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Skepticamp Ottawa 2014

This May 4th, join the Ottawa Skeptics for our fourth open conference event, Skepticamp Ottawa 2014.

Skepticamp

Skepticamps, modeled on the BarCamp approach of non-curated, user-driven content and participation, are entertaining, educational and informative events in a relaxed environment. The overall theme is science, skepticism and critical thinking. This year we are once again at the Shopify Lounge, right in the heart of downtown Ottawa. Come along to listen to some great talks, ask questions, and meet interesting people.

We have a full day of fascinating talks from 16 speakers, including three excellent keynotes: Katie Gibbs, co-founder of Evidence for Democracy; Michael Kruse, Chair of Bad Science Watch; and Jim Davies, Director of the Science of the Imagination Laboratory at Carleton University.

Talk synopses and speaker bios are available here, and here’s the full schedule.

Everyone’s welcome. To give us an idea of attendance please RSVP at meetup or on Facebook and check out the logistics page for more information. If you can’t make the full day, feel free to just drop in for the talks you want to see. We look forward to seeing you there! 

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Darren Mckee, Skepticamp Ottawa 2013

02. April 2014 by Chris
Categories: Meetings | Leave a comment

Skepticamp Ottawa 2014 – Logistics

Skepticamp

When:

Sunday May 4th, 2014

 Doors open 0930

Talks begin at 1000 (full schedule here)

Lunch break from 1230 – 1330

Ends at 1730

Post-Skepticamp trip to a pub: details to be arranged on the day

 Where:

The Shopify Lounge

 

Access is through the carpark behind the building, at the Unicorn Door entrance. Look out for the Skepticamp signage.

How:

Skepticamp Ottawa 2014 is a relaxed and informal event. Feel free to come in and out for the talks that interest you – we’ll be there all day!

We’ll provide snacks and coffee, but for lunch we recommend checking out the market. There are many restaurants and eateries located very near to the Shopify Lounge. 

Costs: Skepticamp Ottawa 2014 is a free event, but we will do have some expenses to cover. A suggested donation of 5 dollars will help (if you can afford it).

Seating and space: A former nightclub, the Lounge is not short of space. Seating, however, may be limited. We don’t want to limit RSVPs so be aware that for some talks it may be standing room only, soapbox-style. If you need a seat for any reason, please let the organisers know and we’ll do what we can to accomodate you. 

Conduct guidelines / safe(r) spaces: 

The Ottawa Skeptics run open and friendly events. Please help us to keep it that way!

The Ottawa Skeptics want to ensure that anyone attending our events is able to participate in them fully, and we are committed to providing a safe and hospitable environment for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact an organizer and we will work with you to resolve the issue.

The organizers reserve the right to remove anyone from an event if they deem their actions to be disruptive to the event and/or its participants.

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Contact us using this link, or speak to an organiser in person at any of our events.

05. April 2014 by Chris
Categories: Meetings | Leave a comment

Skepticamp Ottawa 2014: Schedule

Skepticamp

1000 1005 Marlowe: Welcome to Skepticamp
1005 1040 Jim Davies: The Beauty of Bad Ideas
1040 1100 Alex Demarsh: Near/Far: An introduction to construal level theory
1100 1120 Kyla Cullain: Immunization: Biggest Conspiracy in the World or Excellent Science?
1120 1130 Break
1130 1135 Maxine Compean: Aesthetic Language of the Mexican Baroque
1135 1155 Kirsten Brouse: Why co-ops make good capitalism
1155 1230 Katie Gibbs: No Science, No Evidence, No Truth, No Democracy
1230 1330 Lunch break
1330 1350 M Farkas-Dyck: Food and Alternatives
1350 1410 Krista Thomas: 5 Myths about GMOs
1410 1430 Clifford Beninger: Why the 12-step Disease Concept of Addiction Must be Abandoned
1430 1505 Michael Kruse: Science Advocacy on the Fringe
1505 1520 Break
1520 1540 Nicholas Robinson: Do you understand F=ma?
1540 1600 Danielle Quigley: Why is scientific inquiry important to bullying prevention and intervention programs?
1600 1620 Darren McKee: Myths of Foreign Aid
1620 1630 Break
1630 1650 Josh Bowie: Free Will
1650 1710 Able Varghese: Engineering and Tech. Entreprenurship
1710 1730 Julian Janes: Cold reading: train to be a charlatan in 15 minutes or less

 

05. April 2014 by Chris
Categories: Meetings, Upcoming Meetings | Tags: | Leave a comment

Skepticamp Ottawa 2014: Speakers and talks

Skepticamp

Kyla Cullain. Immunization: Biggest Conspiracy in the World or Excellent Science?

