Monday, June 30, 2008


I have long been amazed at the speed of decline of ability of the average first-day university student. Not so long ago, I'd have been astounded to come across one without the ability to construct simple sentences.

Then, there's this.

I am speechless.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A hut in darkness.

I hope this one enlarges on clicking. You'll need to zoom in on it, because I've posted the whole photo and the bit I want you to find is small. A sort of 'Where's Dead Wally', if your sense of humour is as twisted as mine. Depending on Blogger's adjustment of contrast and brightness (things I post always seem darker than my copy) you might want to fiddle with those too.

It's the same place as the previous photo, which is here, but taken two months earlier.

Same deal - digital camera, set to monochrome, nobody around and only a streetlamp behind me, facing the other way. Most of the image is infrared picked up by the camera.

Well, do you see anything? Don't shrug and walk away if you don't. I need the 'no' answers as much as the 'yes' because I won't have a Great Photo until I have one where the ghost is unmistakeable.

I can't decide that for myself because I'm biased, and because I see these sort of things too often. So I need impartial observers to tell me what they see.

Remember, 'No' is a valid response here. If you see nothing, say so. If you see something, tell me what you see.

Note - the diagonal streaks are branches from a bush in the foreground.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Going round in circles.

Disclaimer first - I don't study crop circles, never have, never will. So don't ask me for details because I don't care enough to look for them.

The only reason I'm talking about them is because they serve to illustrate something important.

Here's how it goes. Years ago, circular formations started appearing in crops. Nobody was seen making them, they just appeared. There was even a film which appeared to show a circle forming spontaneously.

These formations became ever more complex, including mathematical formations such as the Julia set and the diagrammatic representation of the first ten digits of pi.

Many theories were expounded - unusual weather could form the simple circles, but the complex ones defied such natural explanation. It came down to one of two options. Either they were made by a non-human force that nobody had seen (either spirits or UFOs), or they were made by humans in the dead of night.

The 'spirit' theory cut no ice with me. There was no reason for a ghost to communicate in this way. If they wielded sufficient power to make 60-metre circles in crops, then they had enough power to walk up and say hello. The spirit theory faded away fast anyway.

So it became a battle between UFO believers and non-believers, with the latter determined it was a hoax. I was not involved on either side, and I'm still keeping out of it.

Eventually a group came forward - well, partially forward, since damaging crops is vandalism and can lead to arrest - and admitted they'd been doing it.

"Aha," said the sceptics. "We knew it."

"Nonsense," said the believers. "You can't have made those complex diagrams in the dark."

The self-proclaimed hoaxers explained how they did it. They demonstrated their technique. They showed the diagrams worked out beforehand, the measurements, the means by which they planned out their formations and how they produced the swirling patterns in the crops.

"Humans can't form complex patterns visible only from the air" remained the cry. I beg to differ. Look up the 'Nazca plains' to see it done on a much grander scale, many, many years ago by people who had no GPS or laser alignment devices. Humans most definitely are capable of making these circles. The only argument is - did they?

The hoaxers say there are some circles they didn't do. They can't say that those circles weren't made by another group of hoaxers because nobody is going to stand up and say "Yes, it was me. I flattened a thousand pounds' worth of crop last night". So the mystery is not totally solved.

However, there is enough evidence to suggest that crop circles, in the main at least, are human-made and not alien-made. There remain a few doubtful ones but with no evidence for alien activity, my mind settles on a non-paranormal explanation as being most likely at the moment.

You would think, then, that logically, the crop circle story is pretty firmly done and dusted. Unless someone films a spaceship in the process of making one, the evidence available all points to a human hoax.

No. There are many who insist that the hoaxers are lying. In effect, that the hoax is a hoax. They insist that the circles are of alien origin and that no human could produce such accurate renditions using wood and string.

To be impartial, it should be noted that a lot of people made a lot of money selling books on crop circles, proclaiming their alien origins. Those people stand to lose book sales if the whole thing falls down. It's not all about belief, some of it is about money.

Anyway, there's no way to win for either side now. If the sceptics show how the hoaxers did it then they're just making up evidence to suit themselves. If the believers insist the aliens did it, they have no evidence to prove it. The whole subject is now a circular argument and can never be resolved. Neither side can disprove the other. Neither can offer incontestable proof.

Once a subject reaches this point, there's no purpose in discussing it further until one side or the other reaches an absolutely unassailable position. In this case, the only side that could reach such a position are the believers. Film of a UFO doing the deed would win their case for them. Replicating circles will never win the case for the sceptics. That just shows how it could have been done, it doesn't prove how it was done. Argument is futile. The subject is dead until new evidence shows up.

