What Does Lijit Do? (and why is it over there?)

While doing my daily read through Atheist Revolution (read it, lots of things to think about), I spotted vjack’s post about Lijit.  “Oh ho”, thought I, “that looks interesting”.  So I popped over to the site, signed up, grabbed the plugin, installed the widget and removed my normal search bar.  See how much work I do on testing these things?

I haven’t gone into it in any detail yet, but if you need to search the site, you can use Lijit to do it.  So please give it a go and let me know whether you prefer it to the default search.  I notice that it uses Google (and displays Google Ads) so the algorithms and the like are sound.

Assignment Three

This is the most maligned episode of the series.  I believe that any failings are not down to the actual episode itself, but are down to the limitations of the technology at the time.  We can see this is any number of science fiction series from the era.  As with, arguably, the whole concept behind S&S, it was just ahead of it’s time.

This episode is great for two reasons, in my opinion.  Firstly, we meet the fantastic character of Silver (the wonderful David Collings).  Through him we learn that there are several tiers of agent - investigators (such as S&S) and technicians, such as Silver - as a technician, he can manipulate metal and transform and earing (for example) into a key with his special powers.  For the first time we get some small background on the universe of the series and an idea of the wider organisation that the characters work for.  Secondly, Silver and Sapphire indulge in a fair bit of flirting and it is implied that they have had a relationship.  Suddenly, S&S are no longer merely ciphers who drop in to solve a problem, but real characters with a life beyond the series.

The story behind this episode is that our heroes are called to a tower block to deal with an incursion from the future.  Couples from 1000 years ahead of “now” have been sent back to observe our present and to live as couples do now - a real nuclear family.  However, very quickly things begin to go wrong and S&S must act before things begin to affect the present.  We see much of the story in flashback, however the flashbacks have been cleverly written as if the characters are reacting to things happening in the story’s present.  So when Steel bangs on the outside of the capsule, we see the characters inside the capsule react to banging noises.  When S&S arrive though, these characters are already dead.  The couples are menaced firstly by hallucinations of their meat dishes coming alive and reenacting the horror the animals felt when they were slaughtered.  Then by a breakdown in their communications.  And finally, they are killed.  Their baby is left alive and is aged until it becomes an adult male.  With Silver’s help S&S gain entrance to the capsule and the horror can begin.  It transpires that in the future there is no eating of meat and all animal cruelty has ended, except that most of the technology is based on meat and the animals want their revenge…

As with the majority of the series (and a good number of light entertainment and more serious plays) this was quite a dark story.  Even though only in flashes, the scenes of the animals are very vivid and bloody and we are given a real taste of the horror that has happened.  The performances are, as ever, outstanding - Silver as a suave lounge lizard type character is a wonderful contrast to the dour and serious Steel.  Despite the “rightness” of the creature’s wrath, it still needs to be stopped by our heroes and the time stream restored to it’s correct progression - dead things must stay dead!

The let down, and why it is so well known, is in the character of the artificially aged baby, played with gusto by Russell Wootton.  I mean, just how do babies artificially brought to adult age actually act?  I don’t know and would probably have gone with the same results as Wootton.  The problem for the character is that he has very few lines to say, so everything has to be done through the power of mime and this, really, makes the actor look a little ridiculous.  If you think I’m being unfair, take any piece of TV or theatre and then take away all the spoken parts of one character.  No matter who the actor is or how good they are, they won’t look good.

The “bad parts” are fairly small in comparison to the whole.  The three heroes are as heroic and argumentative as ever, Collings was an extremely good addition to the cast and served to strengthen it.  The flashback sections were very well played, the actors brought out the idea of people out of time extremely well.  The main characters progressed in terms of development and story.  The overall tale fit with the canon and gave us the required sci-fi/paranormal mix.  If this had been produced now, the effects would have been obviously more superior and more could have been done with the baby/man character.

The Full Facts book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland

The Full Facts book of Cold Reading

The Full Facts book of Cold Reading

This is the post I had planned to make before I messed up.  As someone with an interest in the various tricks that psychics, mediums, tarot readers and similar use, Ian Brodie’s suggestion that I read this book was welcome.  Ian Rowland is a very clear and concise writer and clearly has a love for his subject.

This book cannot make you into a cold reader any more than a Haynes manual can turn you into a mechanic.  What it does do is to take the reader through the steps that any cold reader takes, consciously or otherwise, in a way designed to make the client believe that the reader has more knowledge than they really do.  This is the essence of cold reading - as the reader you need to convince your client that you somehow know things that you shouldn’t be able to.  Whether you are posing as an intuitive person, a psychic, an astrologer or a tarot card reader or whatever, cold reading gives you a way to draw information out of your client without their knowledge.

Firstly, the one thing that jumped out at me was that Ian Rowland really does not want a discussion on whether psychics are real or not within the book.  He discusses the methodology and mentions that this is one way that a psychic could operate.  He also makes it clear that he does not know whether their are real psychics out there or not.  This is in line with skeptical thinking - just because he has never met one does not mean that one is not out there.  I was annoyed about this at first and felt that he should express an opinion.  However, I then realised that this book (despite the content) is not the forum for that debate and he has neatly sidestepped it.

The book is broken down into 6 sections: the first section is about the book itself, the section is a long section on the theory of cold reading and the elements of it, the third section is transcripts of real readings that Ian Rowland has carried out, the fourth (importantly) explains how to block a cold reader, the fifth is “additional notes” and the sixth section gives details on real life non-psychic uses for the techniques and uses a police interrogation as an example.   It is difficult to express the wealth of ideas that the author has put into a seemingly short book.  Cold reading is easy to learn but tricky to master - look at a John Edwards reading as an example of poor cold reading!