Synopsis: What has shaped vaccine hesitancy and resistance in developed countries and the resurgence of disease (victims of our own success). Common myths around vaccines -the era of accessible misinformation.

Bio: Kyla Cullain is a Registered Nurse with a background in Communicable Diseases, Outbreak Management and Vaccine Preventable Diseases (VPD). Having witnessed the devastating effects VPDs have had locally and globally, Kyla is passionate about shedding the veil of misinformation propagated by the anti-vaccination movement. She is currently completing her Master of Nursing with a focus on community development and organizational leadership.

Josh Bowie. Free Will.

Synopsis: The evidence for the concepts of free will and determinism, and the problems with the former, and the societal/ethical implications of the findings.

Bio: Josh Bowie is a Masters student at Carleton University in Cognitive Sciencewith an undergrad in Neuroscience and a Masters in Public Policy and Administration.  I work full time at Industry Canada in the area of science policy.

Krista Thomas. 5 Myths about GMOs.

Synopsis: TBD

Bio: Krista has an M.Sc. in biotechnology from the University of Guelph. For a number of years she worked as a biotechnology regulator with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, overseeing programs for the environmental release of genetically modified crops in Canada.

Nicholas Robinson. Do you understand F=ma?

Synopsis: Scientific education and literacy.

Bio: High-school student (grade 12) in Ottawa. Hoping to study physics.

Alex Demarsh. Near/Far: An introduction to construal level theory.

Synopsis: An overview of CLT, with examples and applications.

Bio: Epidemiologist by day, psychological dumpster diver by night. Sometimes I rant. 

M Farkas-Dyck. Food and Alternatives.

Synopsis: Much common counsel on food is scientifically unsound, for examples, that grains are healthy foods or that salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol cause cardiovascular disease. In this talk, I shall evaluate such claims with evolutionary rationale and empirical data.

Bio: A space systems design engineering student and an amateur computer programmer and theoretical physicist.

Able Varghese. Engineering and Tech. Entrepreneurship.

Synopsis: Engineering and Tech. Entrepreneurship.  1.) How closely related are they? 2.) What makes an entrepreneurial person feel limited? is he really limited in some way? 3.) How big of an influence and change you can create in the society using your entrepreneurial skills?

Bio: Mechanical Engineering student at Carleton. Have completed or been part of almost 20 engineering projects. Won city and provincial recognitions for many of them, including some NASA hosted project competitions. Have run & carried out Executive roles in many Organizations/Clubs. A budding entrepreneur and business enthusiast. Find more:- http://ca.linkedin.com/in/ablevarghese

Michael Kruse. Science Advocacy on the Fringe.

Synopsis: Science is only one aspect of any public policy decision, but it is being increasingly ignored in favour of straight-out ideology or relativistic games. Bad Science Watch is fighting to keep science in the picture in areas like public health and social welfare and we need to inspire the current and next generation of science-literate citizens to get involved in the fight.  This talk will go over some of our projects and their results since our inception in 2011.

Bio: Michael is an advanced-care paramedic in York Region, just north of Toronto, Ontario.  He has been active in the science advocacy community for 5 years and is currently the chair of the board at Bad Science Watch, a non-profit group promoting good science in public policy.  Michael blogs at Huffingtonpost.ca and Skepticnorth.com and is committed to a compassionate defense of science for the betterment of all Canadians.

Darren McKee. Myths of Foreign Aid.

Synopsis: TBD

Bio: Darren McKee is the host of the Canadian skeptical podcast The Reality Check and has given presentations at three previous Skepticamps.