I feel much the same about the creation/evolution argument. Although I don't see why evolution specifically denies creation since I'd have thought that was an argument between big-bang theory and 'let there be light', which may yet turn out to be the same thing anyway.

Creation cannot be proven or disproven unless God shows up, in which case the world ends for most of us anyway. Evolution can be proven if sufficient incontestable data is amassed. There is considerable data, in fact, but there are holes still and those holes must be plugged for evolution to be definitively and finally proven.

But will it be proven to the creationists? If you have fossil 'A' which you say is a precursor to animal 'Z', then you will be challenged to produce intermediate forms. There is a gap.

If you find a fossil 'M' which is intermediate, you will be challenged to produce forms intermediate between 'A' and 'M' and between 'M' and 'Z'. Now you have two gaps. And so on.

Such challenge is not unreasonable, since it's how science works. You say 'M' developed from 'A', every scientist on the planet will say 'Prove it'. However, turning that challenge into a fight isn't how science works.

On the other hand, creationists say 'God made everything'. Responding with 'Oh no he didn't' isn't science, it's pantomime. Prove it. Creationists, prove he did. Scientists, prove he didn't. Without proof on either side the argument is futile. That's why I won't argue either side. There's no point.

The crop circle enthusiasts will never listen to the arguments put forward by the sceptics, no matter how compelling. The sceptics will never listen to the arguments put forward by the enthusiasts, no matter how logical. Stalemate.

Creationists will never accept that there is 'enough evidence' for evolution. No matter how much there is, they'll only see the holes. Science will not listen to the arguments for creation, even where such arguments present no conflict with what we know about the origin of the universe. (caveat: 'enough evidence' is a contestable position, and 'no conflict' does not prove agreement).


Continuing to battle on when stalemate is reached achieves nothing. It descends into name-calling and silly things happening on both sides. In both the above cases, it would be better for each side to shake hands, go away and spend their energies proving their position.

And so we come to my own field of work.

I could insist, day after day on here, that there are ghosts and that I've met them. I could shout at sceptics like Dikkii until my throat bleeds, and he could shout at me. It would change nothing. It would achieve nothing. We'd both just get sore throats and high blood pressure. There can be no resolution through argument, only through research and study.

Of the two examples above, I'm closer in principle to the crop circles. Sceptics can never prove the statement 'there are no ghosts' but they can, in all fairness, reasonably hold that view in the absence of proof to the contrary. It's my job to find the proof, not theirs to find the disproof.

The question is, what constitutes proof? The photo a few posts ago? Dikkii has already stated he found nothing. SW did, without prompting, see what I saw in there. I don't need to convince SW of the existence of ghosts anyway. She's seen some of her own. So what would Dikki see as proof?

Not a photo. Photos can be faked so easily these days. Not a voice recording,. That's easier to fake than a photo. EMF meter readings, temperature records, video - all can be faked and without much difficulty.

What I need is a means by which anyone can see a ghost for themselves. I don't mean a tame spirit I can send over to your house to rattle the china. I mean a device whereby anyone, anyone at all, can visualise a spirit. Ideally, a device which would allow two-way communication but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

But how much proof is enough? If I can come up with a means which would make a moving outline visible, would that be enough? Or does it need to be a fully visible human form? Spirits don't always have a full-shape human form anyway. Will any shape do? It comes back to the other argument - how much evidence is enough evidence?

There will always be some fundamentalists on both sides of any argument. There are, after all, really people out there who think the Earth is flat, that the sun orbits the earth and that politicians can be trusted. Some people will never, never be moved.

There will always be some people who will never accept that their position is wrong. It's best not to worry about that because there is nothing anyone can do about it. If you can convince the mainstream, then, as far as I am concerned, the job is done.

I admit, of course, that the job is far from done. I'm not going to argue about it, I'm not going to fight with sceptics because as I've spent many words saying, it won't achieve a thing. Sceptics are entitled to their opinion. I know otherwise but can't prove it to them so their opinion is valid in the context of their experience. It's no good shouting at a sceptic because that won't change their minds. It just makes the shouter appear deranged, and that does not advance the argument - at least not in the right direction.

Working is more productive than arguing.

I'm working on it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hand over the cash or my dog will stab you.

Following hot on the heels of the ban on knives, the yobs of the UK have found themselves a new weapon.

They take their dogs for a walk.

