Monday, 31 May 2010

The Ghost Hunter

The final part of the Derren Brown Investigates trilogy is on tonight (Channel 4, 10pm). This time the focus is on a ghosthunter called Lou Gentile. My guess is that on this occasion our man will indeed be convinced that something paranormal is going on. Not.

There doesn't seem to be a trailer as such available for tonight's show, but there is some 'exclusive footage' from the show on our old friend YouTube:

It's a toss up between whether we watch DBI or the final episode of Flashforward, which is on Five at the same time. Luckily I imagine both will be available to watch on the web (or on Channel 4+1 for DBI) so we won't miss out either way!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Lost but not forgotten

So this week saw the end of Lost, one of the most ambitious and complex drama series ever. It spanned six seasons over six years and kept fans glued to the screen right up the final moments.

Many a fan will have quickly turned to the internet to help them make sense of what they had just watched, as well as help them to interpret and re-interpret everything they had seen from Season One onwards! There aren't many TV shows that integrate such diverse topics as destiny, time-travel, faith, philosophy, love, and what happens after we die into a compelling drama.

But, of course, many questions were left unanswered, such as: So what exactly was the island? Why could it move in space and time? What was the smoke monster? Who was Jacob's "mother"? Why did the island need protecting? Etc., etc. If you're a fan of the show you'll know what I'm talking about, if you're not (and shame on you) you won't have a clue or, indeed, give a toss.

The web is abound with discussions and speculation over what it was all about, including its very own Lostpedia. As I browse through a few reviews of the finale and the discussions that follow, it is interesting to notice that those people who seem to be least satisfied with how it ended are those who don't seem to 'get it'. Those that have a better handle on what was going on seem quite happy with how it was brought to a close, despite the many unanswered questions.

It seems there is likely to be a final 'epilogue' to be included in the DVD boxed set that focuses on what happens to Hurley and Ben after they take over as the new protectors of the island. But other than that, that's your lot.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Future is Google

Or rather the future of TV is Google TV:

Speaking of Google, if you happened to try Googling something today or yesterday you would have discovered that it is the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, and a click on the Google logo would have got you a free game!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A very funny man

I have mentioned in passing before that I have long been a fan of Bill Hicks. He died back in 1994 but he continues to be as popular now as when he was alive. Indeed, last week saw the release of a new biopic about him, called American: The Bill Hicks Story. It includes stories from those who knew him, interspersed with archive footage of his performances. Looks good.

Sure you can watch the clips of Bill on YouTube but going to see this movie at the cinema is going to be the closest you're ever likely to get to seeing the guy live on stage. And then some.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Derren 'n' Vyacheslav

It turns out it was Men with X-Ray Eyes (as opposed to the singular Man). Although it didn't appear as though anyone had X-Ray eyes. The focus of last night's Derren Brown Investigates was the Bronnikov Method, pioneered by a chap called Vyacheslav Bronnikov.

Among the claims made by Bronnikov is that his 'method' can help people see through blindfolds and can even help blind people to see (including those who don't have eyes!). And level 1 of the course costs only 700 Euros. All very intriguing, and all very dodgy-sounding.

The confrontation between Derren 'n' Vyacheslav ended with our man requesting that Mr Bronnikov tell him what was inside a sealed box, something that should be straightforward for a man with X-Ray eyes. Bronnikov declined. Which left us wondering what was inside the box!

My guess is that it was a small yellow plastic duck... on a chain.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Man With X-Ray Eyes

The second of three documentaries in the Derren Brown Investigates series is broadcast tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm. I wonder if the man in the title will be watching...?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A very significant buttock

We all use psychological 'short cuts' from time to time in order to make sense of the world around us. These short cuts can affect the way we behave and interact with other people. For example, we often rely on stereotypes to to make judgements about other people. These are usually simplistic over-generalisations about members of certain groups.

You might think that suppressing our stereotypes might prevent them from influencing our behaviour. Not so. In a study by psychologists back in the 1990s, participants were shown a picture of a ‘skinhead’ and were asked to spend five minutes writing about a typical day in this man’s life. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In the first condition (the control condition) they were simply allowed to write their account with no further instruction. However, in the second, experimental, condition participants were instructed to try to not allow any stereotypical preconceptions they might have to influence their account. That is, they were asked to suppress any stereotypical thoughts.

Not surprisingly, the accounts of the man’s day produced by the control group tended to be more ‘stereotypical’ in content than the accounts produced by the participants who had been asked to suppress their stereotypes. But this wasn’t what the researchers were really interested in…

After the participants had completed their task they were taken into another room to meet the man in the photograph. When they got there, the man had apparently nipped out to go to the toilet, and had left his denim jacket and bag on the end chair of a row of eight chairs. So, the experimenter asked the participant to sit and wait in one of the remaining chairs. The researchers were interested in which chair each participant chose to sit in. And guess what, they found a difference between the two conditions. The people who had been instructed to suppress any stereotypical thoughts tended, on average, to sit almost one chair further away from the man’s chair at the end of the row than did the people who had not been asked to suppress such thoughts!