Kirsten Brouse. Why co-ops make good capitalism.

Synopsis:

Bio: A consultant, student, community volunteer.

Katie Gibbs. No Science, No Evidence, No Truth, No Democracy

Synopsis: There have been drastic changes to science in Canada in recent years.  These changes have happened in three distinct ways: reduction in the ability of government scientists to communicate their research to the public, the erosion of our science capacity, and a reduction in the role of evidence in policy decisions. The impacts of these changes go far beyond science. Science and evidence are essential elements for a functioning democracy. These concerns have led to a more vocal scientific community as well as the formation of Evidence for Democracy – a new science-led, national, non-partisan, non-profit organization advocating for science and evidence-based policies in Canada.

Bio: Katie Gibbs is a scientist, communicator, and organizer who is passionate about the intersection of science and policy. After finishing a PhD at the University of Ottawa in Biology she co-founded Evidence for Democracy—a new organization that advocates for the use of evidence in government decision making and public policy development.

Danielle Quigley.  Why is scientific inquiry important to bullying prevention and intervention programs?

Synopsis: Hundreds of bullying prevention and intervention programs exist and educators, mentors, and youth leaders are left to their own devices to choose a program they think will be effective. The best predictor of whether a program will be chosen isn’t whether the program works, it’s whether it’s been recommended by a friend or colleague. When the majority of programs make little to no difference, and 15% of them actually make things worse for the children and youth they’re supposed help, wouldn’t it be better if evidence-based programs were easily accessible to the adults children and youth rely on?

Bio:I am a post-doctoral fellow with the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (Queen’s and York Universities). I did my graduate work at Carleton University and studied motivations for social aggression (gossip, exclusion, rumour spreading, etc.) among youth and young adults.

Jim Davies. The Beauty of Bad Ideas.

Synopsis: Based on his forthcoming book “Riveted,” Jim Davies presents a new explanation of why people can find bad ideas compelling. In his theory, people believe in paranormal and religious ideas for many of the same reasons they appreciate art. In this talk, he will present the compellingness foundations theory, and describe how bad ideas that spread are specifically well-suited to fit human minds.

Bio: Jim Davies is an associate professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University. Director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory, he explores processes of visualization in humans and machines and specializes in artificial intelligence, analogy, problem-solving, and the psychology of art, religion, and creativity. His work has shown how people use visual thinking to solve problems, and how they visualize imagined situations and worlds.

Maxine Compean. Aesthetic Language of the Mexican Baroque.

Synopsis: Art History has neglected the inclusion of Mexican artists of the early modern era in history books. I argue that these artists should be recognized since they created a language of cultural construction through their style. Although their creations permeate through history, their names are not recognized and their style often confused with the Spanish Baroque. This is problematic because Mexican Baroque has unique characteristics that correspond to Indigenous, Mestizo and Criollo identities, not Spanish.

Bio: I am an M.A. Art History candidate at Carleton University. My research interests are in art in the early modern era, themes of cross-cultural influence and transnationalism during this time. During my spare time I like to snowboard, wakeboard, wake surf, surf and make my own swimwear.

Clifford Beninger. Why the 12-step Disease Concept of Addiction Must be Abandoned.

Synopsis: The “Disease Theory of Addiction” as propounded by 12-Step  (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous etc.) organizations and institutions is so seriously flawed that in order to progress further in the understanding and treatment of addiction it needs to be abandoned and a new paradigm adopted.

Bio: Clifford W. Beninger B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D. in Biology. Research areas entomology, chemical ecology, ecology. Author and editor. Chair of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) Ottawa.

 

05. April 2014 by Chris
Categories: Meetings | Leave a comment

Friday 13th: Ottawa Skeptics in the news

The Ottawa Skeptics’ Darren McKee, host of the Reality Check podcast, talked to Centretown News about Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.

Check out the story here.

14. December 2013 by Chris
Categories: Local News, Local Research | Leave a comment

Radio: The Ottawa Skeptics on Ron Corbett Unscripted

Our very own Darren McKee, long time Ottawa Skeptics member and host of The Reality Check podcast, appeared on CFRA News Talk Radio for a special Halloween episode of Ron Corbett Unscripted to participate in a debate about ghosts, spirits and the paranormal.

