Thursday, December 12, 2013

We've moved!

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

TSN vs. Sportsnet

Old TSN Logo

TSN debuted in Canada in 1984, and I was immediately hooked. Suddenly we could see Blue Jays games on TV on more than just Wednesday nights and weekends, and Sportsdesk (later SportsCentre) showed highlights of the previous day's games in just about every sport. Could TV get any better than that?

That's all there was for sports TV in Canada for 14 years. In 1998, Sportsnet came along, and I basically thought of it as the poor man's TSN. They did show NHL games, but I found the sports news / highlight show was less polished than the guys over at TSN. For years, Sportsnet remained, in my mind, a distant second to TSN in terms of quality. A year later, a third station, The Score, was created, but it was mostly highlights and a score ticker. They were a distant third.

Fast forward fifteen years. Despite the fact that I tend to watch more baseball than hockey and Sportsnet definitely shows more baseball, I still preferred TSN. If I'm looking for sports highlights, I still instinctively head to TSN. In my mind, they're the seasoned veterans and these Sportsnet guys are just TSN wannabe's.

But are they really? Let's compare.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

10 things you don't know about me

This is all the rage on Facebook these days, so I'll play along.

  1. I used to be an accomplished ski jumper. I started jumping in my teens and won a few competitions while in my 20's before hurting my ankle. It's fine now and I don't limp or anything, but it was enough to end my jumping career.
  2. In the mid-90's, I worked for a software company that produced software for law enforcement agencies including the Metro Toronto Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Rochester Police Department, and I also dealt with the FBI and US Secret Service. It was interesting enough that I applied to the Ontario Provincial Police to become a police officer but was rejected.
  3. I've been hunting a few times but not for years. I once brought down a deer but felt bad about it for weeks. The venison was good though.
  4. I worked as a waiter at a few restaurants while in high school. I was terrible at it and got fired twice after complaints from customers.
  5. My favourite vacation ever was Cancun, Mexico. The place we stayed was very nice, the food was great, and the diving was spectacular.
  6. I love historical fiction. I've read Les Misérables a dozen times and will read any novel about 16th-17th century Europe that I can get my hands on.
  7. A girl I briefly dated in high school went on to an acting career in Hollywood, including 3 years on All My Children and movies with Sean Penn, Al Pacino, and John Travolta.
  8. When I went to Western, my landlord was a professor who had previously debated David Suzuki on national television. And won.
  9. I went para-sailing during my honeymoon in Cuba. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
  10. I love to make shit up. Not one of the above "facts" is true.

Only three of them are even partially true:

  • #2 is true except that I never applied to be a police officer
  • #7 - I did go to high school with Ingrid Rogers, who did appear in those TV shows and movies. But we never dated. In fact, I barely knew her.
  • #8 - I did go to Western and my landlord was a psychology professor, but not the one that debated Suzuki.

I did this whole exercise a bunch of years ago, but with actual facts.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Homeopathy: Much ado about nothing

I visited a doctor a little while ago and he suggested three different treatments for me. The first was expensive and not covered by insurance. The second was a strong drug that could be hard on the liver, and given my medical history he said it was not a good idea for me. The third was what he called a "homeopathic" remedy. The description did not sound remotely homeopathic, so I questioned him on it. He admitted it was actually a naturopathic remedy, and that he didn't know the difference between "naturopathic" and "homeopathic". I informed him.

For what it's worth, I chose the natural remedy and it is working nicely, thank you.

Homeopathy is one of the most hilariously silly alternative medicine systems. I decided to write this article because it seems that many people don't know what homeopathy is, and confuse it with herbal remedies or naturopathic medicine in general (as the doctor did). Herbal remedies and homeopathic remedies are quite different. While some herbal remedies are pseudoscientific, having no evidence of their efficacy, many others really do work and many of the drugs and medicines we all use are based on herbal remedies. Homeopathy, on the other hand, is based on outdated knowledge, bad science, and magic.

What is homeopathy?

A homeopathic remedy is one in which you take something that may cause an illness and make a strongly diluted solution of it in order to cure the illness. The idea is termed "like cures like", meaning that the thing that makes you sick can also cure you. This is not the outrageous part – that's (kind of) the idea that vaccines are based on. The outrageous part is the dilution.

