Tag Archive: New Hampshire

(Submitted by Friend of the Blog, Andrew Hansford)

I met Ajay Appaden at The Amazing Meeting 2013. Ajay had traveled from Kerala, India to serve as Mr. Randi’s personal assistant at TAM and to travel the USA in the weeks after TAM. While we were discussing aspects of the Million Dollar Challenge event, Ajay told me that he had lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia until he was twelve. I found that interesting because my uncle and aunt also lived in Riyadh at about the same time. (Mid 80s through mid 90s). That was not a major coincidence; Riyadh is a large city with a large ex-patriot population at that time.

I offered Ajay a place to stay in New Hampshire if he decided to see Boston and New England. We kept in touch as he traveled in the US. During those conversations we discovered that his mother and my uncle both worked at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. Another small coincidence, but King Faisal is a large facility. His mother did not remember my uncle and my uncle died several years ago, so I could not ask him.

During Ajay’s visit to New England over Labor Day weekend, we decided to watch videos shot in Riyadh during the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) that my aunt and uncle lent me to digitize several years before. Apparently, some of the ex-pats in Riyadh videotaped the Scud attacks and the aftermath on the city and people traded around mixes of those tapes. Ajay was a toddler living in there at the time.

The tapes were spooky with the wail of the air raid sirens and how calmly people recorded incoming missiles, the launch of the American Patriot defense missiles, and the running around trying to find the Scud landing sites. During one of the clips as the videographer panned showing the buildings around him, Ajay said, “That looks like where I used to live.” I assumed that much of Riyadh would have a similar look. “No, that really looks like where I used to live. There is a picture of a Scud attack up in my living room in Kerala. It was given to my mother because our apartment building is in it. I’ll have my brother send a photo of it.”

Photo from Appaden home.

Photo from Appaden home.


As we compared the photograph of the print hanging in a living room in Cochin, India to the videotape loaned to me 10 years previous, we determined that not only was the video taken from the same location as the photograph, it was also taken at the same time, during the same event. The videotape in my possession in Milford NH, showed Ajay’s childhood home in Riyadh– on a night he was there — and captured an event that he would know all his life through a photograph hanging in his living room.




Clip from Riyadh videotape.

Clip from Riyadh videotape.


We kept saying to ourselves “We are skeptics. We KNOW this doesn’t mean anything.” It sure did tickle our brains though.





Below is analysis provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

I actually don’t find this story all that surprising. As the author noted, it is not at all unusual to know or meet more than one person who lived in a particular city, especially a large one, at the same time. It is also not unusual to discover that you know people who worked in the same place at the same time.

The video/image match feels more impressive, but it is actually less so. The author mentioned that images and videos were passed around. It is likely that people who were would collect them, especially those which showed places were they lived (and they’ve had 20 years to do so). Furthermore, if one person in a building thought that the event was worth recording on film, it’s highly likely that others would, too, hence the existence of both snapshots and video which appear to have been taken from roughly the same location.

At this point I might normally remark that it is more surprising that they would notice the similarities than it is that the similarities are there, but even that is not surprising in this case because people tend to look at images of important events in their lives over and over again. Think about how familiar some videos and images of the events of 9/11/01 are to you.

God & Pizza in Vermont

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Alison Smith)

My friend Jeff Wagg and I both worked at the James Randi Educational Foundation for some time. We were close enough that we often had yelled debates over the phone – and the most popular conversation between us was about a higher power. Unlike many of my friends in the critical thinking world, I am not an atheist – though characterizing my form of belief is rather difficult.

One day, Jeff and I were winding down from one of these debates, and, tired of the argument, Jeff said, “I would believe in God if pizza showed up on my doorstep.” (I should add that he insists he said ‘a pizza’).

Immediately, I began to plan. Jeff lived in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. Pizza places didn’t deliver to him, and the nearest restaurant was something like half an hour away. I, at the time, lived in Texas – so I couldn’t shuttle a pizza over, either.

But we did have a mutual friend in New Hampshire – one that was driving over to visit Jeff soon – and she was the nice sort of person who would do a favor if asked. I called her and asked that, along the way, she stop off and get pizza to take to Jeff. I didn’t tell her the reason, or the source of the issue. I am not sure, even now, if she knew at the time that I wasn’t an atheist. She did agree to get the pizza, and I sat back, like a villain in a comic book, with a bit of maniacal laughter.

On the way to Jeff’s house, our friend stopped off to get the pizza and while there saw a greeting card she liked. She bought it, wrote in it, and added it to the pizza to take to Jeff. He opened it, and was amazed. So am I – even still.

The front of the card was the painting ‘The Creation of Adam’ – where God is reaching out to Adam, and Adam is reaching back. However, in this interpretation, their hands were not empty. God held out a pizza, and Adam held out money. On the inside, our friend wrote, “And God said, ‘Let there be pizza!'”

Jeff is still an atheist, though – because our friend didn’t get him ‘a pizza’, as he claims he said. She got slices.

Go figure.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 185. Take a look and leave your comments below.

As cute, funny, and amazing as this story is, the ‘amazing’ part does not hold up to scrutiny. The author notes that arguments about the existence of God were common between he and Jeff. It’s likely that Jeff had discussions about religion with others as well. Given that the woman who visited Jeff is a mutual friend, the odds are pretty good that the friend was an atheist or at least enjoyed discussions about religion herself. When she saw the card, she knew that Jeff would appreciate that humor, and the fact that she was bringing him pizza made the card funnier, even though she did not know that the pizzahad anything to do with a discussion about God. This is a case in which shared interests and values are responsible for the friendships the three shared, making the odds of something like this happening much greater than they appear. Great story, but not ‘crazy’ odds.