International Skeptics Community

I consider myself to be a rational thinker. Like everyone I have emotional responses to situations and events, but I like to think that when it comes to evaluating what is or isn’t real or true that I’m open to being influenced by evidence and will change my views accordingly. That to me is the heart of “skeptical thinking”, not being negative to new ideas or ideas that challenge my beliefs, but wanting a reason to hold a belief or change a belief other than “because I want to” (or someone else wants me to!). In other words, show me the evidence!

Many years ago I learned about The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). James Randi is a well known magician and personality who challenges people with extraordinary claims to back it up with some evidence. For many years his foundation has offered a million dollar prize to anyone who can show they truly possess some kind of supernatural or paranormal ability, such as psychic powers. No one has yet passed testing, and most “famous psychics” refuse to even consider it, instead attacking the challenge and claiming it is bogus. The JREF is about thinking rationally, thinking skeptically.

As part of their web presence the JREF has hosted a discussion forum which has vigorously discussed everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to bigfoot, to global warming to … well, you name it. Just this week I was asking about hornets! What has impressed me about the forum over the years is that on nearly any topic you’ll often not only find someone who is knowledgeable, but they’re often a world-class expert in it. I once told my wife it was somewhere I liked to visit because I often felt intellectually intimidated, which was good for me!

In the past few months the JREF has decided to narrow their focus and as part of that they decided to divest themselves of responsibility the forum. I have been honoured that they have chosen myself and my company, TribeTech to take over the operations of the forum, and this week we have transferred them to their new home The International Skeptics Forum. While I haven’t yet clarified a future vision, I’m hoping that International Skeptics can become more than just the discussion forum, but instead a global community of people who like to think, and like to have their thinking challenged.

In the meantime, if that describes you, then I invite you over to the International Skeptics Forum!


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Lol! Google helped me save me … again! :)

The last couple of days I’ve been migrating some web services I run from a VPS to a dedicated server. One of the sites I’ve been moving is a friends Wiki. I kept encountering a problem though – I’d copy all the files and the database across and all would appear fine – but the site wouldn’t work. I’d go to the new website and instead of showing me the Wiki it would welcome me to MediaWiki with a page saying I needed to “setup the wiki first” – as if it was a whole new installation! I tried changing the version of PHP it was running to an older one. Didn’t help. I tried upgrading to a new version of the Wiki software – it solved the “setup” problem, but now there were huge problems with the layout caused by changes in the software. Problems that would have taken a long time to fix.

So I did the sensible thing – I googled mediawiki “setup the wiki first”. It brought up a  discussion thread on the MediaWiki website from 2011. Great! I wasn’t the only one with the problem. I scrolled through the discussion to see if I could find a solution. Yup, someone seemed to have solved it –

There’s clearly some problem with line 109 in webstart.php for me -

if( !file_exists( “$IP/LocalSettings.php” ) ) {

Simply disabling this if block allows the wiki to work fine.

Ahhh …. I just managed to google a solution. written by me when doing a mediawiki upgrade 3 years ago! LOL

problem is that IIS requires read access to the parent folder for realpath() to work properly

Funny right? They googled a solution and discovered the answer in a post they’d written themselves! Ha Ha Ha …. uh …. hmmm …. that sounds familiar …. so I click on the link and it takes me to a post on written by a “david.s”. Yup. Me! And a little further down in the thread, after a request from another user, I link to a post I wrote about this problem here on this very blog in 2008 – Migrating to a new IIS7 install from IIS6.

So that’s twice now my past self has helped my future self!

Moral of the story? If you have a problem and you find a solution, make sure you post it to the internet! Not only might you help others, but you could be helping your future self – Pay it forward indeed!

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Google refuses to act on your DMCA takedown notice? Try this.

Last year I submitted a request to Google under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to take down a page on their blogger service that was using a photograph of mine without copyright permission. It was a clear copyright violation – the photo was even of me personally! They refused, stating that I’ll need to get back to them with a court request.