It's very easy to make a homeopathic solution. Take 1 mL of whatever the original substance is and mix it in 100 mL of water. In an actual homeopathic remedy, you'd need to shake or bang the container a few times after each dilution. Then take 1 mL of the resulting solution (not all of it, just 1 mL – you can throw the rest away) and mix it in a different 100 mL of water. Then take 1 mL of that  solution and mix it in a different 100 mL of water. We've now diluted the original substance in a ratio of 1:100 three times. This is the same as 1:1003, or 1:1,000,000, termed 3C. It should be obvious that there isn't much of the original substance in the resulting mixture.

Now repeat that procedure twenty-seven more times. This is now 30C, which is what's typically used in homeopathic remedies. (Note that some homeopathic remedies use a dilution of up to 200C.) The odds of there being a single molecule of the original substance in the final mixture are infinitesimal. Here's a frequently-used comparison. If the entire Atlantic Ocean was fresh water and you added a pinch of salt and mixed it up, the resulting solution would be about 12C. Each number you go up (i.e. from 12C to 13C) results in a solution 100 times weaker than the previous one. You have to do this 18 times to get from 12C to 30C, so the solution is 10018 times weaker. A standard homeopathic solution is a billion billion billion billion billion billion times weaker than that pinch of salt in the ocean. When you pay $10 for a little vial of a homeopathic remedy, that's what you're spending your money on. Pure water. Homeopaths will confirm this.

(Note that sometimes it's not a liquid solution that you're buying, it's sometimes a sugar pill that has been treated with the 30C solution. Homeopaths will also confirm that the pill itself does nothing, it's just a delivery mechanism for the solution.)

One other rule of homeopathy: the more the substance is diluted, the stronger it is. You want an extra-strength version? Mix it in more water. This leads to all kinds of homeopathy jokes:

I accidentally overdosed on my homeopathic medicine the other day. I didn't take it.

Why would anyone ever buy a homeopathic remedy twice? When you're about to run out, just dilute it some more.

There's even a homeopathic webcomic.

So if the stuff you're buying doesn't have any of the original substance left in it, how do homeopaths claim it works? This is where it gets really silly. The water remembers. Homeopathy posits that you can dilute the solution to the point that there isn't any of the original substance left and the water contains some memory of the substance and that is what cures the disease. Actually it's not – that's what triggers your body's "vital life force" to cure the disease. Note that this "life force" is the same one that chiropractors claim to influence when they make spinal adjustments, and it's the same one acupuncturists claim to influence when they insert their needles. There is no evidence that such a force exists.

Not only is water memory implausible, scientific tests have shown that any artificial ordering of water molecules (i.e. what might pass for "memory") breaks down after roughly 50 femtoseconds, which is 50 millionths of a nanosecond. And I'm not talking about a nanosecond meaning "a very small amount of time", I'm talking about an actual nanosecond, i.e. a billionth of a second.

None of this matters

Having said all that, none of it matters. When it's all said and done, who cares how something works as long as it works? There are lots of different types of medicines out there, and I have no idea how most of them work. There are even some that modern medical science can't fully explain. But that doesn't mean they don't work.

Homeopaths will argue that "you can't say homeopathy doesn't work just because you think it's silly." They're absolutely right. They'll say "you can't say homeopathy doesn't work just because you don't know how it could work" and they're right again. The reason we know it doesn't work is from the thousands of studies and trials that have been done over the past hundred years that show it doesn't work. There's no need to explain why it doesn't work, and there's no need to come up with an explanation of how it could work if it did. The studies prove that it just doesn't.

Full disclosure: while researching this article, I ran across lots of published studies that concluded that homeopathic remedies worked better than placebo. Some of them didn't have proper blinding or randomization or things like that, and so they can be dismissed out of hand. But many cannot. I am not a scientist so I cannot look at a study and determine whether it was done properly or whether the data supports the conclusions, so I must read other people's interpretations and decide if I trust them. Scientists and skeptics believe the data is clear – homeopathy doesn't work. Homeopaths believe the data is clear – homeopathy works. I could simply trust the skeptics because I'm a skeptic, but that could be looked at as a personal bias. But I do trust the skeptics, and here's why.

Homeopaths point to certain trials that show homeopathy's effectiveness as proof that it works. But they also say "It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy." So they use the studies that show their results as proof, and dismiss the ones that show different results as "these types of tests aren't appropriate". Note that they're not claiming that there was a problem with the studies themselves, it's the entire concept of the randomized trial that they disagree with. There are two logical fallacies here: cherry picking (picking only data that agrees with you) and special pleading (saying that it's impossible to test this claim but not saying why). There's also no reasoning for why the generally accepted science of a randomized trial is not "fitting".


