Thursday, November 30, 2006

The science fundies

I don't want to give the impression that I see fundamentalism as a problem that only occurs within religion.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science recently invited some of the UK's top parapsychologists to speak at one of their meetings.

Take a look at what some of our fundamentalist scientists had to say about that.

Yes, science has its blinkered, no-way-but-my-way, close-minded arrogant idiots too.

The Paranormal Review

I've just come across what seems to be a new site.

The Paranormal Review looks interesting. The site does not appear to be biased one way or the other, but looks to give a fair and reasonable view of evidence it finds. It's certainly a good place to find news.

Let's hope it lasts. So many of these sites end up becoming either wholly-sceptic or total-acceptance sites with time. As long as it stays balanced, I'll keep reading it.

Creation in UK science classes

It seems the insidious methods of the fundamentalists have spread to the UK.

Now, I have no objection to children being taught about creation, in line with their religions. I do object when a group with the laughable name 'Truth in Science' distributes unsolicited material to school science departments on the pretext that it's not creationism. It's certainly not science.

Certainly, teach children the creation story. Teach them evolution also. Let them make up their own minds. I have no objection at all when this is done openly.

What gets me wound up is when the creationists sneak around like this, hiding their intentions in the guise of 'science' while simultaneously deriding all aspects of the subject. You are doing yourselves no favours by using these kind of underhanded techniques to force your message on schools.

Should creationism be taught in science classes? Certainly, as long as evolution is taught in church.

Neither side has absolute, irrefutable proof of its position, which is why the argument rages on. They are polar opposites. They cannot be taught in the same place, and certainly not by the same teacher. It is as unreasonable to demand that a science teacher teaches creationism as it is to demand that the church teaches evolution.

If the fundamentalists persist in this venture, they will do far more damage to religion than they will to science.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Pictish beast

I've been wandering to Scotland again. This time to look at carved Pictish stones. The one pictured was part of a stone circle (though not originally: the circle predates the Picts and most of its stones have been removed over time. This stone was moved into the circle to avoid being overrun by building works nearby). The location had recently been the site of an archaeological dig, and they had very conveniently highlighted the markings with dye. That makes them much, much easier to photograph.

This one shows the figure known as the 'Pictish beast' because nobody knows what it's supposed to represent. Looking at other Pictish images, it's clear that these people were capable of representing what they saw. Horses, cattle, fish, eagles, are all instantly recognisable. So what's this thing?

Some say it's meant to represent a dolphin. In that case, where's the dorsal fin? The picts must have come across dolphins at sea, and washed up on the beach. They knew what a dolphin looked like.

This image appears on many stones. It always looks the same. It represents something, but what? A mythical beast? Something the Picts hunted to extinction? Or maybe, just maybe, a species we haven't seen yet. Scotland is sparsely populated, with huge areas of wild land. The image gives no idea of scale: whether they carved eagle, horse or snake, they didn't carve them to correct relative sizes. The Pictish Beast might not be very big.

If it is mythical, it might represent a kelpie. Interesting, then, that they would include this image among their repertoire of mostly real animals. Could the kelpie be derived from a memory of a real creature? Again, not necessarily a large creature. Sizes tend to be flexible in folk tales.

So is this creature wandering around in Scotland somewhere? Most likely in rivers or lochs, since it looks to have fins rather than legs. It would be interesting to search for it (not least because fishing for wild trout is a particularly relaxing pastime) but it'll have to wait. Winter in the remote parts of Scotland is not something to be taken lightly. Best hold off until around May.

Even if it doesn't exist, spending a large part of next summer trout-fishing in Scotland, while legitimately claiming I'm working, is a very tempting prospect.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A gaggle of idiots.

The '419 scam', or the 'Nigerian scam', named for where it originated, is one I first saw about fifteen years ago. It was obviously a scam then, and it's obviously a scam now.

It consists of an Email from a total stranger, who has enormous amounts of cash but can't get it out of their country because of whatever current political issues are in vogue at the moment. This total stranger is willing to give you a large portion of this enormous amount of cash if you help them move it into your country. Naturally, there are expenses, to be reimbursed when the cash is transferred... but of course, it never is.

Oh, come on. Surely nobody falls for this one any more? It's at least fifteen years old and it was an obvious con when it was new.

Yes, they do. Lots of them.

People are still handing over money to the fraudsters. What are such stupid people doing with money in their hands? They clearly can't be trusted with it. To quote the article:

Although the scam has been widely publicised, people still fall for it through a mixture of greed, naivety and a sense of racial superiority, the British study said.

Well, if greed and/or racial superiority are your thing, then you deserve all you get. As for naivety, there's no excuse. If you're intelligent enough to operate a computer you should have sufficient intelligence to spot such an obvious scam. If you don't, then step away from the keyboard. You're likely to hurt yourself.

As long as there are suckers, there'll be scammers. The only way to stop it is to have a form of Internet driving test, with hazard recognition classes for the seriously hard of thinking.

After all, letting these poor saps loose on the internet is like letting your dog drive your car.

That's never a good idea.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The hard sell

Every time I log in to Blogger, it presents me with a screen extolling the virtues of Blogger Plus.

I know I'll have to upgrade one day. I'm just working up the courage to hit that button.

My experience of upgrades so far has been to overlay a perfectly working piece of software with some bug-ridden, bloated program filled with features I have no idea how to use.

I hope this one isn't like that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ghost or Spirit?

There is a current trend attempting to differentiate 'ghost' from 'spirit'.


It seems to be at least partly based on the idea that 'ghost' has become a Hollywood term, and serious investigators should no longer use it. So, even the paranormal is not immune to the Orwellian newspeak of the politically correct brain-cell-sharing crowd.

To paraphrase Shakespeare: A corpse by any other name is just as dead.

Some are now using 'ghost' to refer to visible spectres, and 'spirit' for invisible ones. Well guess what? They're all invisible most of the time. Some are visible some of the time, and not necessarily to everyone at once. So if I see someone, and you don't, what term do we use? Ghirit? Spost? Oh, I really shouldn't give these people ideas.

Ghosts are dead people. Spirits are dead people. They are the same thing, and always have been. Stop arguing over semantics and concentrate on looking for proof that there are dead people among us. Changing the terminology does not constitute proof, it does not imply a 'better scientific approach', and it will not affect a sceptic's view of the paranormal. If you want to mess around with words and definitions, become a politician.

This kind of nonsense achieves nothing more than further division of paranormal groups into 'we're right, you're wrong' cliques. Sceptics love this, because if we don't agree amongst ourselves then they don't have to fight us all. A sceptic can pick on one clique and all the other cliques will side with him against the 'heretics in our midst'.

Paranormal investigation is already more subdivided than Christianity. We have no idea which clique is right, because nobody has absolute proof of an afterlife. It must be obvious that such proof is more likely to be found if paranormal groups work as a coherent team rather than competitive sects.

There are some methods of investigation I don't agree with, such as the use of infrared thermometers and motion sensors, and the reliance on overly sensitive EMF meters. I don't believe the orbs photographed by digital cameras are real. I will, however, look at evidence that could prove me wrong. So far I haven't seen any but I'll still look. I have, for example, recently changed my mind about the use of digital cameras (but not about orbs).

Stop playing with words. Concentrate on your work. That might get us somewhere.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Christmas is coming. Again.

Well, in fact, Christmas has been under way since September as far as the supermarkets are concerned. As always, mince pies and Christmas puddings with expiry dates in November line the shelves.

I'll leave that aside though. It's an annual gripe of mine.

This year, Christmas is heralded by an increase in cold-callers trying to sell undefined crap for unrevealed prices. Those selling stockmarket shares are particularly active at the moment. They have adopted TV stockbroker-type voices and tell you all about this wonderful share they have discovered, which will double in price within minutes after you buy it. They never actually tell you which company this is, nor how much the shares will cost. I assume they will reveal this information after you hand over your credit card number.

Then, no doubt, you will find you are now a majority shareholder in a Patagonian sheep-milk conglomerate that's under investigation for selling watered milk, and the Patagonian Department of Agriculture would like to speak to you.

Two tips here:

1. Never, ever give your credit card or bank details to someone who phones you. You have no idea who they are. If they are legitimate they will give you a number where you can call back.

Don't call back.

2. If I knew of a company whose shares were certain to double in value within days, I wouldn't tell you. I'd be buying as many as I could myself. I might phone you to ask for a loan so I could buy more, but the profits are all mine. If some stranger wants to sell you shares in a hurry, he's offloading junk. There is no other reason.

I expect these calls will increase in the run-up to Christmas. Since they are paying for the call, here are some ways I have entertained myself with them when they call.

1. Say 'Hello'. Wait, ignore everything the caller says. Say 'Hello' again, in a questioning tone. Become more agitated with each 'Hello'. Add in 'Is this some sort of sick joke?' and 'Why are you doing this to me?' Don't sound angry. Sound persecuted. Give the impression that you are constantly hounded by silent calls (remember-ignore everything the caller says). Don't be the one to hang up. Make comments away from the phone such as 'Have you traced this yet?'

The longest a caller has lasted on this one is four minutes, twelve seconds.

2. (in a pathetic voice) 'Will you be my friend?' Ad-lib from there. Sobbing is good. On no account get drawn into any conversation about whatever they're selling. Mention your cat/dog/hamster that died today. Steer the conversation into pets, and how pet shops never tell you that animals have to be fed. Be graphic. If they persist, say you had a child once. None have ever waited to hear about that.

3. I once had a caller try to sell me double-glazed patio doors. I kept him on the line for around half an hour, discussing the various merits of uPVC and wood, then asked how they would cope with the drop between my living-room floor and the garden. He said they could fit steps. I asked how many steps I would need from a fourth-floor flat to the ground. He hung up. I could have taken the easy way out and told him I already have patio doors, but where's the fun in that?

4. For all double glazing salesmen: ask for a written guarantee that their windows will block alien mind-control rays. Say you have been affected by these in the past and they have made you do terrible things. You want the guarantee to include company liability if the double glazing doesn't stop the voices and the blackouts. If you ever manage to get a company to agree to this, let me know.

The aim in all of these is to get your number listed by these callers as 'nut'. It won't stop them all but it does, gradually, reduce their frequency. Unfortunately, every time you move house it starts all over again.

Still, everyone needs a hobby.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I have converted...


I bought a Sony Cyber-shot H5 camera. It looks like no camera I've ever seen but it's capable of exposures up to 30 seconds and gives me almost as much control over the photos as any of my film cameras. It also accepts filter holders so I won't have to hold that infrared filter over the lens by hand.

I had my doubts whether any digital was up to the job, but it can do this:

I've tried to get a good moon photo for years. Even with two tripods, one under the lens and one under the camera, I still had shake because of the motion of the shutter. A digital has no shutter movement.

Okay, I can't enlarge this because it pixellates, but it's not bad. Film could show finer detail but the shutter movement always caused shake.

Now I have to try it with infrared. It occurred to me while playing with this camera that the reason video cameras never do well with non-illuminated IR at night is down to shutter speed. You can't slow a video camera's shutter speed too much or the video becomes jerky. The filter is a 3mm thick block of opaque plastic so a slow shutter speed is essential.

I'll see what the H5 can do with long exposures through that filter at night.

So I'm a partial convert to digital cameras. I'm still taking my film cameras with me, and orbs are still bunk.

On some subjects, I'm unshakeable.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Check your local laws allow you to drink this stuff before trying to buy it:

If you have trouble finding it, you can order it by mail. Remember to add iced water; don't drink it 'raw' or it'll take the skin off your throat! I prefer Parisian absinthe but if you're not a fan of Pernod remember this stuff is twice as strong and with more aniseed flavour. Yes, it does contain wormwood, so control your intake!

Right. That's enough corruption spread for one night...

Monday, November 06, 2006

UK Science in decline

Well, it seems the lunacy continues. Not least at the BBC, whose science program 'Horizon' is now officially an asylum for the most certifiable snake-oil sellers and conspiracy theorists.

Our illustrious Government is concerned that schoolchildren are not taking science subjects, particularly physics. At long last, there seems to be some acceptance that the removal of practical classes (by overzealous health and safety idiots) and the pressure on schools to ensure pupils pass (which leads to a ‘teach to test’ approach) has destroyed school science. I think someone in charge might have woken up a little, although it might be too late.

Meanwhile, Reading University’s physics department is to close.

There are protests and calls to keep it open, but the end is assured for this department. No physicist will apply for a job, and no student will apply for a place, in a department that’s threatened with closure.

The threat alone is enough to ensure the department’s demise. Already, chemistry deparments have closed in the UK, and the trend towards cheap-to-teach subjects continues.

So why bother teaching the UK children science? In a few years, there won’t be any university places for them to graduate into. They might as well spend their time in that refuge of the mindless, ‘media studies’.

We’ll have a whole generation who know how to put together a reality-TV show. Fortunately for the rest of us, none of them will know how to fix their transmitter when it breaks down.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The 'hedge' thing solved.

Here's a new infrared photo of that house, from roughly the same location and at approximately the same time of day. This time I concentrated on the wall in front of the house.

The image is darker because I used a different camera. No central 'blob' with this one.
What's clear here is that there is no 'hedge'. The wall is clear, the gap in the wall contains nothing, and the plants within the garden are not obscured.

So, if I'm right in what I think caused that previous image, can I reproduce it?

I took this one from the other side of the house. If I'm right, the 'hedge' will appear in the same place.

Blogger shrinks these images to a dreadful degree. Here's a close-up:

It's dark, but shows the top of the 'hedge' running at the same height as previously. Foliage behind it is hidden.

So how did I reproduce it?

The cameras used here had no filter ring. I had to concentrate on holding the filter over the lens. The filter, as it is opaque, slows the shutter speed of the camera considerably.

What I had not noticed in that earlier picture, and what I waited for in this one, was a passing car.

Becuase it was moving it did not register on the film as a car. It passed while the shutter was open, the light reflecting from its roof formed the light 'top' of the 'hedge', and the rest of the car blurred what it passed in front of.

Since hedges at that height were a common feature of the town in the past, I considered it possible that this was some sort of 'recording' apparition, but could not bring myself to believe I was looking at the ghost of a plant. So I considered alternatives. Lens flare was ruled out because the image runs parallel to the house and has a 'semi-solid' darker area below it. Lens flares don't do that.

I checked the filter and lens for marks: both were clean.

A passing car sounded possible and was easy to check. Well, easy once the random British weather allowed it.

The car produced the same image, in the same place, so I put this one down to entirely natural phenomena. Disappointing in one way, but fortunate in another.

I wouldn't want to think all those dried-out houseplants might still be following me around.

Light bulb time

I think I know what that thing is...

If I'm right, I can reproduce it. I'll try tomorrow (weather permitting, as always).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Mysterious Thing

In those photos of the house, I mentioned a strange thing in the infrared image. What appeared to be a square-trimmed hedge overlying the wall. I have not yet been back to get another photograph because the weather has been dreadful.

Here's a clipped-out section of the ordinary photo:

As you can see, it's a very low wall. Consider the distance from the windowsill to the wall. Sorry about that obtrusive date stamp. I've worked out how to turn that off now.

Now, here's the same section from the infrared image:

This isn't a great image, but then I wasn't looking for anything. I was testing a filter. However, compare the distance from the windowsill to the top of whatever-it-is. I took the photos from across the street, and was standing for both.

You can make out the image of the wall (on my screen: whether this will transfer to Blogger I don't know).

Here's that image again with the wall outlined:

See it now? It could be just an artefact. I won't make any definitive claims until I've taken more photos there.

I did visit the library to look for old images of the town. There are many, but I didn't find an image of this particular house, unfortunately. It was connected with the long-since-closed railway works which lie behind it, and which are now used as business premises. Probably a manager's house.

What I did find were several aerial views taken in the 1920's. Again, this particular house is not clearly visible, but every house, every garden is surrounded by a square-clipped low hedge. It was quite the thing at the time, it seems. A photo of the town's mill, in the 1860's, shows it protected by a taller hedge. Later photos show these hedges gradually replaced by walls and railings.

It is therefore possible that such a hedge did exist. Whether this infrared image shows that, or is a coincidental artefact, remains to be established. I am, in any case, encouraged to carry my infrared filter with me at all times, along with at least one digital camera.

What puzzles me is why any spirit would want to display a hedge, instead of showing themselves? I don't believe we can be haunted by dead plants--otherwise I would be surrounded by the wailing spirits of many, many houseplants.

