wallace, Esq.

Thus began 150 years of amazing advances in the biological sciences that have improved our lives and life spans enormously. Sadly, this also marks the start of 150 years of denial and willful ignorance by fundamentalist religious people.

Read more about the event at this post by Richard Carter, FCD of The Red Notebook blog. While you’re there sign up to become a member of The Friends of Charles Darwin.

Paul Hutchinson, FCD

Charlie is my Darwin