Tag Archive: Ross Blocher

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Ross Blocher, of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!)

Darrin, a friend of mine from work, suggested yesterday that we get lunch some time. I called today, apparently at the exact moment he’d just walked into his office after a late arrival. Wow! But that’s not the coincidence.

So we’re driving to a restaurant in his car, and I’m talking about the word “apophasis”, one of my favorite words – I’m not even going to tell you that it means bringing something up by claiming not to mention it. After giving a couple examples, I said the word always reminds me of one woman I know because she’s constantly referring to her positive attributes in the same sentence she’s claiming not to brag. She also happens to have been the subject of a paranormal demonstration. Paranormal?! That’s right, I’m a member of the Independent Investigations Group, and I won’t even mention that the IIG offers a $50,000 challenge to anyone who can demonstrate an ability that flies in the face of natural law.

This particular woman claimed she could see inside peoples’ bodies and detect a missing kidney. I was very much involved with the planning of the demonstration, but could not personally attend because I was vacationing in Europe. Darrin stopped me at this part of the story and said, “Wait. Do you mean…” and described the demonstration exactly. I was surprised. “Yeah, how do you know?” Darrin goes on to tell me that, before I even really knew him, he was one of the 18 people chosen to go on stage and be tested by this woman to see if his kidney was missing. While I was off on another continent, he was participating in the test I’d helped plan. If that was not amazing enough, he points to his shirt: “That’s actually where I got this shirt.” Lo and behold, Darrin is wearing the exact pale blue shirt that he’d received 3 1/2 years ago as part of the test – all participants had to wear the same loose-fitting blue shirt to minimize differences between them.

So not only was my co-worker, unbeknownst to me, involved in the event I’d helped plan, but I called to have lunch with him on a day he just happened to be wearing the shirt he’d received from the event. What are the odds? No seriously, you tell me.

Here’s a screen cap with Darrin in the blue shirt: 


Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 210. Take a look and leave your comments below.

There is no way to calculate odds for something like this, but it is not as shocking as it seems. On the one hand, the author did not meet Darrin through a hobby or special interest group, but through work. On the other hand, if you’re having lunch with a coworker and calling them a “friend”, it’s highly likely that you share some interests and world views.

I am less impressed by the fact that Darrin participated in this demonstration than I am that neither Ross nor Darrin knew that the other was interested in skepticism. The social circles can be large, but there is a lot of activity on social networks. It seems to me that it would be difficult for these two to miss each other.

(Submitted by friend of the site, Ross Blocher, of the Oh No, Ross and Carrie! podcast)

I’d been invited to a friend’s kickball party, and before the game a bunch of us were sitting around in the shade catching up and talking about random topics. One such subject was that of secret codes and safe words between friends and family in the event of an emergency. My friend said, “If I were being held at gunpoint and had to call my boyfriend, I’ve got a secret safe word I can insert into the conversation to let him know I’m in trouble.”

I laughed and then mimicked a conversation on my thumb-and-pinky phone, “Hey Nick, I’ve got to go to the store first and pick up some… WATERMELON.”

There was an awkward silence as my friend looked at me quizzically and a little taken aback. Finally she said, “Wait, how did you know that? I didn’t tell you that. Watermelon was my safe word. Now I’ve got to come up with a new one.”

Now if only I had said I was psychic before that: I could have really cashed in.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 193. Take a look and leave your comments below.

I could not even begin to calculate the odds of this and I can’t explain my own reaction, either, but I will try. My first thought was, “That’s a guessable safe word.”

I think that when we try to think of passwords and safe words, we are trapped by the availability of words in our vocabulary. You want a word obscure enough that it wouldn’t normally be used in conversation, but one that can be worked into a conversation without too much trouble. “Watermelon” seems to me to be a good level of obscurity, but if the story omitted the safe word, then asked readers to predict what the word was, would I have guessed it? No way to tell, really.

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Ross Blocher of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!)

My extended family was enjoying its annual trip to Disneyland in late November of 2008. While we typically go to celebrate my mom’s birthday, this particular Saturday happened to fall on my niece Shirley’s third birthday. She was the delightful recipient of many gifts and happy birthday wishes. You could be forgiven for thinking that Shirley is something of an older-fashioned name; she was named after my grandmother.

We’d made dinner reservations at the Big Thunder Mountain BBQ. As we arrived there we heard a guitar-playing cowboy on the stage announce, “Come on up here, Shirley. Let’s all sing Happy Birthday to Shirley!”

Everyone in our party started looking at each other. “Who told him? How do they know it’s Shirley’s birthday?” As my brother-in-law walked Shirley toward the stage, we saw that another little girl was being escorted up in front of the crowd. Before my brother-in-law could say anything, another man yelled out from the crowd, “Our daughter is Shirley, too, and it’s HER birthday!”

Now we felt like we had to prove that OUR Shirley was really named Shirley and was also having her birthday, because the coincidence was simply too amazing! Here we had three girls, aged three, four, and five, each with a traditional name that is apparently all the rage, sharing the same birthday!

All three Shirleys were serenaded by the crowd. It took a long time for my family to stop laughing.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 184. Take a look and leave your comments below. Please note that in the original version Ross sent us, the month and year were not included. Ross updated the story with more details after Barbara’s analysis and our recording.

When we are in the midst of these experiences, they seem astonishing, but there are a great many factors to consider when calculating the odds of such a thing. Although I cannot estimate those odds without some basic information such as the year in which this occurred, I think the list of factors will make it clear that the odds are greater than they appear.

  • How unusual was the name “Shirley” at the time? Although I concede that it sounds old fashioned, the popularity of baby names is an interesting animal with somewhat cyclical patterns. Sometimes a name is popular simply because it is widely assumed that it will be unpopular and people tend to seek uncommon names for their children. ‘Shirley’ is considered uncommon according to several databases that I consulted, including Babypedia, but it peaked at #2 in 1935. Naming children after great grandparents is a common practice; my own youngest’s middle name is Patrick, after my grandmother (Patricia).
  • How many girls born in the last decade or two had great grandmothers born during the name’s heyday?
  • How many people visited Disneyland that day?
  • How many young visitors to Disneyland that day were celebrating a birthday?
  • How many of the visitors were within earshot of the stage on which this occurred? Keep in mind that it was a popular park restaurant at dinnertime.

I imagine the park performers who do such things have many stories like this one. Still, it’s fun and memorable when it happens to you because, although the odds are not shockingly low, it is uncommon.


How Geeks Have Fun

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Ross Blocher from Oh No, Ross and Carrie!)

Recently I was teaching myself how to solve square roots by hand. As a practice number I randomly chose 532 and worked for a while to get the value out to the trillionth place… 23.065125189341. I realized it was getting pretty late in the day, and wondered if it was time to go home yet, and I looked up at the clock on my computer to find it was exactly 5:32. I did a double-take and looked back at the piece of paper… sure enough, the same number I’d just solved.

Oh, and this is weird. I’m finishing this email, and my clock says it’s 5:31. Spooky… :0)

The Star Nosed Mole Delusion

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Ross Blocher)

Sometime in 2005 I was reading The Ancestor’s Tale, by Richard Dawkins, and there was a particular chapter about the star nosed mole. It was the first time I’d heard of this creature, and in the account Dawkins mentioned there is still much we don’t know about the movements of its feelers because they move so quickly. After finishing that chapter, I forced myself to stop reading so I could get to the Laundromat in time to get a few loads washed.

The moment I got in the truck, the radio was tuned to the local NPR affiliate, and there was an interview with a researcher talking about the star nosed mole, and how recent high-speed photography had revealed how it uses its feelers.