Download an mp3 of the interview here.

 

03. November 2013 by Chris
Categories: Local Research, Organization, The Reality Check - Podcast | Leave a comment

Skeptically Scary Pub Quiz – bring your 3-D glasses!

Ghosts and ghouls and physics’ own rules, cultures, vultures, and sepultures! Sorry, no special appearance by WoodyFrankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff) Tobias Jr., but questions still to puzzle your puzzlers as you giggle and guzzle. Oh, and there will be a few sports-related questions.

When: Thursday October 24th, 7pm

Where: Royal Oak, 161 Laurier Avenue East

RSVP at meetup.com

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Compete for prizes or kudos in this British-style pub quiz. If you don’t have a team already, don’t worry; most people don’t. Just join up with other folks after you arrive. Nobody will be without a team.

First time at the Ottawa Skeptics? Never been to an event before? This is a great way to meet and mingle, so come on out!

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The Ottawa Skeptics meetup group runs open and friendly events. To help us keep it that way, please read our conduct guidelines.

19. October 2013 by Chris
Categories: Meetings, Upcoming Meetings | Tags: | Leave a comment

In This Town, We Still Obey The Laws Of Thermodynamics

It has been five years since we posted the report on the Perepiteia Generator, a device that inventor Thane Heins, is careful not to call a perpetual motion machine (except that it would be if it worked as described, but it doesn’t, which means he’s accidentally telling the truth). Since then, the original article has gathered a couple of comments which perhaps deserve a reply. Also, we’ve been on Heins’s mailing list ever since, meaning that at intervals we receive a blast of self-promotion from him, usually accompanied by documents purporting to show positive results for his experiments, and — fascinatingly — email exchanges he has had with other people, which Heins apparently interprets as endorsements (I think — sometimes it’s difficult to discern the purported significance of the attachments). In addition, in 2010 Seanna and I were interviewed for a CBC documentary series on maverick inventors (or if you prefer: crackpots), which is the first (and likely only ever) time we have been interviewed on the same radio program as Steve Novella. All of which culminated in a presentation to Ottawa Skeptics this last spring.

So, What’s Up With Thane Heins?

Some good stuff, some not so good (ie. for Thane Heins). On the one hand, he now claims a partnership with e-bike maker HERO, and is working on integrating his Perepiteia device (re-branded as ReGenX, and with a shiny new theory about how it works) into an e-bike.  On the other hand, in 2010 the University of Ottawa evicted Heins from their lab space, and based on the videos at his Youtube channel, it looks like he’s back to working out of his basement.  As a side-line, Heins has also discovered chemtrails in the sky over Ottawa and environs. Yes, those chemtrails.

Well, does it work, or what?

Heins’ claims regarding his invention are a bit roundabout. For example, from a 2011 press release:

An independent test of a Heins’ innovation conducted at the University of Ottawa required just forty percent (40%) of normal energy input to double generator output (200%).

Note what it doesn’t say: that Perepiteia produces more power than it consumes; only that it is possible to increase the output power of his device while decreasing the input power. That in itself may sound great until you realize that it is satisfied by, for example (using numbers that are made up — but typical of his reported results): a machine that produces 1 watt of output power with 100 watts of input, but under different conditions, produces 2 watts of output while consuming 40 watts. In other words, the claim, while sounding impressive, tells us nothing about whether Heins’ invention represents fundamentally new physics, or even a useful improvement in generator efficiency (an increase of efficiency from a mere 1% to a only-slightly-less-mere 5% is….distinctly unimpressive).

By the way: the headline on that press release? About the “”patented energy breakthrough””? While a search of Canadian, American and international patent databases turns up several patent applications from Thane Heins (for ReGenX and other inventions), none have ever been issued, and in fact, all are now expired. As far as I can determine, Heins has no granted patents to his name.