Homeopathy was invented in the early 1800's, during a time when almost everything known about healthcare and the human body was wrong. Medical science has changed almost entirely in that time, with innumerable advances and breakthroughs over the decades. And yet homeopaths have clung to the same concepts despite there being no non-anecdotal evidence that it works and no theoretical way that it could. There have been no advancements in homeopathy in 200 years – all of the original theories are still in use today. Homeopaths have had 200 years to prove to everyone that it's effective and they've utterly failed. If it was truly effective, there'd be no need to convince anyone of anything and it wouldn't be alternative medicine, it would just be medicine.

But what if it did work? What if water actually did retain a memory of a substance diluted in it, and could be used to cure some illness caused by that substance? How would the water know which substance to remember – the one you just diluted beyond existence, or other substances the water has been in contact with? As I read on one site, "One wonders in vain how water remembers only the molecules the homeopath has introduced at some point in the water's history and forgets all those trips down the toilet".

If water truly had memory, there would be no need to mix anything. All the water on Earth would have some memory of all the substances it's been in contact with over however many millions of years, and since it's been diluted many thousands of times, it'd be pretty potent. All the water on Earth would be a homeopathic remedy for everything. Every time you drink water, you'd be triggering your body's immune reaction against every disease, even if you didn't have it. Everyone would be healthy all the time.

And we'd all be drinking dinosaur pee.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Land of lakes

Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. As far as I know, each and every one of these lakes has a name and naming so many lakes is bound to result in some pretty interesting ones. On our trip north this past summer, we drove a long way and passed a lot of lakes. Here are some of the more interesting names.

  • We passed Baby Lake, right across the highway from Mom Lake. About a kilometer up the road, we found Dad Lake.
  • Desolation Lake, right next to Lonely Lake. Sounds like a delightful place for a cottage, doesn't it?
  • Tons of lakes named for people: Cathy's Lake, Jason Lake, Sammy's Lake, etc.
  • Near the town of Rossport is Little Lake. Little Lake? That's the best you could come up with? Though perhaps it's named after Mr. Little.
  • The most original goes to Parkinson's Pothole
  • According to Google Maps, near Terrace Bay we have Lake A and Lake B
  • About 25 km east of Terrace Bay, there's Echo Lake. This is the same name as the lake my parents' cottage is on, a little over 1000 km to the south east (near Bracebridge). About 30 km further east of the first Echo Lake, there's another Echo Lake.
  • On either side of Marathon there are Two Finger Lake and Three Finger Lake
  • Near Wawa, we have Rod and Gun Lake
  • It's not a lake, but there's Old Woman Bay (and nearby Old Woman River)
  • Not far from Old Woman Bay is Rabbit Blanket Lake
  • South of there is Dead Otter Lake
  • South of Agawa Bay were Beta Lake and Gamma Lake. Alpha Lake is nearby but not on the highway.
  • There's a town we didn't go to called Eliot Lake (which is near a lake called Eliot Lake), but that's not that exciting a name. Near there, however, is Crotch Lake. This sounds to me like a place you don't want to go swimming.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Northern Ontario 2013 - Part 2: Manitouwadge and Pancake Bay

This is part two in the two-part miniseries of our trip to Northern Ontario in the summer of 2013. Part one is here. When we last left our heroes, they we getting ready to leave Sleeping Giant for Manitouwadge.

Aug 23

Driving Day Three, though there was far less driving on this day than most of the other driving days. In fact, Driving Day Three and Driving Day Four combined were less than either of Driving Days Two or Five. We were on the road by 9am and about three hours later, we arrived in Marathon and did the same thing we did for lunch last year in Marathon – stopped at Pizza Hut, picked up a pizza to go, and drove down to a place called Pebble Beach. We enjoyed our pizza on the top of a cliff overlooking the beach, and then went down to the beach itself. There's a ton of driftwood on the beach – and we're talking about 20-30 foot logs here, not just a bunch of sticks. Rolly says they regularly remove it, but there was a pile that looked like a "fort" (which must have been arranged by hand, with enough room inside that a few people could semi-comfortably sit) which looked exactly like one that was there last year. After climbing around on the rocks and logs for a while, we were back in the van for the last bit of this day's drive.