At no time does Ian Rowland talk down to you, he is an able teacher with an obviously high regard for his subject.  According to the transcripts provided he has an extremely high success rate (higher than that of professional psychics!) but at no time does he use his knowledge to make money dishonestly.  Some of Derren Brown’s early work was taken from the techniques laid out in the book.  Something else which is very important: this book does not hold back.  I have read books that promise to give you knowledge and discovered that they do the opposite.  Ian Rowland’s book does exactly what it says on the tin.  He explains the techniques and methods.  The book alone can only give you the methods, to properly make this work you need experience, some acting ability and a lot of seemingly trivial knowledge.

If you are interested in cold reading, whether academically, to learn to spot and block it or because you are an unscrupulous sort who wants to fake psychic ability you should definitely add this book to your library.

Links

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Because I hold you all in such high regard (*pause, gesture, sincere forehead*) I’m going to come clean about a few things.  Things you need to know about. (*pause, gesture, furrowed brow*).  Some of these things you will have noticed immediately, others you may not have (*look around, meeting everyone’s eye, sincere half-smile*).

My all-knowing dashboard kindly informed me that WordPress 2.7.1 was out and that I had to upgrade.  No problemo, thought I, piece of cake.  The 5 minute install and upgrade instructions are very clear and a complete idiot can follow them and do it all.  Right?  Guys?  Yeah, I got distracted.  Only for a second but it was enough.  I was ssh-ing and moving stuff with panache and then I realised, I had cunningly managed to overwrite the wp-content folder with a fresh one.  This is the folder that contains the theme (and any changes) and all the plugins.  So yeah, I am a true genius.

So there you are, a cautionary tale and all that.  Fortunately, it gave me the opportunity to make a few changes here.  Much of this is in the background, I was able to take out a bunch of plugins that no longer work and update a few others.  I also enabled IntenseDebate and it imported everything very quickly indeed this time - it will only really matter to you if you comment on other blogs that also use it.  SpamKarma2 has been sadly discontinued, so I have gone with the default Akismet.  There are a few other bits of functionality that I’m missing, but I’ll get that sorted.

Finally, and most obviously, you’ll see that I have a smallish (200×200) AdSense ad.  This is not my new money making scheme.  After seeing one of Dominic’s latest posts, I became curious as to what I would see on my own site.  You will, hilariously, see lots of ads for psychics and other snake-oil salesmen.  Here’s the deal, click the ads or don’t - this really is up to you.  I have a day job and everything and it pays well enough that I only need one paying job.  On the other hand, if you do click the ads and go through to these places, you will be making a psychic donate to an openly skeptical site.  As I said, the choice is entirely yours, there are no tip jar or donate buttons here and this was simply to see what comes up.

There may well be other changes and tweaks coming up, but these are the most obvious.

Proper Snow At Last

Finally, after years of waiting, we have had proper snow here! It’s several centimetres deep and makes excellent snowballs. Now, you Canadians and people similarly used to snow may scoff, but a cold and nasty sleet is the best we usually do here in the South East UK. So yah boo sucks to you!

On the downside, I work from home a lot, so I can’t take the day off even if public transport is brought to a grinding halt. So it’s not all good news….

On the other hand, my dog absolutely loves it - he’s never seen proper snow before, which is a pretty poor state to be in for a husky!

What Is Hot Reading?

You enter the theatre to hear what the psychic you have come to see can tell the audience.  You’ve paid your entry fee, milled around excitedly in the lobby beforehand and now the lights are dimming.  The psychic gives you the preamble - negative energies interfere with the spirits, no guarantees that your loved one will come through, the spirit world is very different to our own world - when s/he looks at you and says “I’m getting an older lady, a grandmother, she died after complications during a routine operation.  I’m getting a pain in the muscles of my stomach … I want to say “hernia”, does that sound familiar to you?“  Quite rightly you are amazed - no questions have been asked, you are one face in a hundred.  How on earth could the psychic know this?  Could their powers be real?

We have looked at cold reading and Forer Statements previously, but these are not the only weapons in the psychics arsenal.  Hot Reading is a very effective tool, especially when used alongside cold reading.  In some ways, it is a very obvious con but it uses the selective memory and need for positive reinforcement that we all have.  The likelihood of this is that while you were happily milling around in the lobby of the theatre, you engaged in conversation with a friendly person.  They would have elicited, either directly or indirectly, who you wanted to hear from and what happened to them and they would have recorded it or written it down, known where you were sitting and passed that onto the psychic.  Having a close relative die of something unusual is great (for them) because it’s memorable and not easily guessed at - if they can get that information from the “spirit world” surely they must be real.  Once you are hooked via hot reading, they can switch to cold reading in the safe knowledge that you are on their side and won’t question their methods.

This is used to best effect by faith healers.  In a very well known episode, noted sceptic James Randi put a small team together to work out how famous faith healer Peter Popoff did what he did.  By chance, one of the team happened to tune into the same frequency that was being used by Popoff’s wife to transmit details of the audiences ailments.  You can view the action here on YouTube.  What Popoff did was reprehensible, he took people, many of whom were terminally ill, and he convinced them that he had the power of God flowing through him and with this could diagnose and cure their illnesses.  Many of these people stopped their regular medications and treatments and subsequently died.  When someone asks “What’s the harm in doing these fake sessions?” remind them of Popoff. In the meantime, Popoff and similar fraudsters have moved onto another town or city and never have to be confronted with the harm they have caused.

This is harder to defend against than cold reading as gaining prior knowledge can be done in many ways: they can question you directly, they can ask your friends and family in “normal” conversation or other sessions, they may see inside your home and get an idea of your tastes, likes and dislikes, or if you are famous enough just hit you up on Google.  However, you are now aware of more of the tools of the trade and you should be able to notice when these things are being used against you - particularly if their investigations throws up incorrect information.

Further Reading: