Saturday, February 26, 2011

Interesting things - 4.

3. The Giant Stone Balls of Costa Rica.

Huge carved stone balls, some six feet wide, litter the ground of parts of Costa Rica. In a world where humans have built Stonehenge, the pyramids and the carved heads of Easter Island, do these even need any explanation?

There is a quarry, some fifty miles from where some of the stones were found. How did they get there? Well, I would suggest that if you have several tons of rock, moving it from one place to another would be difficult if it was shaped like the rectangles of Stonehenge, the heads of Easter Island or the shaped blocks of the Egyptian or Inca pyramids. Stonehenge's bluestones, in particular, were moved hundreds of miles from their source to the place of construction.

By comparison, moving a stone shaped like a sphere would be a simple job indeed.

How were they cut so accurately? Actually, they aren't perfect spheres although they look pretty impressive to the eye. To check them for roundness during construction, all you need is a critical eye and a length of rope. Put the rope around the rock, note the length, put it around in a different direction and if it's a different length, it's not a sphere yet. More chipping away required.

The amount of chipping, and the fussiness of the builder, might explain why some of those balls are quite small. Some carvers just couldn't stop until it was exactly right.

In a society where nobody has access to laser-sighting equipment and giant calipers, a ball that looks round is good enough to impress the neighbours.

And that, most likely, is what they were for. Humanity hasn't changed all that much. Now it's all about who has the biggest, newest, fastest car or the latest fashionable shoes or the right logos on their T-shirts. People were no different in the old days. On Easter Island they competed for the most ornate stone head. In Egypt, the Pharaohs tried to out-do previous pharaohs with a bigger or more internally complex pyramid. In the UK, one village put up a carved rock, the next village put up a bigger one, the next put up a circle, the next placed huge rocks on top of other huge rocks... and in Costa Rica, they made bigger, rounder stone balls and moved them further than their neighbours.

I mean, really. Aliens? An alien race goes to all the trouble, time and expense to cross the vast gulf of space, makes some huge granite marbles and goes home again? Seriously?

Look at sculptors, ancient and modern. Many living sculptors could produce such a stone ball now, and with modern tools they could make a bigger and rounder one than any in Costa Rica.

These are interesting ancient artefacts. Whether they were part of some religious rite or just the ancient equivalent of garden gnomes, we'll never know. However, they were made by people.

No mystery here at all.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interesting things - 3.

4. The Baigong Pipes.

I thought this one would be a challenge, but it's not.

Years ago, I visited Beijing and spent some time at the university there. What struck me about the library was that they had every English language journal available - but the same amount of books in Chinese. I couldn't read Chinese so I could only access half of that library's contents. I was forced to conclude that the students there must know twice as much as me.

All we know about China is what comes out of there translated. In the case of these mysterious pipes, all that seems to be available is one newspaper report.

However, someone with the time and inclination to press this particular matter further has found that the Chinese do, in fact, know exactly what these pipes are.

Fossilised tree casts. Yes, they are palaeontological, not paranormal.


Interesting things - 2.

5. The Antikythera mechanism.

This was fished out of the sea many years ago and appears to be a device so complex that it's often said that nobody could have made it at the time.

Evidently, someone did.

There are people in the world today who could start from a sheet of brass and make an accurate watch mechanism. Not very many, but there are some. Nowadays few would bother because many of the cogs and wheels are already available as mass-produced parts, but armed with a few simple tools and a lot of time and skill, it could still be done.

It accurately charts the planets, the moon (including correcting for the moon's elliptical orbit) and performs a whole range of astronomical calculations. All of them accurately. So, is it some mysterious time-travel artefact or a design passed on by aliens?

At the time it was built, astrology was a very serious matter indeed. A device that could accurately predict what the sun, moon and planets would do in the future was a highly desirable thing. It would be something that someone, possibly royalty, would pay a lot of money for. Therefore it was certainly worth some skilled artisan's time to cut all those cogs and gears and make sure the whole device worked.

How did he predict the moon and planetary movements? He didn't. He observed them and replicated the movements in his device. Since each object follows a predictable path, the historical data available to the device's maker would extrapolate very nicely into future data. All he had to do was make sure it gave accurate results for any point in the past, and it would give accurate results for any point in the future.