So if it is a hedge... why?

Infrared photography revisited.

I gave up using infrared film a long time ago because of the numerous problems associated with it. It's hard to get the film, harder still to get it developed, difficult to set up for a shot, you need a second camera to take a shot of the same scene for comparison, the film fogs if it gets too warm, infrared reflects from the camera back to produce halos around the images, you can shoot roll after roll of this expensive film and get no results, and many, many more. It's just damn difficult to use, and very expensive. Too much cost, not enough benefit.

I knew about the infrared capabilites of digital cameras but ignored these because of the infuriating proliferation of orbs (dust, in other words). No, I don't disbelieve in ghost lights. Such things have been frequently reported, but they are visible to the naked eye. They do not require a digital camera to see them. Orbs are dust.

However, since I heard about a modification someone made to a camcorder to make it a pure-infrared device (removal of the IR-blocking filter from the optics) I decided to look at the subject again. I am in the process of dismantling some second-hand camcorders to see if I can make the modification. I also bought a new infrared filter.

Since the camcorders aren't ready, I tried the filter with three cheap digital cameras. The first was a Vivitar 3625. The result was awful. It did produce an image, but with a deep purple cast and so dark it was impossible to see any detail.

Next up was a Nisis PocketDV H10. I carry this one everywhere. It's tiny and capable of taking reasonable photos and video. That's the one that took the photos I posted. Not bad, but every shot has a light circle in the middle.

Finally, a Vivitar 3105s. Pretty good images, no light circle. Darker than the Nisis, but workable. A slight purple cast but not as drastic as the 3625. It seems every digital camera produces different results, at least at the cheaper end of the range.

The filter is a square Cokin-style block, 3mm thick and opaque to visible light. None of the cameras listed have filter holders so I had to hold the filter in place over the lens.

The results have made me consider investing in a better digital camera. The Sony H2 looks like a good bet, from what I've read. It's not at the top of the range, but those at the top of the range are far too expensive for an experiment. The H2 can work to 1000 ASA, it can work in monochrome (so no danger of a colour cast) and Sony cameras have a reputation for being particularly useful in low light. I'll obtain one of those cameras and see how it works out.

The H2 has a filter ring. The Cokin filter fits in a holder attached to the ring, and can be slid out of the way to take a non-infrared shot.

With that arrangement, with the camera on a tripod, it's possible to take a 'standard' photo, slide the filter into place and take an infrared photo immediately afterwards. Both photos on the same camera, from exactly the same angle, taken seconds apart.

So far, I have had no success with this filter at night, but that might not be a problem after all.

It's very rare to see ghosts during the day. One possible reason most ghosts are reported at night is that it's much easier to see them with the sensitive rod-cells of the retina. The cone cells, those that give us colour vision, are no use in the dark. The rod cells see only in monochrome, but they are very sensitive to light. They are no use during the day. Sunlight overwhelms them, and also overwhelms the faint light of a manifestation.

What--did you think they all lay in their graves until nightfall? No, they're around, but we can't see them. Not unless they're feeling particularly strong.

I have argued against infrared detectors, and infrared cameras, because infrared equates to emitted heat. Ghost manifestations are associated with cold. They'll absorb infrared, not emit it. A detector looking for infrared emission or reflection can't find them.

In the daytime, something absorbing infrared should show as a dark patch on a photograph taken with a filter. A cold area in an otherwise warm scene. It's likely to be a small difference in temperature but it might be enough.

Therefore, a digital camera with an infrared filter might just be able to detect the infrared absorption caused by a manifestation, even though our eyes will see nothing. I'm not talking about orbs here. I'm talking about human-shaped images. Not dust. I don't expect to find a smiling group of ghosts posing for the camera, I expect to find shadows. Shadows that do not appear on the duplicate image, and which are demonstrably not the shadow of anyone present.

It's a long shot, I know, but it won't cost too much to get this equipment, it won't add a lot of weight to the equipment I carry, and it doesn't involve any difficult-to-find items. Even if it takes a thousand or more shots to find a good one, there's no further cost attached to those photos.

It also means working in daylight, which will make a nice change.