Archive for the ‘Announcement’ Category

Special Guest: Maria Walters – May 13th, 9pm ET

Announcing “special guest”: Maria Walters. She will be joining us on Friday, May 13 at 9pm ETfor a few hours to answer your questions in ‘virtual’ person.

Maria Walters is a writer for and organizer of the Atlanta Skeptics. She is a skeptical activist, who, among other things, works to set up vaccination clinics and fundraisers to coincide with skeptical events. She is a strong believer in making skepticism and skeptical events a part of everyday life. She is a pop culture fanatic and often uses books, movies and comics as her reference material. She has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

REMINDER: This video chat will take place on the new service, Adobe Connect. Take a look here for how to set it up and test your system.

Follow this link to join the chat:

Categories: Announcement

Special Guest: Elyse Anders – April 22, 9pm ET

Announcing “special guest”: Elyse Anders. She will be joining us on Friday, Mar 11 at 9pm ETfor a few hours to answer your questions in ‘virtual’ person.

“Elyse Anders is President of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, a non-profit organization working to increase awareness of science, critical thinking and skepticism in a world clouded with pseudoscience, homeopathy and psychic predictions. She is a mother of two, who wants to counter the misinformation & pseudoscience being promoted against vaccines by the likes of Jenny McCarthy and others. In November 2010 she spearheaded a successful effort to have a national movie theater chain removed anti-vaccine service announcement that were scheduled to air before films. She also writes for the popular blog Skepchick.” ~ Thanks to the official TAM9 speaker listing for the picture and biography.

REMINDER: This video chat will take place on the new service, Adobe Connect. Take a look here for how to set it up and test your system.

Follow this link to join the chat:

Categories: Announcement

Special Guest: Ben Radford Mar 25th, 9pm EST

This coming Friday, March 25th at 9pm, we will be welcoming the return of Ben Radford. This marks the first encore appearance of a special guest on VirtualDS. This also marks the first formal video chat on the new service,  so we definitely won’t have an encore of the horrible failure by “the video chat service that shall not be named” to meet minimum expectations.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, and science literacy.

He is author of six books: Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking (with Bob Bartholomew); Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead UsLake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures (with Joe Nickell); Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained MysteriesTracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore (out in 2011 from the University of New Mexico Press); and The Sky Is Falling! A Colorful History of Media Panics (with Bob Bartholomew, out in 2011).

Radford is a regular columnist for LiveScience.comDiscovery News, and Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Radford createdPlaying Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination, the world’s first satirical board game of religious warfare. He is also a filmmaker, and released two short films: Clicker Clatter (2007), and Sirens (2009).

Radford is one of the world’s few science-based paranormal investigators, and has done first-hand research into mysterious phenomena including psychics, ghosts and haunted houses; exorcisms, miracles, Bigfoot, stigmata, lake monsters, UFO sightings, reincarnation, and crop circles, and many other topics. He is perhaps best known for solving the mysteries of the Santa Fe Courthouse Ghost in 2007, and the Hispanic vampire el chupacabra in 2010.

Radford has appeared on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Learning Channel, CBC, CBS, BBC, CNN, and other networks with three letters. He also served as a consultant for the MTV series The Big Urban Myth Show and an episode of the CBS crime drama CSI. Radford has appeared in publications including the Wall Street Journal, Wired, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Ladies’ Home Journal.

IMPORTANT: This chat will NOT be on Tokbox, it will be on Adobe Connect. Since this will be our first attempt at using this service for a formal chat (we have done testing), there most definitely will be issues. We’ll do our best to work through them as we go. Joining the chat is very much like the old service, just follow the below link at the time of the chat to join in, your browser and adobe flash should do most of the work. (Although you might want to check out the “Joining the chat” page for instructions on how to test your setup before hand, instructional videos, and other tips)

Follow this link to join the chat:

Add this event to your calendar so you don’t miss a very interesting evening!

Categories: Announcement

Ding dong Tokbox is dead!

March 15, 2011 2 comments

As you probably know, Tokbox’s main chat service is dying. Yup, they’re closing it down on April 5. This was cause for some concern on my part, since the main reason we’ve been able to enjoy the “video chat awesomeness” of VirtualDS is that we had software that was inexpensive, worked on most platforms, and would support many video streams at once. Tokbox did give us that, but it was flakey, unreliable, annoying, buggy, and sometimes just plain broken. As most of you know, I HATE TOKBOX. (insert animated gif of me dancing on it’s grave)

But I am no longer concerned. I am ecstatic! Thanks to J.D. Mack, a fellow DC area skeptic, NCAS member, and regular VirtualDS attendee, we’ve discovered Adobe Connect. This flash based (with special plug-in) meeting software seems to be very much worth the $45/month (paid yearly) according to our preliminary testing. Not only does this package allow me to host meetings with up to 100 people, but like tokbox, as many people can be on video/audio as bandwidth allows.

