Tag Archive: Canada

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Peter)

We immigrated to Canada in 1981, settling in a small northern town, Fort St. John, British Columbia. There we met a person that my wife knew had been a friend of her Grandfather’s in the early 1930s in Germany, close to the town where she was born, and who had emigrated unbeknown to her sometime in the mid fifties to Canada, first moving to Vancouver Island and later to the same town where we finally settled. He and his wife became friends of ours. Now, that is not too crazy.

This year we decided to leave Canada and retire to the Azore Islands, where we met a friend of my sister’s – she has a house there and that is why we decided to move to the Azores – who lives close by, having had settled there coming from Germany in the mid eighties. He also coincidentally had been living previously close to the town where my wife was born.

On a visit with this gentleman this fall we met a German who hails from Berlin and now lives in Spain, a sailor who in the beginning of the eighties had sailed with his wife to Canada, where he stayed for half a year on Vancouver Island.

During the conversation when the sailor told us of his travels, he mentioned the name of our friend, that he had died two years previous and learned of that fact when he had visited Vancouver Island and tried to look him up.

He also told us that at the time when he came the first time to Vancouver Island he met the friend of my wife’s grandfather, a short while before that friend had decided to move north.

So on an island in the middle of the Atlantic we meet someone who knew someone who was a friend of ours who had lived several thousand kilometers away in the same town we once had lived in. What are the odds?

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 266.  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 ICBS Everywhere, and Insight at Skeptics Society, and watch her on Virtual Skeptics.

One thing I noticed from this story is that everyone is German. This is not an irrelevant bit of information, since people tend to bond over things like sharing a country of origin, and immigrants also tend to cluster geographically.

So while the odds of this happening might be quite small, they aren’t as small as one might think. There’s a reason that the saying “It’s a small world” exists, and it’s not because the world is indeed small.

(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.

Circling a Coincidence

(Submitted by reader David Sauder.)

Last month I arranged with an old friend that our families would meet for a picnic lunch near Ampthill, about 80 kilometres north of London.

Aerial View of Millbrook Proving Ground

I am not all familiar with that area (I’m from Canada, and we are living in London temporarily).  I looked at the satellite view of Google maps to see what type of landscape we would be lunching in.  On the satellite view I could see a large nearby circle, which was about one kilometre in diameter.  This perfect circle looked like a road, and had smaller roads and roundabouts inside it.

I wondered what it was, so at the picnic I asked my friend. He didn’t know what it was. We tried to see it from the hilltop where we were eating, but couldn’t find it. I figured I’d do some more searching later to satisfy my curiosity and left it at that.

A couple of days later we left for a family vacation at Disney World, in Orlando.  One of the first rides we took was a “Test Track” ride at EPCOT.  This ride is a simulation of a vehicle test track. Before getting on board the vehicle, the next group of ‘drivers’ is brought into a large room where they stand and watch a video that explains what to expect during the ride. As the video was ending, and the lights in the room were fading to black, I noticed the picture hanging on the wall right behind me. It was an aerial photograph of my ‘mystery circle’. As the room went black, I had just enough time to read the label on the bottom of the picture, which said “Millbrook Proving Ground”.  When I got home, I looked it up and that’s exactly what that circle was.

[EDITOR:  Sometimes it’s fun to just read the coincidence story without any analysis. This one is a cutie. Submit your own coincidence story when you are visiting The Odds Must Be Crazy. Click on the Submit a Story link on our homepage! – Wendy]

Dumplings and Data

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Richard Murray)

In 2011, my wife and I were finishing up final preparations to depart on a two week trip to China. The main part of the trip was thanks to a contest I’d won from the Royal Ontario Museum when they had the Terracotta Warriors travelling show.

Scheduling the trip was somewhat problematic, with blackout dates and weirdnesses around how the airline booked promotional tickets. In some ways, we weren’t even sure if we were going to be getting on a plane when we arrived at the airport that night. The plan was that we were going to Beijing, then Xi’an, and then Shanghai. Hopefully.