Macrae, C. N., Bodenhausen, G. V., Milne, A. B. & Jetten, J. (1994). Out of mind but back in sight: Stereotypes on the rebound. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 808–817.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Great face for radio

Off the back of the Derren 'n' Joe show on Monday, I was asked to take part in a local BBC radio show this morning to discuss whether psychics are real or fake...

You can listen along by clicking here (it's in the first hour). I even have an impromptu go at a bit of psychometry... with interesting results!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Derren 'n' Joe

Last night's opening documentary as part of Derren Brown's new series, Derren Brown Investigates featured 'psychic medium' Joe Power, described as 'The Man Who Sees Dead People' (which just so happens to also be the title of Joe's book). One of Joe's claims includes contacting the spirit of John Lennon.

The premise of the programme was that Derren would spend five days with Joe to discover if he really does see dead people, or whether his abilities might be better explained in some other way.

None too surprisingly, Derren suspected that the latter was more likely: A combination of cold reading, warm reading, and a little bit of hot reading thrown in for good measure. Of course, Joe protested, and even accused Derren of... well, I'm not sure what he was accusing him of.

From the moment Derren entered Joe's rather humble looking flat and described it as 'gorgeous', you knew they weren't going to get on. And I suspect that Derren had already made up his mind as to Joe's authenticity. In the end, Joe came across as either deluded in his belief he could contact the dead or an outright fraud. Or a combination of the two.

The most (only?) impressive reading came when Joe seemed to give fairly accurate information to a woman as part of a one-to-one reading in her own house. Even DB seemed intrigued. It only emerged some weeks after filming that she was actually the next door neighbour of Joe's sister! What are the odds...

Update: The programme is now available at 4OD here. Oh, and we have a new Prime Minister.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Stay hungry. Stay foolish

I love it when you're searching the web for one thing and it brings you in to contact with stuff you weren't looking for. When I retrieved the James Randi talk at TED the other day, I came across another talk by Steve Jobs.

As if you didn't know, Mr Jobs is the head honcho, number one, top dog, big cheese at Apple. Below is the address he gave at the commencement ceremony at Stanford University back in 2005. 'Tis well worth a quarter of an hour of your time.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Stay lucky

Well, whaddya know... it turns out that keeping your fingers crossed does help after all!

A study to be published in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science reveals that 'activating a superstition' by for example, saying "keep your fingers crossed" can have a real effect and enhance subsequent task performance.

The German researchers had female university students engage in a 'motor dexterity task', which involved getting 36 small balls into 36 small holes by tilting a perspex cube backwards and forwards (you know the kind of thing... those infuriating little puzzles that require a delicate hand!). The students were separated into three conditions. In one condition, just as they were about to start the task, the researcher said the German equivalent of "I keep my fingers crossed!" (which in fact is apparently "I press the thumbs for you!"... but in German). The other two conditions were control conditions. The students in the experimental condition went on to complete the task significantly faster than those in either of the control conditions!

Damisch, L., Stoberock, B. & Mussweiler, T. (in press). Keep your fingers crossed! How superstition improves performance. Psychological Science.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

James Randi at TED

After yesterday's brief stray into politics (don't know what happened there...), back to the important matter at hand. Below is another clip of my soon-to-be-nemesis, Mr Randi. This was filmed at TED back in 2007, but was only posted online a little over a week ago.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Who should I vote for?

With Election day looming, I thought I might actually start to pay some interest in the soon-to-be-changing political landscape. Up until 'Bigotgate' last week I was doing a fairly good job of ignoring the whole thing, but now even I am starting to pay attention.

Due to our move south, we may not get our polling cards in time, but if they do arrive before Thursday I might just get my arse (not ass) out and vote. Question is, who should I vote for? Luckily for the apolitical-minded like me there are websites like All you need to do is indicate whether you agree or disagree with a handful of policy-related statements to see which of the political parties you side with. As you can see from my results below, it would seem I'll be voting for the Green Party (which kinda surprised me...!).

Take the Who Should You Vote For? England quiz


Liberal Democrat

UK Independence-6



Your recommendation: Green

So who will you vote for?

Update: Nice article in today's Independent about the media's response to Bigotgate, written by Armando Ianucci (the man behind The Thick of It).

Monday, 3 May 2010

Derren Brown Investigates

Been looking forward to these documentaries since the beginning of last year when I knew they were being made. The first one is to be shown on Channel 4 on May 10th.

One of the subjects under investigation is medium Joe Power. A little over a year ago, when putting these documentaries together, the producers of the show had hoped to conduct a controlled test of Joe's alleged abilities. The testing was to take place at the Psychology Department at Liverpool Hope University, so I was looking forward to meeting both Derren and Joe. Alas, it was not to be... after days of working out the logistics of the testing arrangements, Joe pulled out the night before the testing was due to be done.

Perhaps he would have been more motivated to take part if there had been a million dollars on offer?