Using their free 30 day trial, a number of people helped me test the software today. Although there were a number of the usual glitches related to flash based video chat (variable video performance, echoing and variable audio performance, problems setting up cam/audio, etc) mostly it performed head over heels better than tokbox. The one major glitch is that on some machines (mostly apple), in order to get the video working, they had to download the Adobe Connect Plugin directly (here or here) or they had this problem. Even with these issues, Adobe Connect is a huge step up from Tokbox.

The only real downside to this wonderful discovery is the price. Although it is by far the most affordable, professional solution that I’ve found, it is a bit of a financial commitment on my part. (Trust me, it is totally worth the price) Therefore, I’m going to ask anyone and everyone: If you enjoy VirtualDS and want it to continue, please consider donating a little something to help, or buy some of the super-cool VirtualDS-logo emblazoned stuff. Not only will it be going toward paying the cost of the service, but also thank-you swag for the special guests, the registration of the domain name, promotional materials, and everything else that makes VirtualDS so great.

Special Guest: Matt Lowry – March 11, 9pm ET

March 7, 2011 1 comment

Announcing “special guest”: Matt Lowry. He will be joining us on Friday, Mar 11 at 9pm ET for a few hours to answer your questions in ‘virtual’ person.

Matt Lowry is a high school & college physics professor who is dedicated to educating his students and the public about science, skepticism, and critical thinking. He blogs on these and other subjects at The Skeptical Teacher. In addition, he really likes to do wacky & dangerous physics demonstrations as a way of “sacrificing himself for science!” (Ask about him getting hammered & nailed – go on… ask)

You can take a look at a few of his crazy stunts here.

IMPORTANT: This will be an official “special guest” chat and will be run according to the these rules, so make sure to add it to your calendartest your setup for tokbox video, and get ready for an interesting evening. Oh, and put this on your calendar NOW!

Categories: Announcement

Special Guest: Sharon Hill – Feb 18, 9pm ET

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Announcing “special guest”: Sharon Hill. She will be joining us on Friday, Feb 18th at 9pm ET for a few hours to answer your questions in ‘virtual’ person.

Sharon Hill has been an active member of the skeptical community since 1993. In 2006, she began her blog “Doubtful” which covers topics relating to paranormal happenings, cryptozoology, anomalous natural phenomena, science & society and general skeptical goodness. She also created the website Seeking Spooks and Monsters for beginning critical thinkers to investigate monsters and ghosts. Her day job is geologist and policy specialist. She just completed a Masters degree in Education in Science and the Public from SUNY at Buffalo and published a thesis entitled “Being scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S.” that examined ghost hunters, UFO seekers and monster trackers and their use of “science” and scientific methods. [You can watch her SkeptiCamp DC presentation on the subject here.] Other writings were published in The Single Best Idea Ever: Darwin Day Collection One, The Anomalist no. 13, Skeptical Briefs and currently on Previously the organizer of Drinking Skeptically Harrisburg (PA), in 2010 she spearheaded the formation Keystone Society for Rational Inquiry to address skeptical issues in Pennsylvania.

IMPORTANT: This will be an official “special guest” chat and will be run according to the these rules, so make sure to add it to your calendartest your setup for tokbox video, and get ready for an interesting evening. Oh, and put this on your calendar NOW!

Categories: Announcement

Tokbox is closing their chat service on April 5th

February 8, 2011 5 comments

I received an email today from Tokbox, announcing the following:

Dear Brian,

When given the choice of having the good or bad news first, we always opt for bad news. So here goes…As of April 5th, 2011 the TokBox video chat and video conferencing service will no longer be available. We promise it’s not you, it’s us.

You can continue to enjoy your premium services until April 5th, 2011 for free. At the time of your next monthly renewal, you will not be charged.

The good news is that the TokBox team will be focusing 110% of our energy on the TokBox Platform and our new API, OpenTok, to bring group video conversations to sites & applications you’re already using.

To learn more, please read our blog post. And as always, send a note to if you have any questions.

— The TokBox Team

So, what does this mean for VirtualDS? Well, obviously we’re going to have to find some other way to hold our video chats. It is possible their API will offer some sort of solution, or perhaps we’ll use one of the other services like tinychat (although in my experience these are even more troublesome). Anyway, We have until April to figure it out.

Don’t forget to add the upcoming chats to your calendar  (Sharon Hill, Matt Lowry, and an encore appearance of Ben Radford!), and stay tuned for further developments.



Categories: Announcement