About an hour later, we were at Rolly & Candyce's place in Manitouwadge. Arriving at around the same time were Norma and Lloyd, Rolly's aunt and uncle from Dawson Creek, BC, who we had never met (Rolly hadn't seen them in over 20 years). We got to know them a little over the next few days, and they are wonderful people; it's too bad they live four thousand kilometres away. Also arriving shortly after us were Jackie's brother Mitch (from Tracy, California), and two of Rolly's (grown) sons, Foster (Owen Sound) and Ethan (Mississauga). Rolly's eldest son, Rhys, is in the Canadian Navy and is stationed in Halifax, so he was not able to make it. We set up the trailer in Rolly's driveway, right behind John and Jackie's trailer, and just down from Norma and Lloyd's camper/pickup. Rolly and Candyce don't have the biggest house but they had thirteen people staying with them; without the campers it would have been a little cramped. Rolly later referred to everyone as his "band of gypsies".

Dinner was a big get-together at Candyce's friend Donna's place. They had cooked both a roast and a turkey, and there were veggies and potatoes and salads and such as well. For dessert, they had several (at least four) of those big metal lasagna pans (i.e. two feet long, a foot wide, and four inches thick) full of cheesecake and Black Forest cake. Donna even gave us a couple of them to bring back to Candyce's place, where we gradually finished them over the next few days.

Aug 24

The punny Perrows (photo by Michel Bazinet)Wedding Day! Tradition says the groom should not see the bride on the wedding day until the wedding, so Candyce stayed at Donna's the previous night. The morning was very leisurely – the boys watched TV for a while, and we played cards and chatted. Last summer, Rolly had helped the boys make slingshots, and even offered to keep them until our next visit. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten where he put them, so he helped Nicky make another one. Nicky spent a good chunk of the morning shooting rocks at a plastic bottle, and Ryan and I took a few shots as well.

Soon after lunch, we got dressed for the wedding. As I mentioned in the previous article, this was a Hallowe'en themed wedding, so "getting dressed for the wedding" was a little different from other weddings we'd been to. The four of us wore costumes that were linked – we were the "punny Perrows", and each of us went as a different pun:

  • Gail had a white shirt with a yellow circle on it as well as a cape, red horns, and a pitchfork – she was a "devilled egg".
  • I was dressed as a medieval knight, complete with sword, with a LED light attached to my belt – I was a "knight light". (Once I turned the light off, I was the Dark Knight.) In the picture here, the light is mostly hidden by the sword. 
  • Ryan had a baseball cap with a "C" on it, a foam finger (Toronto Rock!), and a t-shirt made by Gail that said "Ceiling" – he was a "ceiling fan".
  • Nicky was dressed in hospital scrubs with a stethoscope and a necklace with hot peppers on it – he was "Dr. Pepper".

The wedding started around 3:00 and was held in a beautiful gazebo in Donna's back yard. The weather was perfect and it was a lovely ceremony. Rolly was dressed as a Klingon, though he didn't wear the headpiece with the long hair and bumpy forehead during the ceremony. Candyce didn't wear a costume but had a beautiful orange and black dress that she had specially ordered from China – and then had a friend fix because when it arrived, it was the wrong size.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (photo by Michel Bazinet)

There were a number of other good costumes there – an awesome Xena, two different Shrek's and one (male) Fiona, two other knights, Fred Flintstone, and a whole family full of Angry Birds. To go along with Rolly's Klingon, Foster went as Dr. McCoy while Ethan donned the Vulcan ears as Mr. Spock. There was even a man who donned a Nike hat and red Nike golf shirt, coloured his face, neck, and arms dark with shoe polish or something, and went as Tiger Woods. I'm still trying to decide whether that was in poor taste or kind of clever.

The wedding party went for pictures, and we went back to Rolly & Candyce's place to hang out until the reception, which took place at a local bar called K & G's. The hall was all decorated for Hallowe'en, including bride and groom zombies behind the head table, and bride and groom skeletons on top of the orange and black wedding cake. The food was great, the speeches were fun (and there weren't too many of them, just enough), and the music was good. The boys were up way too late but hey, it was their first wedding, and we're on vacation.

Aug 25

Sooooo hungover.

Oh wait, no I wasn't. I wasn't even drunk the night before. We had another quiet morning of cards, reading, and chatting. As much as I like to be active while on vacation (we've never been big on "head to the beach, sit down, stay for nine hours"), I really enjoyed these mornings of doing a whole lotta nothing.

After lunch, Rolly took the four of us to the dump. Yes, the dump. And not only did we all go willingly, we all looked forward to it. Rolly and Candyce had both told us about a bear that lives near the dump and frequently wanders in to find things to eat, so we asked Rolly if we could go to see him. He took us over and we had no trouble spotting the bear; he was right out in the open, digging through the mounds of garbage for things to eat. Candyce said he was a big fat one, but I wouldn't know a fat bear from a lean and muscular bear – I just know this guy was big. We were able to get pretty close before he backed away, but once we backed off a little, he ignored us completely. We didn't get out of the truck at all but got lots of pictures.

