Friday, March 27, 2009

A good one

At last, a ghost photo the sceptics are having trouble debunking. Pity it's not one of mine.

The article also directs to a site I haven't seen before.

Busy this afternoon, so I'll take a closer look later. The only trouble with having a lot of cameras is that friends ask you to photograph their weddings. They never invite me to photograph funerals. In the UK, it's just 'not the done thing' and people get a bit upset about it. Anyway, I have to go and take photos of a happy smiling couple and a crowd of drunken Scots afterwards.

At least I'll get free food and booze. Better take the autofocus cameras.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another notch on the age stick soon.

This year, my birthday coincides with Palm Sunday, with the Chi'ng Ming festival in China and with National Tomb-sweeping day in Taiwan. Not the most cheerful of coincidences; according to Christian tradition, Palm Sunday was when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, and he was nailed to a cross within a week. The Chi'ng Ming festival and the Tomb-sweeping day involve a graveside meal shared with the dead.

I really like the idea of a Tomb-sweeping day. It implies a respect for the dead, and by extension for the elderly, that I've seen dwindle dramatically within the UK in my lifetime (of which I hope to have a great deal left).

Perhaps we should have something similar here. Something to remind the youth of their mortality, so they might not be quite so quick to stab and shoot each other.

An annual visit to a graveyard should be encouraged, along with a reminder of what those stones really mean. I see children playing among gravestones here. Some would say that's good, that they aren't afraid of death, but that's not the case. I don't believe they appreciate what death means. They don't realise that under each stone is a decaying corpse who once enjoyed the spring sunshine just as they do now.

I wonder if the shades watch the children play and hope that in at least one of those small minds, a name on a stone is read and remembered, and linked to a real person who saw the world perhaps a hundred or more years ago.

I doubt any of those children think that way and I suppose it's unfair of me to ask them to consider such dark thoughts, but still I think it would be good to let the young realise that they aren't here forever. Take more care, think about what you do in life because you'll have a long time to regret it afterwards.

Enough maudlin thoughts. Another birthday approaches and I suppose it's preferable to the alternative, but with each one I have to wonder how many are left.

Never mind, it'll soon have passed and I can then ignore it for another year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sound equipment.

I've never had much luck with ghostly voice recordings. Nothing to shout about anyway, nothing I could prove wasn't just me with a sore throat. Still, I keep refining the techniques and keep trying. One day a ghost will say something verifiable on tape and when they do, I want to be able to hear it.

First of all, recorders:

The somewhat lousy photo shows a standard cassette recorder and a digital voice recorder. The digital has many advantages, not least its size and its much smaller battery. With the full size cassette you need to carry spare 'C' cells in packs of four. The digital recorder uses one 'AAA' cell. So, less weight and bulk of recorder and less weight and bulk of spare batteries. An all-round winner so far.

Sound quality on the digital sounds, to my untrained ear, much the same as the cassette but without the tape hiss and motor rumble. Better, in other words, maybe not clearer but with less interference. Lastly, it's easy to transfer the sound files from the digital recorder to a computer.

That ease of transfer is a flaw. Once on a computer, a sound file is easily doctored. There's no 'original tape' to hold up as evidence. Although the digital file is date-stamped while the tape isn't, date stamps can be faked too. However, the sceptics are likely to claim the tape was faked anyway so there's really no advantage in having it these days. What we need is speech, saying something that can be verified, and that nobody else could know. Where Great-Uncle Wyndham buried his box of button badges, something like that. Of course, if he tells you where he buried a ton of gold, you then have to decide whether you want to go public on that.

The other problem you might come across with digital recorders is that many don't have a socket for an external microphone. The one pictured does, but the first one I bought didn't. All these recorders come with internal microphones that are perfectly good for normal use, but we're not talking about normal use. We're talking about faint and often indistinct voices. So an external microphone, a good one, is a must. It doesn't have to be studio quality, just clear and safe from noise sources.

I prefer these. Designed for computer use, they aren't expensive and they come with a base so they're held off any surface you place them on. Not vibration-proof but with a foam pad under them, they're pretty good. They don't weigh much either - remember, if you're going to cart a load of equipment to off-road locations, you want it all as small and light as possible. Also cheap, because you inevitably lose bits now and then.

The mics above are directional, in that they pick up most effectively from the area directly in front of them. A boundary microphone picks up sound from all around, and looks like this:

It's a good idea to have one of these, I think. I haven't tested this yet. It's new. Oh, and keep a few of those plastic-coated wire twist ties handy. Otherwise you'll be untangling cables all night.

To summarise all that rambling, go for digital over tape recorders because they're much smaller and lighter and so are the spare batteries you need. Digital recordings are free of tape hiss and rumbles and easily transferred. The only advantage of tape is having that original recording but since you'll inevitably be accused of faking it anyway, it's not enough of an advantage to be worthwhile.

Get some external microphones. They're always better than the built-in ones.

Finally, since these are the first photos from the new lab, here's another look. I'll take more photos when it's fully equipped, and after the sacks of decorating waste are gone, but that ghastly carpet is out, tiles are laid and the walls are painted. It looks like a lab, rather than a dilapidated shed now. All it needs is an espresso machine, and that's in the back of the car ready to go in tomorrow.

Well, I have to have the essentials...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Battery time.

Clocks like this are available from most charity shops for a very small amount of cash. Those tiny portable alarm clocks can be bought brand new for about one pound (roughly two dollars). They are a useful addition to any ghosthunter's equipment collection. Cheap enough that you don't care if they are lost or broken and could potentially provide very useful information. As long as you don't buy the digital ones where the screen blanks when it's out of power.

Confused? Well, think of it this way. Many investigators report sudden loss of power in battery-driven equipment, particularly cameras and camcorders and especially where rechargeable batteries are used. The frequency of such reports suggests there is something about ghosts or about the locations they are in that causes batteries to spontaneously drain.

The problem in this theory is that digital cameras and camcorders are remarkably effective at killing batteries on their own. One camera I recently disposed of could wipe out a pair of cheap AA cells in under a minute. They'd come out hot. I had to take the batteries out of that camera when it wasn't in use because even the good quality batteries would die in hours.

The display on cameras, phones, and other digital gadgetry normally includes a three-bar battery power indicator. This can sometimes go from three bars to zero at a stroke: sometimes it's because of a lot of stored images (which uses power all the time) or because the indicator isn't all that good. As a rough guide, fine, but don't rely on it.

So in most of the equipment where battery power is spontaneously drained, it's impossible to be sure it's not just the equipment doing it. In other words, if your phone dies ten minutes after you charged it, it does not constitute proof of anything supernatural. A faulty charger or battery, a poor connection between charger and phone, an inaccurate indicator, all these and more could be valid reasons. The loss of battery power in such equipment proves nothing.

It occurred to me that when I put a single AA battery in one of these clocks, I don't have to replace it for about a year. The clock takes a tiny amount of power at a remarkably regular rate. Spontaneous loss of power just doesn't happen unless the battery is faulty and that's very rare.

So if you place a few of these very cheap clocks, all set to the correct time, around a site, you can forget about them while you investigate. At the end of the investigation, collect them and note whether they still work and show the correct time. You will need to check beforehand that they reliably keep time for about 24 hours, naturally.

These cost next to nothing and they will tell you whether there has been a partial or temporary loss of power and how long that lasted, simply by comparing the times shown on the clocks. They will tell you whether a total loss of battery occurred and better still - they will show the exact time it happened.

As long as you have kept notes of any strange occurrences along with the time of those occurrences (I used a spring-driven watch for this!) you can compare the time of any dead clocks with your notes.

In theory at least, a battery-draining ghost could be tracked along their route by the times on the clocks that stop as they pass.