I don’t know which set of results Heins bases the above claim on, but here is a typical set of results, extracted from one of his emails:

Motor Input
(watts)
Load Power
(watts)
Motor Speed
(RPM)
No Load 129 0 3440
100 Ohm Load 121 2.13 3455

The first line of the table, labelled “”No Load”” represents the case where nothing is connected to the generator output. In this condition, the entire 129 watts input to the motor is going to losses in the wiring, in the magnetic cores, in bearing friction. The second line of the table represents the case where he has connected a 100 ohm load resistor across the output. Now getting 2.13 watts out is not very impressive, but the interesting part here is that the motor input power, while still much larger than the output, has dropped by 8 watts! Moreover, the shaft speed has increased from 3440 RPM to 3455 RPM — also counter-intuitive, as one would normally expect a generator to slow down under load.

This is the core of Heins’ claims about “”regenerative acceleration”” — that an electric vehicle equipped with a ReGenX device can recharge its batteries while accelerating. He uses the term “”regenerative acceleration” in contrast to the regenerative braking performed by hybrid and electric vehicles, in which the electric motor is run as a generator, converting some of the kinetic energy from the wheels back into electricity. Heins claims he can also perform that trick while the vehicle is speeding up.

Is it  free energy?

Well, Heins thinks it is. His reasoning goes: the no-load test tells us the system losses. So if the input power drops under load, we also get some output power, the difference must be coming from….wherever it is that free energy comes from. In this case, we’re getting:

129-121+2.13=10.13 watts of free energy

Using 121 watts to create 10 watts of free energy is obviously not going to solve any energy crisis — the overall efficiency of the ReGenX is still less than 2%, where conventional generators are typically 90% efficient. But to be making any free energy at all would be remarkable — if this represents proof-of-concept, then surely all we have to do is tinker with things, scale it up a bit, and we can achieve over 100% efficiency, right?

But note the assumption Heins is making: that system losses under load are the same as no-load losses. There is no reason to accept this, and good reason to reject it. To understand why this is, it’s necessary to take a close look at what’s going on in the ReGenX, and to do that, we need to understand a little basic generator theory.

Generator Theory 101

The diagrams below represent a generator coil such as is found in the ReGenX: a length of wire wound around a core made of some iron alloy, with the ends brought out to the load (represented here by a light bulb), with a moving magnet passing by the end of the core. Let’s consider in detail what happens as the magnet approaches, passes, and recedes from the core. In the following discussion, keep in mind we’re considering the ideal case — the kind of thing presented in an introductory course.

First, you need to know two basic rules about electromagnetism:

  1. Electricity makes magnetism.
  2. (Changing) magnetism makes electricity.

As the magnet is approaching (see Diagram #1), its field begins to enter the iron core (red arrow), ie. the magnetic flux in the core starts increasing. The increasing magnetic flux induces a voltage in the coil (see Rule #2), causing current to flow through the load. However, the flowing current induces its own magnetic field (see Rule #1) in the core (blue arrow). According to Lenz’s Law, the induced field will oppose the increase in the applied field, ie. it will point in the opposite direction. This means that it repels the approaching magnet.

NewSkepticsPost-Diagram1

Diagram #1

In Diagram #2 the magnet has passed and is now receding from the core. As it does so, the magnet’s field in the core will be decreasing, which again induces a voltage in the coil, only now in the opposite direction. Since the coil current now flows in the opposite direction, the induced field also points in the opposite direction (again, this is in agreement with Lenz’s Law, according to which the induced field will now try to maintain the field in the core). This means that it attracts the receding magnet.

NewSkepticsPost-Diagram2

Diagram #2

The alternating repulsion and attraction, always opposing the motion of the magnet, puts mechanical resistance on the motor that is driving the magnet, thus slowing down its rotation, and causing it to draw more power from the supply. This is the normal, expected behaviour. Note that Lenz’s Law figures prominently in the physics of the situation — in fact, it’s easy to show that Lenz’s Law is equivalent to conservation of energy for magnetic devices. If you can fool Mr. Lenz, you have a free energy device. Thane Heins knows this, which is why he claims to have “partially” overcome Lenz’s Law, and why he makes much of the generator speed-up observed in his experiments. In fact, he claims that his ReGenX machine reverses the alternating repulsive-attractive behaviour of the interaction between the magnet and the core.