I wanted to finish up some work for my friend John’s web site before we left. Another friend, Tom, and I share a web server, and there was a problem that I wasn’t going to be able to address before we left. So, I sent a quick email to John and Tom, and asked Tom if he could take a look at things.

Me: “I took a look at the PHP upgrade, but had this fear of breaking things because it appeared to be installed non-standardy. I’m off to Asia in a couple hours, so… good luck :)”

Tom and I used to work together in Vancouver, on Canada’s West Coast. We’d go out to shows frequently when we lived out there. Since we had moved to Toronto, we haven’t really spoken much; he’s one of those people who’s not all that active on social media, so we only exchange the odd email now and again about tech things.

It wasn’t that unusual when I didn’t hear back from him right away, so we headed out for the airport.

A couple days later, and we were ending our time in Beijing. We had been through the Forbidden City and climbed the Great Wall. We also had plans to meet up with a friend from Vancouver who was now working in the Canadian embassy. She’d moved back to Beijing just in time for us to meet her there for a western style dinner at Blue Frog (in the light of an Apple Store.)

We knew that she might be in Beijing, so this isn’t really much of a coincidence, more just good timing. We said our goodbyes and found a cab and made our way back to the hotel after dinner, and that’s where things got weird. I found Tom had replied to my email from a couple days back.

Tom: “I am also in Asia (Xi’an to be exact) and have been for a couple weeks but I will do the upgrade next weekend.”

We were heading to the airport the following morning to fly to Xi’an.

Me: “Hah. We’re in Xi’an tomorrow afternoon.”

Tom and his partner had originally wanted to go to Turkey, but couldn’t find a decent rate, so they’d decided on something of a whim to go to Xi’an.

After being there for some weeks, he had had his phone off for the past couple days due to the sheer volume of SMS spam you get once you activate a Chinese SIM – it’s insane.

After days without using his phone, he turned it on, checked email, and found my message. He thought it was an amusing enough coincidence that I was headed to the same continent at roughly the same time.

We only had two nights in Xi’an, only one of which was free from plans,  this was a remarkably narrow window for us. We arrived, and toured the Terracotta Warrior dig site on our one full day there, as planned, and then we met Tom and his partner for dinner.

Over an amazing 20 course dumpling dinner at Da Fang Chang Dumpling Restaurant, we compared notes on China, and talked a bit about how weird things can just happen. Mostly, we focused on the dumplings… and then we wandered around the night markets looking for more food.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 211.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary.

I would like to say that the participants in this story may have gotten ideas from each other by talking about places that they would like to visit. I’d like to, but Xi’an? Still, seeing anyone we know when we are that far from home is always a bit of a shock. The fact that he had just emailed this friend/coworker is not so impressive; how many other people had he emailed shortly before leaving on the trip?

Also, unlike many of the travel stories we receive, this was not a chance meeting. It was merely a coincidence that they were in the same city at the same time. This actually happens to me quite often. In fact, I discovered yesterday that a friend and will be vacationing in the same place at the same time next month. A few years ago, a coworker took a cruise on the same ship as my family just a week before our trip; they were getting off as we were boarding.

The odds are certainly low, but I think what makes this story feel more shocking is the distance from home. 

(Submitted by friend of the site, Dave R)

This is a funny story; I guess you’d call it a “shaggy dog story.”  It’s an excerpt from the book “Never Sniff a Gift Fish” by Patrick McManus, a long-time writer for magazines like Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, etc. His articles are humorous along the lines of Dave Barry. They’ve been compiled into several books. This excerpt will give the flavor of his writing.

Strange Scenes and Eerie Events (excerpt)
From the book “Never Sniff a Gift Fish” by Patrick F. McManus

Every day weird things happen for which there are no rational explanations. Take, for example, the case of Retch Sweeney’s watch.

Retch and I were trolling on a lake in Canada several years ago and, as he leaned over the side of the boat to net a nice rainbow trout I was bringing in, Retch’s watch came loose from his wrist and fell into the lake. Not only was the watch expensive, but it held great sentimental value: Retch’s wife had given it to him on their twentieth anniversary. It bore the inscription, “To Charley Bombi, for 40 years dedicated service to Acme Sand & Gravel Co.” Retch’s wife is a great one for sentiment.