Last week I submitted another DMCA takedown request to Google, this time on behalf of my company TribeTech. A Google blogspot blogger had posted a page that was almost entirely a copy of a page from one of our websites – a clear copyright violation. We got another refusal –


Thanks for reaching out to us.
At this time, Google has decided not to take action. We encourage you to resolve any disputes directly with the individual who posted the content.

If you cannot reach an agreement and choose to pursue legal action against the individual who posted the content, and that action results in a judicial determination that the material is illegal or should be removed, please send us the court order seeking removal. In cases where the the individual who posted the content is anonymous, we may provide you with user information pursuant to a valid third party subpoena or other appropriate legal process against Google Inc.

The Google Team

Now, I have other pages in similar situations so I responded to google asking them for some more information on their policy, so that I don’t waste their (or my) time further submitting the DMCA takedown requests if they’re not going to act. I also pointed out (truthfully) –

I’m aware that this means Google has chosen to forgo its rights under the DMCA “safe harbor” provisions. Given the copyright material in question is involved in several multinational lawsuits involving millions in potential damages I am more than a little surprised by this.

Surprise, surprise less than a day later (on a Sunday no less!) I get this response -


Thanks for reaching out to us.

Once again, in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have completed processing your infringement notice. The following URLs will be removed from Google’s search results shortly:

Apparently Google only follows “do no evil” if it’s going to cost them money! It remains unclear whether the page is going to be removed from only the search engine results or from their blogspot service as well.

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Live stream the world as your screensaver

Want the coolest screensaver imaginable? Try this –

  1. Download and install HTML Screensaver from this link. You want the “Windows Installer (msi) file” at the bottom. Open it and install it
  2. Right click somewhere on your desktop and click “personalize”. HTML Screen Saver should be set as your screen saver
  3. Click “Settings”
  4. Under URL type
  5. Click OK
  6. Press Test

If the screen is black or grey except for a bar at the bottom, just have some patience and wait. Trust me, it’s worth it! More information available here from NASA.

The current livestream view –

Thanks to Johannes Riska for the tip about HTML Screensaver.

ETA: A few people have been wondering if this can be set as a live Desktop Wallpaper. WallpaperWebPage should be able to do it, using the URL above, however it won’t work on Windows 8, which no longer supports active desktop. As I’m using Windows 8 I’ve been unable to test this.

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Romney campaign accepts donations from foreign socialists!

Now, first of all let me get out of the way that this is not an attack on Mitt Romney or his campaign. This is an “attack” on internet pundits and the tendency of people to simply accept and repeat what they read on the internet, if it fits the narrative they want to believe.

Earlier today a friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to this blog post – Obama Campaign Not Using Verification System – which then references a blog post on Powerline, a well known website for supporters of the US Republican party, titled DUBIOUS DONATIONS ILLUSTRATED (ILLEGAL CONTRIBUTOR EDITION).

The posts take the Obama Presidential Campaign to task for not preventing potentially fraudulent “donations” on their website. My friend expressed disbelief and concern that this was true. Despite not being American (nor living in the US) I take an unhealthy interest in US politics and her post tweaked my interest so I read the first post. The post referred to Powerline’s John Hindraker’s successful attempt to donate to the Obama campaign with a fraudulent name and address. One paragraph stood out to me though, indeed one word (my bolding)-

 Trying the same experiment over on the Romney website likely would not work, because the address verification system would determine that there is no “Illegal Contributor” living at the State Penitentiary associated with the credit card.

Likely“? Wouldn’t it be relatively easy to test? So I did. I went to the Romney campaign website and clicked on the donate link. I put in my credit card number, expiry date, and CCV, and donation of $1. I didn’t put in my own name and address in though. Instead I put in –

Name Steve Jobs
Phone 1-800-694-7466
Employer self-employed
Occupation entrepreneur
Address 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino, CA 95014

The Romney campaign response?

