Cork Skeptics

Promoting Reason, Science & Critical Thinking in Cork City & Beyond


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Skeptics in the Skype

Hayley, Ash, Patrick, Colm and a strange bespectacled guest

We tried something very different for our meeting on the 21st of October. Instead of inviting along a guest speaker to be present on the night, we had a video conference over Skype with skeptics in Edinburgh and Victoria, Canada.

The meeting went very well. Hayley Stephens and Ash Pryce regaled us with stories about alleged ghost hauntings in the UK – how they came about, how improbable they were and the reasons they were nothing more than either deliberate hoaxes, pareidolia, or mistakes made by people who desperately wanted to believe in ghosts. Hayley’s story of the landlord that she caught pretending his house was haunted was hilarious. Ash also spoke of investigations into the Tantallon Castleghost pictures“, which subsequently turned out to be easily explainable.

The Tantallon Castle ghost picture

The Tantallon "ghost"

On the subject of speaking to the dead, Hayley has recently set up Project Barnum to raise awareness of the tricks employed by so-called psychics to convince people of their paranormal abilities.

We also had Patrick Fisher, president of the YYJ Skeptics Club in Victoria, Canada on the line. Patrick spoke about Sasquatch and some of the alleged monsters of the Pacific coast, and how stories of these creatures were either fabrications or mistaken identities.

There was a lot of audience engagement and a lively “what’s the harm” discussion ensued, involving all the speakers on the night.

All three speakers were very entertaining and it was great having them involved on the night. I want to thank all of them for their involvement. It was superb. It’s an event we will try again in the near future.

A note on video-conferencing

We used Skype Premium as the teleconferencing software. The free Skype software does not permit multiple members to be involved in a call at the same time. We also tested Google Plus Hangout, which would have been a cheaper option. Unfortunately, we had a lot of problems with audio, so we abandoned it this time. The Google Hangout service is still very new, so I expect it will improve over time. With Skype Premium, it is only necessary for one person needs to buy the package subscription – free users can then piggyback off this.

Video conferencing needs a lot of advance preparation. While it’s not that complicated to set up a conference, a lot of things can go wrong on the night. Headsets and microphones need to be tested, and the software needs to be trialled in advance to ensure that the bandwidth is sufficient to channel good quality audio and video. We had a number of advance meetings, one in the Blackrock Castle venue itself, to ensure everything was working fine.

You also need to ensure you have some backup options, should the video-conference or the Internet fail on the night. I would recommend downloading a few entertaining videos in advance, or having a few stories to talk about, just in case.

It’s also worthwhile arriving at the venue very early on the night, again to test the sound and the video and to go through any last minute checks.

In the end, video conferencing is definitely an option for clubs who either have a gap in their schedule or are looking to do something different with their meetings.

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