A big fat bear

After the bear sighting, a few people decided to go swimming in Manitouwadge Lake, a 5 minute walk from Rolly's place. Rolly, Foster, Alison, Ryan and Nicky got their suits on, while Gail and I walked down as well (with no intention of swimming). The lake turned out to be very cold, and neither Rolly nor Ryan could bring themselves to go in beyond their waist. Nicky dunked his head a couple of times, but Foster and Alison were the only ones who actually swam at all. The swim didn't last too long before everyone was frozen despite the fact that it was 30+ degrees out. For dinner, Candyce had ordered pizza from the local pizza joint. Luckily for Candyce and Rolly, the pizza from this place is very good; when I say "the local pizza joint" I mean the local pizza joint – the next closest is the Pizza Hut in Marathon, an hour away.

Aug 26

Another hot, humid, and lazy day. Nicky asked Jackie and Mitch if they wanted to play Scrabble, and playing Scrabble with them is something I've never had the guts to do. Jackie and Mitch are both very good, and I'm pretty sure their sister Claudette (who lives in Alberta but was in poor health so could not make the wedding) was at one point nationally ranked. Nicky did very well in a close game, finishing third but within five points of both Mitch and Jackie, though he did get a fair bit of help from Rolly.

We spent some time in the afternoon doing more shooting, and then after dinner we got ready to go on a drive to nowhere. As I mentioned, this was our third trip to Northern Ontario and we had yet to see any wildlife that we wouldn't see at home. On this trip we had already seen a bear, so we told Rolly we wanted to see a moose. He said the best way to do that would be to drive on the highway early in the morning or after dark, so we decided to head out at night with the intention of driving south on the highway for 20-30 minutes and then driving back. Just before we left, Rolly (who's a bit of a joker) told the boys and Alison to put their tinfoil hats on, which would increase the chances of seeing a moose. He didn't say why this would work, just that it would. To their credit, neither Ryan nor Alison simply grabbed the hat and put it on, even after Rolly did. NIcky did, and even brought some foil to me and Gail for us to wear, but to this day I'm not 100% sure whether he immediately bought into it or was just playing along with the joke. With Nicky, that second option is highly possible. But we did get a picture with the hats:

The moose-attracting hats

We left around 9:00, and managed to get lucky. About 15 km south of the town, Rolly suddenly stopped and said "there's one." Sure enough, in the bushes on the left side of the road was a moose. We couldn't see it clearly, but well enough to get a good sense of the size of this animal. Think about one of those big Clydesdale horses; this guy could have been its big brother. Attempts to take pictures met with dismal failure since it was too dark, so I have nothing to show here but we were pretty happy we'd seen both a moose and a bear on this trip. I guess the wolf will have to wait until next time.

Aug 27

Driving Day Four. We got up and after a quick breakfast, packed up the trailer and left the Wadge around 9:30. After gassing up and lunch at Subway in Wawa, we arrived at Pancake Bay Provincial Park around 1:30pm. John and Jackie had the site across the road from us, and Sandy, Alison, and Foster had a site behind J&J. By this point in the trip, we were experts at putting up the trailer and getting things ready, so we were set up in no time. Nicky and I joined Foster and Alison for a swim in the lake. Pancake Bay is right on Lake Superior, known for being the biggest and coldest of the Great Lakes, but the bay was relatively warm. Note that it wasn't actually warm, just relatively when compared to the icy waters near Sleeping Giant and Lake Manitouwadge. After we were done swimming, we played some cribbage (which the boys are getting very good at).

After dinner, Nicky and Ryan went back to the lake with Foster until it started to get dark. By the time they got back, John had a campfire going, and they roasted marshmallows and spider dogs. Never heard of a spider dog? You take a wiener and cut the ends of it into quarters lengthwise about 1/3 of the way down. Then put it on a stick and cook it over the fire. As it cooks, the bits you cut will curl up, and by the time you're done, they've curled far enough that it looks like a spider.

Aug 28

After a breakfast of pancakes (did I mention my wife is awesome?) (Wait, actually John made these ones.) (He's pretty cool too.) we headed down to a "3.5 km" nature trail at the north end of the campground. I put the "3.5 km" in quotation marks because that's what the signs said, but it was way longer than that. I fired up the MapMyRun app on my phone which uses the GPS to keep track of where and how far you walk/hike/run/bike. Before the phone's battery died, we were over 6 km and weren't finished yet. We were making pretty good time though since the mosquitoes in there were unbelievable, and every time we stopped for more than a few seconds, we were all slapping ourselves silly. Once we finished the walk we were all sweaty and covered in bug spray, so we couldn't wait to get to the showers.

