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Buying goods online

December 2017


I have ordered a few presents from a Belgian website. Can I return them if I change my mind when I get them?


Online purchases from businesses based in the EU are covered by the EU Directive on Consumer Rights. Under this Directive you are entitled to a cooling-off period of 14 days. During the cooling-off period, you can cancel distance contracts such as online purchases without giving a reason and without incurring charges or penalties, other than possible charges incurred in returning the goods. The 14-day cooling-off period begins on the day that you receive the goods.

Upon cancellation, the distance seller is obliged to repay you within 14 days, including delivery costs. If you chose a more expensive type of delivery than the seller"s cheapest standard delivery, you are only entitled to be refunded the cost of the cheaper delivery type.

The seller can withhold the repayment until the goods are returned or until you supply evidence that you have sent the goods back.

You must send the goods back within 14 days of informing the seller of the cancellation. You may have to pay for the cost of returning them. The seller must inform you of such costs before you complete the purchase.

The seller should also have provided you with confirmation of the contract, as well as information on aftersales and guarantees, how to cancel the contract and a postal address for complaints. If the seller did not provide you with information on your right to cancel, the cooling-off period can be extended by 12 months.

Some purchases are not covered by the cooling-off period. These include customised or perishable goods and bookings for transport or accommodation.

Further information is available from the Citizens Information Service below.


but - True!

By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, PhD

Q. According to philosopher and scuba enthusiast Peter Godfrey-Smith, a three-foot-long giant cuttlefish has “a skin that can appear just about any color at all and can change in seconds, sometimes much faster than a second … the entire body is a screen on which patterns are played. The patterns are not just a series of snapshots, but moving shapes, like stripes and clouds. These seem to be immensely expressive animals, animals with a lot to say.” But what is being said, and to whom?

A. No one knows. And there is an even deeper mystery: cuttlefish are color blind! “This is baffling,” writes Godfrey-Smith in “Other Minds: The octopus, the sea, and the deep origins of consciousness.” “These animals are doing so much with color. They are also superb at matching the color of their surroundings, for camouflage. How can you match colors you cannot see?” It seems we have a lot to learn about cuttlefish.

Q. What does “calculus” have to do with teeth? Don"t ask a mathematician but rather a molecular anthropologist such as Christina Warinner. What might she have to say?

A. “Calculus,” or fossilized dental plaque, contains ancient DNA and proteins belonging to microbes that could unlock the secrets of what those ancient humans ate, what ailed them, perhaps even what they did for a living, reports Helen Thompson in “Science News” magazine. According to Warinner, “It"s the only part of your body that fossilizes while you"re still alive and also is the last thing to decay.”

In their study, Warinner and colleagues found “a slew of proteins and DNA snippets from bacteria, viruses and fungi, including dozens of oral pathogens,” one of which still infects gums today. They also later discovered the first direct DNA-based evidence of milk consumption in the plaque of Bronze Age skeletons from 3000 B.C. Even odds and ends from poppy seeds to paint pigments lurked on archaic chompers.

Concludes Thompson: “By examining the microbes that lived in the plaque of past humans and their relatives, Warinner hopes to characterize how our microbial communities have changed through time, and how they"ve changed us.”

Q. It"s rare today that newly approved drugs are riddled with infectious substances that actually make a person sicker. For that, we can thank the horseshoe crab. Explain, please.

A. Before the 1960s, testing for bacterial endotoxins was slow and expensive, writes Dan Lewis on his “Now I Know” web site. That changed when researchers discovered that something called limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) readily detected these toxins (PBS report). But where to find this critical substance?

Enter the horseshoe crab, whose blue blood is unique in containing LAL. In any one blood-draining session, LAL manufacturers tap into the crab"s vascular system, extracting as much as 30% of the animal"s blood. About 250,000 crabs are needed for a year"s supply.

Manufacturers claim that they make crab blood draws only once a year and have a 3% mortality rate; however, independent studies put the figure between 15-30%. Concern going forward is the potential for overfishing, given that the “global market for horseshoe crab blood is roughly $50 million annually, with the blue liquid selling for north of $50,000 per gallon.”

Q. Visiting a farm, you learn that the pupils of grazing animals such as cows and sheep have horizontal slits, while those of the pet cats are vertical. Why, you wonder?

A. Vision scientist Martin Banks and his colleagues studied 214 species of land animals, comparing pupil orientation and ecological niche (herbivore or predator), and found that herbivores" pupils are almost always horizontal while predators" seldom are (“Science Advances”). Furthermore, the pupils of ambush predators (as opposed to those chasing down their prey) are almost always vertical. Using these correlations and the known behavior of slit-like pupils, Banks came to a compelling evolutionary explanation: vertical slits enhance depth perception of animals with forward-facing eyes, improving the accuracy of a predator"s pounce. For animals with eyes on either side of their head (most herbivores), horizontal slits “create sharp images of horizontal contours ahead and behind, creating a horizontally panoramic view that facilitates detection of predators from various directions and forward locomotion across uneven terrain.”

Q. Teens (12-17) are often maligned for bad judgment but in this category, they best both young adults (18-24) and older adults (25 and up) in avoiding risky behavior. Can you envision what this behavior is?

A. Roughly 85% of U.S. contact lens users report regularly taking at least one risk when wearing or cleaning their lenses, says Aimee Cunningham in “Science News” magazine. Researchers at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed more than 6,000 people, and contrary to previous studies, teens did better than older folks in four out of six areas: They were less likely to sleep or nap in contact lenses, to replace lenses too infrequently, to swim with lenses in their eyes, or to add new solution to old. Only when it came to rinsing and storing lenses in tap water did teens perform slightly below older adults yet still better than young adults (“Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”).

As Cunningham points out, such risky behaviors “can lead to serious eye infections, mainly by introducing microorganisms into the eye. Even water that"s safe to drink or swim in can bug up lenses.”

Q. Are atheists as moral as religious believers?

A. “Surprisingly, even atheists seem to think not,” says Bob Holmes in “New Scientist” magazine. “This belief is almost certainly wrong, but it reflects a long-standing bias that morality stems from faith.”

Suppose you are told about a man who tortured animals as a child and grew up to become a serial killer. Is it more likely that he was (A) a teacher, or (B) a teacher who did not believe in God? The correct answer is (A), since there are more teachers as a whole than teachers who are atheists. And if you change the question so that option (B) is “a teacher with religious belief,” the correct answer is, again, (A). When either version of this question was presented to more than 3000 volunteers from 13 nations, “In almost every country polled, more people made the error when B was the atheist teacher. This suggests they found an atheist mass murderer more plausible than a religious one. Remarkably, even those who did not believe in any God showed the same pattern.”

“But this is not borne out by the facts. In both the US and the UK, atheists are under-represented in the prison population and over-represented among civil rights and anti-war activists. The world"s most secular countries-– notably in Scandinavia-–are among the most peaceable and civic-minded.”

Q. If you want to meet an intelligent alien here on earth, where might you go?

A. To the sea. In his book “Other Minds: The octopus, the sea, and the deep origins of consciousness” philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith points out that cephalopods--especially octopuses and cuttlefish-–have extensive nervous systems and complex behaviors which rival those of some pretty smart vertebrates (dolphins, primates, parrots …). Yet the last common ancestor of cephalopods and vertebrates was a flattened worm-like creature which lived 600 million years ago, before any organisms had made it onto land. “Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and goes so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”

Q. The English language is rich in words but scant in the names of their originators. The following are exceptions. Can you name the coiners of “muppet,” “mimsy,” “bafflegab” and “scare quotes,” and their meanings?

A. As fans of “Sesame Street” no doubt know, Jim Henson coined “muppet” to describe the show"s iconic characters, writes Anu Garg on his “A.Word.A.Day” web site. The word, introduced in 1995, means “a stupid person” or “a fool.” “Mimsy” owes its origin to Lewis Carroll, who in 1855 incorporated it in a poem published in his periodical “Mischmasch,” later appearing as “Jabberwocky” in his novel “Through the Looking-Glass.” A blend of “miserable” and “flimsy,” it means “prim, “feeble,” “affected.”

“Bafflegab,” as the word suggests, is “obscure, pompous, or incomprehensible language,” first coined by Milton A. Smith, assistant general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1952.

Finally, credit goes to philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe for “scare quotes,” introduced in 1956 “to indicate the writer"s disagreement or disapproval of the use of a term.” An example is “Columbus, ‘discoverer of America."” In spoken language, the equivalent is “air quotes” (think of arms upraised, two fingers on each hand bent to suggest quotation marks).

(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


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