Followed by a nice email –

Complete with a receipt –
So the Romney campaign happily accepted my donation, a donation from a foreigner, sitting at a computer in Sweden, using a VISA card from a foreign bank account, and using a fake name and address of a dead person.

What was that about rocks and glass houses?

The whole thing is really a beat-up of false outrage. I’ve worked with ecommerce for many years and am familiar with how the systems work. AVS, address verification systems, work by matching numbers in the address registered with the card to the numbers in the address submitted. They’re to help merchants avoid being defrauded and shipping goods or services to someone using a stolen or otherwise unauthorised credit card. In the case of donations there is no such risk of being defrauded. The card holder can submit a claim to their bank and be refunded, no goods have changed hand, nobody loses out. On the other hand, implementing AVS costs money, money that most political campaigns would rather use for other things. The only real reason for them to implement it is to avoid blog posts like these.

PS I’ve emailed the Romney campaign and advised them of the donation and that they should refund it in order not to fall foul of campaign finance laws.

PPS The email, a reply to their donation email and where they suggest corrections be sent … bounced –

Your message did not reach some or all of the intended recipients.

Sent: Mon, 23 Apr 2012 17:41:28 +0200
Subject: RE: Thank you for donating!

The following recipient(s) could not be reached:
Error Type: SMTP
Remote server ( issued an error.
hMailServer sent: .
Remote server replied: 554 Denied [CS] [] (Mode: normal)

A 554 Denied error likely means their system thought my email reply advising they should give me a refund was considered spam. Sigh.

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Most competitive F1 race in a …

Most competitive F1 race in a long time. Going to be a great year #bbcf1

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testing wordpress to twitter t…

testing wordpress to twitter to wordpress ….

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awaiting friend confirmation …


A few months ago I tracked down an old friend of mine, Daniel Strandberg, on Facebook. I met Daniel when I first moved to Stockholm some years ago. I was single and spending too much time on SprayDate. I don’t quite recall how we connected – I think through some of the girls I chatted to on that site. Daniel and some others were being proactive and organising gettogethers – group meets at the park, that kind of thing. We hit it off well and drank a bit too much at a few too many bars, and after I met Michaela, Daniel and I lost touch. A few emails exchanged here and there, a fika in town. He was a good guy and I enjoyed his company, so after a few other old friends had made contact with me on Facebook, I looked him up , found him – and clicked Add as Friend. A few weeks passed with no reply and I thought no more of it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I saw a status update from a mutual friend – Daniel had drowned on a holiday in Crete. So sad, only 36. His facebook page is still there, regularly updating as his devastated girlfriend posts her favourite photos of him … and haunting me with a forlorn message – Awaiting Friend Confirmation.

How long his profile will stay up I’ve no idea.  Will Facebook decide to delete him for “inactivity”? Will he be forever immortalised, photos never showing him age, as time takes it’s toll on the rest of us? How long will I be Awaiting Friend Confirmation?

The internet continues to change our world and even our manner of thinking in as yet unknowable ways. How will having the legacy of our life forever defined on the web change us? With prospective employers googling us, police catching crims on facebook, and the internet archive storing it all for prosperity, what does the internet say about you, about me, about us? What does a prospective employer or date think if they can’t find you? What will our children and grandchildren think as they read our rants and whines? Will Facebook give them the keys to my account? What will they think of Daniel, forever Awaiting Friend Confirmation.

Maybe by then they’ll know one thing. Google does not know all. Facebook does not know me. Facebook does not know Daniel. He was my friend, and I was his. I need no confirmation.

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Why Obama Won the Nobel Peace Prize

LIFE-US-USA-STATUSLike most people I was shocked when I heard President Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. My first instinct was to ask “for what??!?!?!?”. The more I think about it though, the more I realise how much Obama has done.