MishipeshuAfter lunch, we drove back north to Agawa Bay to see the pictographs. These are paintings on the side of a cliff, done by the Ojibwe several hundred years ago. This picture captures a few of them: there's a canoe with people in it on the left, two snakes at the bottom, and the other thing is Mishipeshu, or the Great Lynx. Mishipeshu has the body of a big cat but has horns, spikes down its back, and is covered in scales.

At the base of the cliff is a small rock platform you can walk on to see the paintings, and then a short drop to the lake. Foster brought his swimsuit and was in the lake most of the time we were there, and the boys had fun climbing on the ropes attached to the platform to help swimmers get back out of the water. They must have done this for fifteen minutes until Ryan lost his grip and almost ended up in the water himself. He grabbed the rope again at the last second and pulled himself back up (still dry!), but then decided he'd had enough of that game.

When we were done there, we drove down a few km to the Agawa visitor's centre, which was a combination tourist info booth plus a little museum with some very cool exhibits. I thought this was going to be a five-minute stop but we must have been there an hour before heading back to Pancake Bay.

The evening was similar to most other nights on this trip – dinner, cards, campfire, marshmallows, bed.

Aug 29

Our last day at Pancake Bay, so we decided to see as much of the bay itself as we could. We walked out to the beach just across from Sandy and Alison's camp site, then turned right and walked along the beach to the point. The picture below shows the route we walked, though the point we walked to is shrouded in fog in the picture. I didn't have my GPS app running so I don't know how far it was, but it was farther than it looked. By the time we came back, it was almost lunch time.

Pancake Bay

We'd had fabulous weather on this trip. Up to this point, we'd had one night of rain and none during the day at all. But the forecast for the next day wasn't looking so promising – it was supposed to rain all night and all day. We planned on packing up everything but the trailer in the evening, so we had less stuff to pack up wet the next day, and John and Jackie did the same. But Sandy, Alison, and Foster were in tents, so they could only pack up so much the night before, and packing up a wet tent and stuffing in the car wouldn't have been too pleasant, so they decided to pack up and head home today instead. Sandy and Alison live in Sudbury, about 4 hours from Pancake Bay, and Foster was going to take a bus from there to Owen Sound. As it turned out, this was a good decision on their part.

After some more crib, we went over to the local trading post to fill up the gas tank, have a look around the gift shops, and pick up some ice cream treats. We then started to get ready for the trip home, packing up the clothes line and the mat outside the trailer door, taking down the dining tent, that sort of thing. By the time we were done, all that was left was to take down the trailer itself. After one last fire to get rid of the rest of our firewood, the boys went to bed, then Gail and I went back over to J&J's trailer to play some more cards (with Jackie; John was asleep) before bed.

Aug 30

Driving Day Five, and the final day of this adventure. As I said, Sandy did make the right choice in leaving a day early, since it rained all night and was still raining when we got up (and continued raining for most of the drive home). J&J's trailer is much bigger than ours, so we went over there for breakfast before the final packing up began. The pajamas were tossed in a bag, dirty dishes tossed in another bag to be washed when we got home, trailer taken down and hooked up to the van, garbage dumped, and goodbyes said. By about 8:30, were on the road home. We stopped in Espanola for lunch (Subway again) and some place called Grundy Lake for gas, and finally arrived home around 6:00pm. We all enjoyed this vacation and our new trailer is orders of magnitude more comfortable than tent camping, but boy, we all appreciated our beds that night.

Total number of kilometers driven: 3289.5. Not quite as many as last year (3608 km) but not bad. Pulling the trailer was a bit of a new experience. We'd done it a few times this summer, but most of southern Ontario is pretty flat so we didn't notice much of a difference on the small hills. But driving north of Lake Superior is very hilly, so we certainly noticed the trailer then. We also used more gas, though I don't know exactly how much more. But the comfort level vastly outweighs those extremely minor drawbacks. As I mentioned above, it was way more comfortable than sleeping in a tent, and the weather is just not an issue anymore. We've done our fair share of tent camping in rain, and Gail hates it. It ain't much fun for the rest of us either. Plus the trailer has lots of storage space so packing the van is much easier. I'm even getting pretty good at backing up and having the trailer go where I want it to.