Easy? Certainly not. Planets don't follow neat circles around the sky, certainly not when seen from Earth. Sometimes they even appear to go backwards for a time. Getting all that into the machine would need a lot of cogs and wheels and that's exactly what this device has.

It was made by someone exceptionally clever, highly skilled and who had time and resources to do it. Most likely it was commissioned by someone very rich, someone who could keep the maker employed solely on this job.

Are there others? Well, you wouldn't pay someone on the promise that they could make something unless you'd seen previous work. So simpler mechanisms were probably produced along the way. As this site says, the Antikythera mechanism contains no errors so it's likely there were prototypes.

Why haven't we found any? Consider how long it takes to cut one accurate cog starting from a sheet of metal. When you have a prototype but need to change some things, you keep all the parts you've made that already work. I'd say the prototypes were most likely cannibalised for parts so the chances of finding one of them will be very slim now.

As for it being the only one, well, it would have taken many years to get this one right and there was no such thing as mass production. It might well have been the only one ever made, especially if the maker or his rich sponsor hid or destroyed the plans and prototypes. Having the only accurate planet-predictor would have been a very powerful thing in those days.

I don't see anything supernatural or inexplicable in this device. It's fascinating, certainly, but it's not beyond the bounds of human ability for the time. All it would need was the backing of a rich sponsor. It would also take someone most of a lifetime to get it right, so finding only one isn't a surprise either.

So it's not inexplicable at all.

The next one might be.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Interesting things - 1.

There is a site that lists interesting and often amusing things. It's a little on the, well, a lot on the sweary side in many cases. In fact, it reaches the level that used to be called 'profane' in more religious days.

Nonetheless, the information it carries is interesting and it does a good job of pulling togetther collections of related items. Sometimes strongly related and sometimes tenuously, but always there's a link.

One of the collections is 'Six insane discoveries that science can't explain'. Well, let's have a go. They list the things in reverse order so we start with number six.

6. The Voynich manuscript.

Only one copy of this exists and you'll need to get special permission to view it. It's unlikely you'll be allowed to touch it, an attendant with white cotton gloves will turn the pages for you, and as for slapping it on a photocopier, forget it. There is a book about this book, called (predictably) 'The Voynich Manuscript', by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, 2004, Orion books, London. I have a copy of that book.

So can science explain the Voynich manuscript? Looking at the images in that book and reading the arguments put forward, I would say yes. Science can't translate it, but we can take a good stab at explaining it. There are images of castles and of people dressed in mediaeval style. There are images of crowns, one at least very similar in design to the English royal crown. It is not a mysterious grimoire from the dawn of time, its origin might go as far back as Roger Bacon (mid to late 1200s) but is more likely the creation of Dr. John Dee with the help of Edward Kelley in the 1580s.

Why can't we translate it? First, it's not written in any known (modern or extinct) alphabet. It does not decode into any known language. It might be gibberish or it might be an entirely invented language, much like the modern attempt at Esperanto in Europe.

Not translating it does not equate to an inability to explain it. Currently, it looks like an elaborate fake designed to con gullible rich people out of large amounts of cash. Edward Kelley, at least, was known to be particularly good at that.

I'll look at the others in separate posts, otherwise this is going to turn into a very long essay.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Merchant of Green Death.

New Scientist, 5th February 2011, issue 2798, page 27. Article 'One minute with Lester Brown'.

This is a man banging on about climate change but whose background is in agriculture and economics. He is no more qualified in climate modelling and weather prediction than I am, and I am not.

His argument on the issues facing water supplies are perfectly correct. Taking water from underground aquifers faster than they are replenished will, most definitely, lead to severe problems in the future. That, I agree with absolutely and based on his qualifications in agriculture and economics, I fully accept his timescales for the future problems.

However, this has nothing at all to do with climate change, whether man-made, natural, or due to comet strike or dancing medicine men. The forthcoming water shortages are caused by people pumping water from wells faster than it drains into those wells. The climate is irrelevant.

Nonetheless, he uses this to demand a restructuring of the world economy along his lines and to demand we all (well, not him personally of course) return to mediaeval life for the sake of the climate. He ends with this:

It's about becoming politically active. If there's a coal-fired power station near you, organise to close it down.

They've already tried. The unwashed, uneducated drones who follow the new religion of the Green God have tried to shut down a power station. They will succeed one day.