Now, remember this is not an American view, it’s the view of an Australian, and a european-based one at that, but think about it – just by getting elected Obama completely changed the direction of the world’s sole superpower. From our perspective (the world, not America’s) the last 8 years has seen the US turn from a force of good in the world into one of, well, not evil, but certainly not good. It was a country that was using and endorsing torture. It was a country that was supporting imprisonment without right to a trial. It was a country that had invaded a country under false pretenses and re-ignited the cold war with Russia. It was a country that was attempting to “lead” not through leadership, but fear.

All of that has now changed. America is once again the most admired country in the world. Instead of picking fights, the world’s sole superpower is now working to prevent fights.

How could you contribute more to world peace than that?

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How to turn a Fan into a Foe

I’m developing a health & fitness/wellness website using Joomla and I wanted individual users to have a personal calendar where they could record their training appointments etc etc. While there’s a variety of “event calendars” available, they’re all focused on providing the website owner with the ability to promote “events” and have members register their attendance. I simply wanted calendar functionality. After searching around I finally found JCal Pro. While it was still an event focused calendar it was advertised as offering private calendars. So I handed over my $29 and installed the component.

My initial impression was I liked the component and it was better looking and laid out than the competitors, I was a fan. However, when I tried adding events, there was no option for them to be “private” unless I was logged in as a site administrator. All events added by regular users were public and required approval by an administrator. I went through the instructions multiple times and still couldn’t get it working.

So on September 20 I posted a message on the JCal support forums requesting help. After a day or so I got a response from the developers, Anything Digital, that they were looking in to it and then a follow up saying they’ve confirmed it was a bug and I could expect a fix in 24-48 hrs. So far so good, bugs happen, I can accept that, I was still a fan. But then things started to go downhill …

I waited 48hrs for the fix … nothing. So I posted a “bump” reminder message on the forums to get an update.

I waited another 48hrs … still nothing. No communication at all. I posted another message on their forums asking for a response and letting them know I was starting to think about asking for a refund and that so far I’d have little option to write a not very positive review on the Joomla Extensions catalogue.

I waited another 48hrs … still nothing. So I posted again, requesting a refund. Their official policy says “no refunds”, but I pointed out that a credit card chargeback would cost them more than a refund, so they may want to reconsider, and that continuing to advertise it as offering “private calendars” was false advertising. On September 28 I also wrote a review on describing my experience.

Another 24hrs went by and finally a response – more than a week after I was told I could expect a fix within 24-48 hrs. I was told that the fix was with beta testers and they also issued me with a refund and closed my account with them. September 29.

This was more than a little confusing. What I wanted was private calendars. I only asked for a refund after it seemed apparent they couldn’t provide them anytime soon and had poor support. If they had a fix and it would soon be available, I was more than willing to wait – all they had to do was tell me what was going on!

I was annoyed, but left it at that until today. Why? Well, yesterday my review on Joomla Extensions had now been approved by the site admins and was posted along with a response by Anything Digital claiming the issue was resolved with a link back to the forums (update: the review has mysteriously been removed). I thought, great, I still don’t have a solution maybe I’ll buy it again! So I went to the forums and got this response –

Sorry david_steadson, you are banned from using this forum!
Gave a bad JED review even though we refunded his money

This was completely false! I gave the bad review only after I’d waited a week for a response, and a day before I was issued the refund. Furthermore, when I went to the forums without logging in, there was nothing new in the thread except the acknowledgment it had been sent to testing. After looking around the site some more I found something even more irritating … they have indeed finally publicly issued the fix!

I still need a private calendar solution. What do I do? Give them the money again despite the bad experience with their support, including being outright dishonest in the statement above? Right now I don’t know what I should do. Their software is licenced under GPL which means anyone who has it is free to share it around, so I could just wait until somebody does that, but it could be weeks or months.

I like the software. I want to use it. I would have been a fan and written positively about them, but instead because of their lack of communication they’ve turned me into a foe, with a post like this on the internet for googlers to find for years to come.

UPDATE 2010-01-01: I now have the latest version of JCalPro version and the Private Calendars functional still does not work, with users additions requiring administrator approval even for their own private activities.

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