There's nothing illegal about walking a dog, after all, and it'll take a seriously lunatic government to ban dog-walking in this country. We have such a government. I'm waiting for them to try it.

The new routine is 'hand over your valuables or we set the dog on you'. So what kind of dog? Rottweiler? Pitbull? Alsatian?

No, the dog of choice is the Staffordshire bull terrier. A squat and strong animal with a head that looks like it's carved from a single piece of titanium. The thugs dress the animal up with a spiked collar and wander the streets.

There's only one problem. The Staffordshire bull terrier is one of the friendliest dogs around. It can afford to be since there's not much you can do to hurt one of these armour-plated beasts. Safe to leave with small children, and a boon to burglars because if you bribe him with a good piece of meat, he'll show you where the silver is. This is not an attack dog, unless you're a cat or a hedgehog in which case you're done for.

If the thug says 'Get him', this dog will attempt to lick you to death, or drown you in drool.

Of course, you wouldn't think that if you didn't know the breed. They look very fierce, but they're big softies inside. Just don't dress up as a squirrel.

I'd be more scared of a poodle. Those things are deranged.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The perils of smoking.

Smoking can make people do very strange and unsavoury things.

Fortunately, smoking in public conveniences is no longer allowed so this particular peril no longer applies.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Seeing might, or might not, be believing.

The photo above is straight from a digital camera. Unedited in any way. Okay, you have only my word for that because you can't all visit and examine the file directly on my computer, nor can you examine the camera. Then again, this is not a laboratory. It's a blog. So take my word for it.

This photo was taken at night at the limits of the camera's capabilities so it's grainy. The camera was set to monochrome. The only light source was a streetlamp behind me and to my left, and that faced the road, not this scene. No cars passed while I took the photo, no planes crossed overhead, nobody was around.

I think I see something here. I Emailed a clipped portion of this photo to someone, with no explanation, and that person responded that they'd seen something too. Our observations matched.

Some of you will try hard, too hard, to see something in this picture. Some will dismiss any apparent imagery as a camera anomaly or a trick. That's okay, the range of perceptions will form a curve and the distribution of that curve will let me know something important. It will let me know whether what I think I see in this picture is the same as what most others think they see. It will allow me to more accurately judge whether I'm seeing an optical illusion or something potentially real.

So have at it. I uploaded the full image so I hope you can click on it, enlarge it, download it and mess around with it to your heart's content.

What do you see?

Monday, June 02, 2008

The lonely places.

Fortean Times has an article on haunted lighthouses. Apparently many of them, especially deserted ones, are claimed to be haunted.

It seems odd, since there have been very few recorded deaths in lighthouses. The sceptical part of me notes the unusual acoustics of a tall, circular building combined with the noise of the sea and the human imagination after dark. Even so, there have been too many reports to dismiss in this way.

Some involve sightings (from outside) of a figure at the top of a locked and abandoned lighthouse. These are not easy places to break into. Many reports of sightings and voices took place in daytime.

A lighthouse keeper is a solitary individual by nature. It's not a job for the socialite, it's for those who prefer to keep away from people. Those who might, in other times, have become hermits. It is therefore likely that, after death, the spirits of these people would seek sanctuary in the place they felt most comfortable. It's also not surprising that most reports involve antagonistic spirits who want to be left alone. That's all they ever wanted when they were alive. They don't want to cross into whatever spirit realm there might be. They want solitude.

Access to lighthouses is difficult. Working lighthouses naturally don't want anyone getting in the way because if an investigator blew a fuse and put out the light, it would put shipping in danger. It's not a responsibility any investigator should take lightly since there could be some serious legal repercussions. I have 'professional indemnity insurance' in case I damage someone, or someone's property, during the course of my work. It won't cover the sinking of a trawler!

Abandoned lighthouses are likely to be extremely dangerous structures and are often inaccessible. Getting permission to spend the night in one will be difficult and if something happened (something physical, like falling down the stairs) it would take a long time to get help. If a storm blew up you might be stuck there.

I have never investigated--or even set foot in--a lighthouse but I'm certainly going to see if it's possible. It might not be but it's worth a try. Most of my investigations take place in lonely places, away from the hubbub of the town and the constant interference of wildly fluctuating electric fields. I find the real silence and the real darkness away from the town and the streetlights relaxing, and much easier to work with. Fewer interfering variables and almost no interfering living people makes an investigation so much more likely to succeed.

I hereby add lighthouses to my list of potential places. One day, I might get that chance.