When they do, all those life-support machines, baby incubators, kidney dialysis, monitoring equipment, in every hospital, will stop working. Just like that. No warning. No backup. They just stop.

In windowless operating theatres where patients lie with some part or other of their innards exposed, the lights will go out and the anaesthetic machinery will stop working. You want to imagine something really horrible? Imagine waking in the dark surrounded by the sound of panicking people and realising your abdomen is open and it hurts.

In every pensioner's home, in every nursery, the heat will go off. Lights too. All security systems will be inoperative, all street lights off, all those CCTV cameras will be dead and it won't take the criminals long to work out what that means.

Even if you have gas central heating, the controller and the pumps are electric. They won't work either.

Try to leave town, and find that the pumps that put petrol in your car are electric. You won't get far.

This is the scenario that the Green God's followers want to bring to reality. They have the full support of Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.

Science has become a dangerous fascist entity. To Science, we are just statistics, not human beings. If they get their way there will be a cull. Science, like religion, cannot be trusted with politics. They are too convinced of their own Righteousness.

How will they decide who to cull? It would be difficult unless there was some way to collect everyone's DNA and catalogue it. Then, Science can dispassionately decide who is useless.

The irony is, most of those unwashed Green eco-warriors are certain to be on the list.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Work on a new roller-coaster has stirred up some ghostly activity. Hardly surprising since they were digging fifty-foot foundation holes in an area that was well frequented even in the seventh century. There must have been a lot of travellers killed on that road over such a long time.

The park officials called in experts who stated, through their claimed paranormal contacts, that the ride was on the site of an ancient burial ground. The experts went on to say that they captured a lot more orbs at the site than at other nearby spots. For me, that was a major groan time.

Orbs are dust. This has been demonstrated over and over and over. I've demonstrated it myself. They are reflections picked up by digital cameras which can see infrared. You'd expect a lot more dust, and therefore more orbs, at a building site than on undisturbed ground nearby. It's not rocket science and it's not paranormal science either. My faith in these experts was severely shaken as soon as they came out with the O-word.

And yet they correctly identified the burial ground. Ah, but...

The ride's foundations would have been over 15m (49ft) deep in an area of the theme park where stone coffins have previously been excavated.

The burial ground was already documented. Nil points for that one. Identify a previously unidentified burial ground and be proved right, and you're in business. Identify a known burial site and you're going to get laughed at.

The ghosts, however, are likely to be genuine. They were convincing enough for the entire ride to be moved to another site because the builders refused to work there. I can't see what the builders would gain from having to start all over again somewhere else since they've likely been contracted for a fixed price for the job. They wouldn't do it for fun. They can't negotiate a new price since the builders, not the park owners, wanted the thing moved.

What interests me most of all is that if the builders routinely saw ghosts at the site, why did the 'experts' content themselves with blurry dust photos? Where are the names and the faces of these ghosts? Where is, at the least, a sense of whether these ghosts were angry, distressed, or just interested in what was going on?

'Expert' doesn't seem to mean what it used to.

Oh, and headless ghosts are not necessarily ghosts of the beheaded. Close your eyes and imagine yourself. You can picture your body, arms and legs easily because you see them every day. It's harder to picture your head because that's where your eyes are.

Now imagine you had to manifest as a spirit. You can check your arms and legs are in the right place but you have no way to tell if you've manifested your head at all.

'Headless' can mean no more than 'Well, I thought it was there...'

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A darker shade of green.

All those windmills, all standing on massive eco-disaster concrete blocks, all needing eco-disaster paved roads for access by eco-disaster diesel trucks carrying eco-disaster steel and synthetic spare parts, all of them are the twinkle in the swivelling eye of every Green lunatic.

They are good for the environment, you see. They use marvellous neodymium magnets which boosts their efficiency to the point where they might one day compete with tallow candles and dried cow faeces as fuel. One day.

Neodymium is a 'rare earth' metal. That does not mean it's scarce. It means that, unlike commonly available metals, it does not occur in handy seams of ore. It's scattered in tiny bits all over the planet. China produces most of it at the moment but that is not because China has all the reserves. The stuff is everywhere.

It's because China is the only country that will stand for what happens when you extract neodymium. For the magnets in the windmills.

It's good for the environment, we are told.

The Chinese people might not quite agree.

Greens, welcome to the dark side of your religion.