The Core of the Matter

The discussion in previous section assumes ideal behaviour. Among the effects neglected is core loss due to hysteresis and eddy currents. Hysteresis is the tendency of the core to retain the applied magnetic field after the field is removed (in other words: to become a permanent magnet) and is a characteristic of the core material. Eddy currents are electrical currents induced in the metal body of the core, rather than in the coil. Both of these phenomena consume energy, generating waste heat in the core. And of course the power wasted in the core is felt by the prime mover, every bit as much as power delivered to the load is. We have been building motors and generators for over a century, and lot of research has gone into developing materials and construction methods to minimize these loss mechanisms. In modern commercially-manufactured machines designed by professionals they are negligible.

Thane Heins, while a competent enough handyman, is not a professional. We don’t know what his generator coils are wound on, though it may very well be the same mild steel that the structure of the apparatus itself is built from. In any case, they are probably lossy — losses which are incurred whether or not there is an external load connected across the output. In other words: Heins’s “no load” condition is already significantly loaded by core loss.

So why does the the generator speed up when a load is connected? Refer again to the diagrams: the induced field, created by the load current, opposes, and thus reduces the applied field, therefore reducing the losses. Paradoxically, Heins’s “loaded” condition is actually less loaded than his “no-load” condition.

But why does it draw less power when it’s running faster?

One last detail: a lot of people (such as one of the commenters on the previous post) are under the impression that, contrary to the observed behaviour of ReGenX, the driving motor should draw more power as it runs faster, not less. Certainly it seems intuitive. Explaining why this is false would require several hours of lecture on basic electric motor theory but nonetheless the opposite is true (and the reasons are taught in every introductory undergraduate course on the subject). The diagrams below plot torque (blue curves) and input current (orange curves) vs. speed for two common types of electric motor, both of which have been used by Heins. Note that, in both cases, the current falls as speed increases, over the entire operating range of the motor.

NewSkepticsPost-Diagram3

Diagram #3

Conclusion

In ReGenX, Thane Heins has built a fantastically inefficient generator, and then runs it in a way that makes it just slightly less inefficient. The ReGenX device does not represent “free energy”, or any other novel physical phenomenon: merely bad magnetics — and lot of self-promotion.

20. September 2013 by stevewatson
Categories: Local Research, Ottawa Skeptics Investigation | 12 comments

Skeptics in the Pub: “Re-think 9/11″? Think again!

On this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, many people were surprised to see ads appearing on buses in Ottawa, calling on us to “Re-Think 9/11″.

These ads, part of an international campaign organized by the group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (A&E 9/11), call into question the common understanding of the events of 9/11.

Instead of being the results of terrorist activity, the members of A&E 9/11 assert that, based on their experience in engineering and building design, the collapse of three towers that day cannot be explained by impact damage and fires and are more easily explained as being the result of a “controlled demolition”.

Presented by the Ottawa Skeptics, this talk looks into the most prominent arguments of A&E 9/11, to sort out the real truth of the matter. We also ask some questions ourselves, about who these architects and engineers really are, and what motivates their activities.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

 

Where: The Royal Oak on the Canal, 221 Echo Drive, Ottawa

When: Monday September 23rd

RSVP at meetup.com

18. September 2013 by Chris
Categories: Meetings, Upcoming Meetings | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Applied Rationality

How well does your internal map represent the external territory? Can we overcome the pervasive errors and biases that cause us to misjudge reality?

We are starting a series of moderated discussions on topics related to applied rationality. Each session will be prefaced with a short introduction to the topic, followed by discussion.

These moderated events will be presented by Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg, member of the Less Wrong community and two-time alumni of the Center for Applied Rationality workshops in San Francisco.

August:

Rational Debating 

In regular debating, the goal is to sound more plausible than the other person and “win the debate.” In rational debating the goal is to end up believing true things. How can this work in practice?

(This event has concluded)

Possible upcoming topics

Bayesian reasoning

Confidence calibration

Effective altruism

Scope insensitivity

Find out more

Follow us on meetup.com to receive notifications of upcoming events and to RSVP.

31. August 2013 by Chris
Categories: Meetings, Upcoming Meetings | Tags: | 2 comments

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