Five years after Retch lost his watch in the Canadian lake, he and I went on a boat-camping trip on a lake in Montana. It is important to note that there is no waterway connecting the two lakes. After making camp, Retch and I went out to see if we couldn’t hook into one of the monster rainbows reported in the vicinity. Sure enough, as we trolled past the mouth of a stream, Retch’s rod whipped double and a few seconds later a beautiful rainbow was doing aerial gymnastics. We went back to camp and while I started preparing supper, Retch dressed out his fish. Suddenly he let out a great yell. I rushed over to see what had happened.

“Look what I found in this rainbow,” he shouted, holding up a shiny object.

“I can scarcely believe my eyes,” I said. “How could such a thing happen?”

“Beats me,” Retch said. “I’ve never even heard of anybody finding a bottle cap in the stomach of a fish before.”

“Me either,” I said. “Now if it had been the watch you lost in the lake up in Canada, I could understand that. You read in the newspapers all the time about that sort of thing happening.”


[EDITOR: Every once in a while we need a little bit of humorous misdirection injected. You all knew where this story was going, which made the twist that much better. It also makes a really important point: how many people bother to write down the stories of when they didn’t find the watch inside the fish?

  • How often do you lose your keys, find them under the stack of papers on the kitchen counter, and immediately rush to Facebook to tell all your friends?
  • When’s the last time you lost your favorite pen, only two months later to have still not found it and finally given up and bought a new one, but took the time to write to the local paper about the experience?
  • When did you brag to all your friends about how your car uses an obscure-sized tire that always has to be specially-ordered, but when you had a blowout on the side of the road last week and got towed to the local tire store they just happened to also not carry that size tire and had to special order it?

When crazy things happen to us, we love to tell the world about them, and we see them as significant. Because, of course, they ARE. But they’re no more significant than the fact that they were outside of the normal pattern of how the cold indifference of life usually treats us. Also, I’m going to randomly mention happy giggling babies and puppies chasing their tails here to counter that depressing last sentence. But the point is that the people who try to use events like the ones where they lost something important to them and found it again in an amazing situation as an example of some higher power are simply, as usual, ignoring the laws of large numbers: we lose a lot of stuff. A TON of stuff. And we don’t find most of it. And what we do, we usually find under mundane circumstances. Occasionally someone’s going to both find the item, and find it in a way that, at least to them, stands out as extraordinary (look out for a story from me in a few days that mimics this concept). And that’s a special, exciting moment worth telling a story about. But that’s really its entire worth. – Jarrett]


(Submitted by reader Bob LeDrew)

When I was a kid, I was at home one evening and the phone rang. I picked it up and said, “hello?”

“Hi! Is that Bob?”
“Put your mother on the phone.”
“Can I tell her who’s calling?”
“Oh come on, Bob, stop messing around and put Evelyn on the phone.”

My mom’s name IS Evelyn. But I didn’t know the voice, and started to get a little creeped out by the presumption. We went back and forth, each of us getting irritated.

“Are you sure you’ve dialed the right number?”
“Is this 736-xxxx?”
“Then put Evelyn on!”

I was flummoxed. This person wouldn’t say who they were. I didn’t recognize their voice. But they knew my name, my mother’s name, and had the right phone number?!

Somewhere in my brain, something made me ask “What area code did you dial?”


We were in 902, the area code, for Nova Scotia, Canada. 702 is Las Vegas.

I explained this to the person on the other end of the line. She hung up, and I ran to tell my parents that somewhere in Nevada, there was someone with our phone number named Evelyn who had a son named Bob. CRAZY!