Before you head for the Ghostly Gadget Shop to empty your wallet on equipment you aren't trained to use, first consider how you can make use of much cheaper sources of information. You might spend ten pounds on charity-shop clocks and get no result. Would you rather spend hundreds on a tri-field meter and still get no results? If you decide to quit ghosthunting in the future, you can always find another use for clocks!

Browse charity and second-hand shops and think ghosthunting while you do it. Investigations require persistence and patience and a lot of thought and planning, but they don't have to be expensive.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The world next door.

Science is full of weird theories. Some are discounted at once, some are pursued, and despite the protestations of those who think scientists live by some Vulcan-like logic, devoid of emotion, most of the reasons for discounting or pursuing any particular theory are down to human preference.

For example, I persist in attempting to prove the existence of ghosts even though many scientists scoff at the very notion. They discount the theory. I pursue it. Others continue in the quest for cold fusion even though much of science says it can't work. Some insist that the coldest UK winter for 30 years is proof of global warming. I'm not the only single-minded nut out here.

One of my side interests is particle physics. I don't understand the detail of it, never having studied the subject, so I read New Scientist's articles on it rather than Nature's. New Scientist puts scientific information in terms understandable to those who have not studied the particular subject.

I'm interested because of things like this.

(there's an ad first, but there's a 'skip' button at the bottom right)

The bonanza of evidence suggests that dark matter might be far more complicated than we had ever imagined. For starters, the theoretician's favourite dark-matter candidate is falling out of favour, with the latest experiments making the case for new, exotic varieties of dark matter. If they are right, we could be living next to a "hidden sector", an unseen aspect of the cosmos that exists all around us and includes a new force of nature.

Dark matter, apparently, makes up much more of the mass of the universe than 'normal' matter - ie that which we can detect. Since detectable matter is made up of many different types of particle, it always seemed odd to me that dark matter was considered a uniform substance. Now, it seems this is no longer the case. Good. The theory also now holds that this dark matter is not in clumps in parts of the universe but could be all around us all the time. We don't experience it because it interacts only very weakly with the matter we're made of.

Such hidden worlds might sound strange, but they emerge naturally from complex theories such as string theory, which attempts to mesh together the very small and the very large. Hidden worlds may, literally, be all around us. They could, in theory, be populated by a rich menagerie of particles and have their own forces. Yet we would be unaware of their existence because the particles interact extremely weakly with the familiar matter of our universe. Of late, physicists have been taking seriously the idea that particles from such hidden sectors could be dark matter.

Okay, as it stands, science considers the dark matter (90% of the mass of the universe) as an amorphous, structureless mass of particles. However, consider this - the dark matter might have its own forces, its own laws of physics that we don't yet know about. It might have formed a planet we can't see. It might have formed some kind of life. That life might have formed physicists who, even now, wonder about the 10% of matter they can't see. It might include a paranormal investigator who has a faint photograph of me hanging around a derelict church, and nobody believes him.

It might be that we are connected on some level with this other reality and it might be that the part of us that is connected will continue after the matter we are made of has worn out.

Ideas only, but with some basis behind them. Sceptics will laugh it off but that's their choice. The matter that makes our world and all that we can see when we look at the sky at night comprises ten percent of reality. Ten percent. There is ninety percent of reality we know nothing at all about.

So maybe there's an experimentally-verifiable mechanism for the formation of a ghost at death. Maybe there really is a Heaven and Hell - there's plenty of room for them. Maybe that part of us which does interact with the unseen matter is not as prone to ageing and decay as the part we see.

I am sure 'serious' scientists will dismiss all that as the ramblings of a deranged mind. That's no problem. Cuts down the competition from better-funded and better-equipped people.

Since I don't have physics training or any of the massively expensive equipment that goes with that subject, I can't take this much further than thinking about it for the moment. But as the dark matter story unfolds, you can be sure I'll be watching it very carefully.