I don't think I've written about the trailer at all since we got it. Earlier this year, John and Jackie gave it to us as a gift. They had it for several years (we stayed with them in it last summer in Manitouwadge and Pancake Bay) but they decided to buy a bigger one. Once they did, they asked if we wanted their old one. There was no way we were going to turn them down. We tried to buy it from them but they said no. We even gave them a "donation" that was a fraction of what the trailer is worth, but they refused to take it. In the short time we've had the trailer, we've gone on four different camping trips – three weekends in July and August and then this two week trip to northern Ontario. We have had an absolute blast, and we look forward to more camping next year too. We can't thank John and Jackie enough for their generosity.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wi-fi, fear-mongering, and pickles

Once again, I have to respond to a fallacious letter to the editor in my local paper, the Flamborough Review. And once again, it's by the same guy. This is the third of his letters I've responded to; the first was about teachers and the second was about vaccination. Here is the letter in its entirety:

The  idea of  “learning commons” in children’s libraries is a noble idea, although I am not an advocate of this kind of technology in primary schools.

We are distancing our children so far from the fundamentals that they will no longer have a foundation to build on.

Reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling has gone the way of the dodo. As a parent I am concerned, as are many others, that technology is beginning to replace the fundamentals. I can see it in the work my daughter brings home, and the work she doesn’t bring home.

Another concern is the use of Wi-Fi in primary schools. Our children’s exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) is a cause for worry. According to Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute of Health and Environment at the University of Albany, there is a great body of work that shows continued exposure to EMF effects changes in the ability to learn and remember. Last fall, the World Health Organization could no longer afford to ignore the research and deemed EMF to be a Class 2 carcinogen. The list of Class 2 materials also includes items such as asbestos, lead and diesel fumes. I am certain I would not send my child to a room full of diesel fumes, so how can I consciously send her to a room full of harmful radiation?

In 2011, biologist Andrew Goldsworthy gave a witness statement to a standing committee on health regarding the dangers of EMF. One of the most horrific statements from his speech was, “it was first shown by Bawin et. al in the ‘70s that weak amplitude radio waves can remove calcium from brain cell membranes. This destabilizes them, making them more likely to leak. This is important in the brain because the normal function of brain cells depends on the controlled passage of specific ions through the membranes. When they leak, ions flow uncontrollably…When this occurs in a fetus or young child, it retards brain development…Wi-Fi should be considered an impediment rather than an aid to learning and should be avoided, especially by pregnant teachers.”

The very governments and agencies mandated to protect us allow this kind of harmful technology to exist. We need to reduce or eliminate our exposure to as many toxins as we can, for our own health, and that of our children.

There is a parents’ group in Collingwood trying to get Wi-Fi out of their schools, yet officials are siding with Health Canada, which is ignoring its own scientific data. Please go to safe and read up on this issue. Some of the evidenced side effects include nausea, headaches, dizziness, attention and focusing problems, low blood counts, disturbance of the immune system and heart palpitations and racing heartbeats.

I will be asking the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for the results of their testing to see what levels my child is being exposed to.

Kevin Inglehart, Lynden

My only comment on the opening bit about education is that my sons are in grades 9 and 6, all in the Hamilton public system, and they are certainly learning the fundamentals as well as technology. They certainly learn things differently than I did thirty years ago, but that's to be expected. Perhaps this is a problem with the particular school or his daughter's teacher. It could also be a problem with his expectations and not with the school board at all.

But onto the other issue he raises, that of wi-fi routers causing health problems. This time, I'm not going to write a letter to the editor in rebuttal of this. I'm going to write my rebuttal here rather than submitting it to the Review. Submitting it would require making it fit for general consumption, and so I'd have to refrain from the sarcasm and ridicule that I really feel like using. I'd also have to shorten it since I'll probably write a lot here and the Review won't print it if it's too long. Quite honestly, I just can't be bothered to clean it up and make it short. Writing concisely is much more difficult than just spouting off; in the words of Blaise Pascal, "I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

So, to business. First off, the EM radiation given off by a wi-fi router is called "non-ionizing" radiation, which means that it's not strong enough to remove electrons from atoms. This also means that it does not cause damage to cells. This is in contrast to ionizing forms of radiation, such as X-rays and UV rays, which do cause cell damage. Some forms of non-ionizing radiation (like microwaves) can heat things up and the heat can cause damage, but wi-fi signals are just not strong enough even for that.