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 186. Take a look and leave your comments below.
I love it when I get to add to the craziness. I had this same conversation when I was a teenager, almost verbatim. My parents’ names are Bob and Carol (Yes, like “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice”) and my voice was very similar to my mother’s and people often mistook me for her. The caller asked for “Bob” and when I asked who they were they realized that I was not my mother and asked for “Carol”. I became suspicious and questioned them further; it turned out that they had dialed a wrong number and reached the wrong Bob and Carol. We had a good laugh and ended the call.
A year or two later, the same gentleman called and started with the usual small talk. I answered with the usual small talk answers, all the while trying to place the voice. At some point he realized that I was not Carol and asked my name, so I answered by asking his and we eventually realized what had happened. This kind of thing actually happened to my father a lot more than you might think. I recall a time when my father received some rather distressing phone calls and letters regarding the unpaid taxes of someone with his name who lived in our neighborhood!
So, let’s start with the not-so-unusual: I am not surprised at all that there is a common name in the submitted story and my own, since “Bob” is so common that it is used like “Joe” to imply a typical man. According to babycenter.com, “Robert” was the #1 name for baby boys for decades, was among the top 10 until 1990, and has not left the top 100 in more than a century. But let’s look at the probabilities within the original story itself.
The odds of two households having a mother and son with identical names and phone numbers which differ by a single digit depend on the commonality of the names and available phone numbers. With just a little bit more information, namely the year in which this occurred, and a LOT of research and computation, we could estimate this fairly accurately. Without that information, we can still make a few assumptions and cut a few corners to determine if the odds are indeed as crazy as they seem. Keep in mind that as I write this I do not know the identity of the story’s author and I will limit the source of some estimates to information about the U.S. for practical reasons, even though part of the story involves Canada (which complicates matters, but should not affect the outcome tremendously).
First we’ve established that “Bob” is extremely common, regardless of the ages of the mother and son. “Evelyn” has not been in the top 10 since 1915, but it was in the top 100 until 1953, then dropped in popularity somewhat until 2008, when it returned to the top 100.
If we assume the mother in this story was born when her names were rather popular, but recent enough for this to happen after area codes were in use, I will guess that this occurred in the 1980s. If 3 in 1000 (averaging and rounding) of the women in this age group are named Evelyn and 25 in 1000 boys 8-18 years old were named Robert, then the probability of a mother and son having the names Bob and Evelyn as opposed to any other configuration are approximately 15:100,000 or 3 in 40,000. Not extraordinarily low given that, according to infoplease.com, there were more than 62 million family households in the U.S. in 1985, so more than 4600 of them probably had mother/son combinations who answered to Bob and Evelyn. Less than 10% of households in 1985 did not have phones, so let’s say that there were 4200 Bob/Evelyns who could receive the call.
Where this gets much trickier is in estimating the probabilities related to the phone numbers. There were limits to the possible phone numbers at the time, making a calculation of the probability that two mother/son combinations named “Bob and Evelyn” would have numbers one digit apart a lot more work than I am willing to do for fun. However, we can get close to this by estimating the probability that someone would reach such a couple by dialing a 10-digit number incorrectly. In this case, what is more relevant than those limitations is the number of active phone lines. Tradingeconomics.com estimates the number of fixed and mobile telephone lines in the U.S. in 1985 at over 116 million. With 4200 of those including a Bob/Evelyn, that’s more than 1 in 25,000.
If you only dial one number incorrectly, the number of ways to dial 10 digits incorrectly is 100, but depending on which number you dialed incorrectly, the odds of reaching a person are actually small given that fewer than 1 in 50 of the possible combinations of 10 digits was in use at the time.
So, let’s assume (again, conservatively), that 2 of the numbers you could dial incorrectly would reached an actual phone. The odds, then, of reaching one of the 4200 Bob/Evelyns by dialing a single number incorrectly are about 7 in one million.

A facebook friend Jana Morales noticed that I’d “friended” a man by the name of  Trevor Jenkins…  and she commented that I had friended her grand nephew! I asked if she was sure, and whether he lived in Canada, as that’s where my new FB friend is from.

It took awhile to find out, but it turns out that there are well over 100 people named Trevor Jenkins on Facebook, and they are not the same Trevor Jenkins. My new friend and I met on a bulletin board for science writer Gary Taubes, and we are both skeptics; my friend Jana’s grand nephew is the first other Trevor Jenkins that he has known of indirectly, ie known someone who knows someone who has the same name, coincidentally.