It's true that electromagnetic radiation is considered a class 2B carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). All that means is that it's on a list of things that have not been shown to be carcinogenic but require further study. Ken Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, says:

Saying that something is a 'possible carcinogen' is a bit like saying someone is a 'possible shoplifter' because he was in the store when the watch was stolen. [reference]

Here are some other things that are on the same "Class 2B carcinogen" list (the entire list is here):

  • coffee
  • asphalt
  • nickel
  • pickled vegetables
  • carpentry and joinery
  • chroloprene (also known as Neoprene, a synthetic rubber used in hundreds of products including clothing)
  • aloe vera
  • gingko biloba extract
  • talc-based body powder

Presumably Mr. Inglehart will be petitioning the school board to move the local Tim Horton's further away from the schools, to remove wood shop entirely, and to ban pickles from student lunches.

Asbestos and diesel exhaust, which Mr. Inglehart claims are on the type 2 list, are actually type 1. (Diesel fuel is 2B.) Lead is on the 2B list, but lead is known for being a neurotoxin, not a carcinogen.

I did visit the web site Mr. Inglehart suggested, and found many anecdotes describing how people became sick when they installed wifi routers in their home or school. But as we all know (don't we?), such anecdotes are scientifically meaningless. (One famous skeptical quote is "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'.") There were also some studies that showed a possible association between cancer and cell phone towers – note that this is "possible association" not "proven causality", and a cell phone tower is not the same thing as a wifi router.

It comes down to this: unless you are a biophysicist specializing in this kind of research, you have to read what others have done and then trust someone. I haven't done the research myself, and I probably couldn't understand the details of the studies if you put them in front of me. But I do trust the World Health Organization, who says (emphasis mine):

In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. … Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. [reference]

The Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion says

After a decade of additional research, there is still no conclusive evidence of adverse effects on health at exposure levels below current Canadian guidelines.


…there is no plausible evidence that would indicate current public exposures to Wi-Fi are causing adverse effects on health. [reference]

Just like a lot of other conspiracy theories, this one is based on bad data, bad assumptions, and mistrust of the scientific community. Then you wrap it all up with scary words like "carcinogen" and stories about people getting sick, and give it to parents while implying that if they don't do anything about it, they obviously don't care about their children's health. If you do that, you might be able to convince parents that this is a real problem. That's why we have school boards considering getting rid of wi-fi, not because it's actually a problem.

I've seen a number of other letters to the Review from this same person. The majority of them are filled with fear-mongering and conspiracies like the "dangers" of vaccines and water fluoridation and that "banks and large corporations own and control the media". Most of them are just opinions and have no references, but some of them, like this one, have references to one or two articles or scientists who happen to disagree with just about every other scientist in the world. It's possible that he accidentally stumbled upon an article that describes the exact opposite of the scientific consensus and believed it wholeheartedly. But it seems unlikely that he's done this several times, so I am forced to assume that he simply mistrusts science and government, and believes in any conspiracy theory he hears.

I find it partially amusing but mostly irritating that these conspiracy believers (and many alt-medicine believers too) are all "mainstream science is wrong" and "mainstream science is covering up the truth" until they find a scientist who supports them, and then they're all "this person believes us and he's a scientist so he knows what he's talking about and you can trust him! And not all those other scientists! Just this one!" Sorry, folks, you can't have it both ways. Either you trust the scientists (or more accurately, the science) or you don't.

Update: I did end up writing a letter to the editor. Here it is:

I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Inglehart's letter, which contains half-truths and misleading statements, so that other parents don't concern themselves with a problem that does not exist. Wi-fi routers in our schools are not a cause for concern. There are certainly people who believe that they are, including a few scientists, but the vast majority of studies that have been done have shown no negative effects on health at all.

It's true that electromagnetic radiation is considered a class 2B carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). What that actually means is that it's on a list of things that have not been shown to be carcinogenic but require further study. Other items on this list include coffee, asphalt, pickled vegetables, carpentry and joinery, aloe vera, and talc-based body powder. I don't hear anyone leading the charge against wood shop or pickles in school lunches.

But if you're going to believe the WHO's "possible carcinogen" list, you should really believe the WHO when they say "In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. ... Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields."

More locally, the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion says "After a decade of additional research, there is still no conclusive evidence of adverse effects on health at exposure levels below current Canadian guidelines. ...there is no plausible evidence that would indicate current public exposures to Wi-Fi are causing adverse effects on health."

There is no point is spending more taxpayer money looking at something that has been studied this much when the overwhelming majority of the studies show the same thing - that there are no negative health effects caused by wi-fi signals.

Graeme Perrow