Monday, March 28, 2011


How many nuclear bombs have gone off in the world?

If you'd asked me up until recently I'd have said two. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oh, wait, there was the test bomb in the USA, then all the fuss about Bikini Atholl where the French tested a bomb and then the British tests in Australia, so maybe ten, or a few more?

Two nuclear bombs were used in war. Two. How many were tested?

This animation shows, in the top right, the month and year. Around the edges are country flags with the number of bombs exploded. Flashes show where they went off. In the bottom right is the total of nuclear bombs. Not explosions. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island etc are not counted. Only deliberate bombs.

By 1998, thirteen years ago, before the Korean tests, more than two thousand nuclear bombs had been detonated on planet Earth. If you are worried about fallout from the Japanese quake-damaged reactor, forget it. That won't even blip on your background radiation now.

The Japanese have never developed a nuclear bomb. For a good reason. They have seen what it can do.

Two bombs on Japan. Two thousand on the planet. I think that should just about cover it.

Cancer rates started booming in the fifties. Officially, there is no connection.

Edit Damn this widescreen fad. The video edge is clipped. It's best to double-click it and watch on YouTube.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chasing the moon.

Typical. It was clear skies all day and as soon as night fell, the clouds rolled in. This is the best one so far, but I haven't given up for the night yet.

The full size image would make a great book cover at least. So it's not a total waste of an evening.

Additional - This, I think, is the best I'll get with a digital camera. Most of them come out overexposed so it's just a white disc. The trick is to use a fast shutter speed, which you can get if your camera has a 'sport' setting. A tripod is, of course, essential because you'll need to use maximum zoom. Mine has 12X optical zoom. Never use digital zoom. It's rubbish.

Maybe I can enhance the contrast. I'll try later.

Monday, March 14, 2011


On March 19th, the moon is full and is also at its closest point to Earth on its elliptical orbit. There is a great deal of fuss being generated about this, and this astronomical event is already being blamed for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami even though it's still five days from happening.

Why does the full moon matter? Because a full moon means the Earth is directly between the moon and the sun. However, the moon's gravity and the difference in distance over its orbit is just not enough to raise so much as the hairs on the back of your neck. There is no measurable physical effect of this event, and certainly no measurable effect a week before it even happens.

The full moon has psychological effects on people. That has been recognised for a long time, hence the term 'lunatic' and the association of all kinds of weird behaviours with the full moon.

The moon influences tides, we know this for certain.

But plate tectonics? Moving water around is one thing, moving rock is quite another. The moon just doesn't have the density to exert that kind of pull on subterranean rocks. If it did, we'd all feel lighter and weigh measurably less during one of these events due to the moon's gravity counteracting part of Earth's. If it can shift continental plates it will certainly affect little organic masses like us. It doesn't.

So no, next week's supermoon did not cause last week's disaster.

It is, however, a great photo opportunity if the clouds are kind to us.

Interesting Things - 6.

1. The Bloop

Okay, I can find nothing on this one at all. It's an undersea noise recorded in the Pacific in 1997 and it remains unexplained. It sounds, to me, like a bubble. Perhaps a large clathrate collapse. To date, it has not been assigned any official explanation at all. Chthulu is fiction. Let's not even start on that one.

The most interesting thing about this one, aside from its inexplicability, is that it's not the only unexplained sound to come out of the ocean. Some very strange noises have been recorded.

Some are available here, with whale sounds, boats, volcanoes and earthquakes for comparison.

If your name is Julia, beware. Davy Jones is calling for you.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Visiting the unknown.

There have been many tales of those who have clinically died, been brought back and who have described either an afterlife or the attempts to resuscitate them as seen from another part of the room. Sometimes both.

Where someone describes the scene around their 'dead' body, there are things that can be verified. Things that were said and done, things that others saw happening, can be checked. The sceptical view must always be - were they really unconscious all the time? They might believe they were, but did they pick up a spoken word here and there? While these cases can be verified, they can't be absolute proof as long as that shred of doubt exists.

Anything concerning the afterlife is easily dismissed by the sceptics even when multiple cases describe the same thing. They could have read about those other cases, they might be based on the same set of beliefs, and since the person survived they obviously didn't 'cross over'. Such cases don't constitute proof, only evidence.

What we need are more cases like this one.

Scepticism alert - the family are trying to make money from a book based on the story. It's not really enough for a book, it's just a case study and only one aspect of it really matters. The descriptions of heaven, of sitting on Jesus' knee, of God and angels, are all things that could have come from the boy's Christian upbringing. I'm not saying he imagined them, I'm saying we can't use any of that as evidence for anything.

Book-hype notwithstanding, the one interesting aspect of this case is that the boy said he met his dead sister while he was 'dead'. Not remarkable in itself but when you take into account that this boy was four years old and that his sister died in a miscarriage a year before he was born, then it does get very interesting.

The parents say the boy had no knowledge of his mother's miscarriage and there is no reason to disbelieve what they say. Dead babies are not a normal topic of conversation between parents and four-year-olds. It would be a macabre family indeed who would discuss a miscarried baby with such a young child. Indeed, few people who experience such trauma wish to speak of it at all.

So I, for one, fully accept that the parents did not tell the boy about his dead sister. His meeting with her ghost might well be real and it is certainly far more convincing than any description of an afterlife none of us have seen. There is only one way to test such descriptions and I'm in no hurry.

However (yes, there's always a 'however') there is one tiny detail that cracks this otherwise amazing story.

As I said, I believe the parents never told the boy about his miscarried sister. Could he, though, have overheard them talking about it at any point? Could that information have crept into his mind without even him realising what he was hearing? It's not impossible. His parents wouldn't know so their statement that they didn't tell him is still true.

It's often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence but that's not really true. What's needed is not extraordinary evidence but absolutely unbreakable evidence. It can be mundane, such as the location of a particular key, or a password known only to the deceased, but it must be absolutely impossible for anyone still living to get hold of that information without direct contact with the dead.

In this case, it seems highly likely that the boy genuinely didn't know about his dead sister before his own unfortunate experience, but there is that nagging shred of possibility that he might have, and that is enough to break the proof. It's one small hole that a determined sceptic can get a finger into, and from there they'll tear the story apart. The only way to produce proof is to have no holes at all.

There is another explanation that does not involve an afterlife, but sceptics won't like this either. When I was young, I always had the feeling that someone was missing. That there should be more family than those I saw around me (even though there were already more than I felt able to cope with). Something was missing. I even mentioned it to my mother at one point and she brushed it off with 'Don't be silly'.

Years later, many years, I found out about the adoption. Not mine. Hers. My mother had been adopted and had eight brothers and sisters, who she later contacted. There was a lot more family after all - in fact I had been right through school with one of my cousins and never known!

Family ties are stronger than science can ever realise. It might be that the boy knew at some subconscious level that someone was missing. Couple that with an overheard snippet of conversation and then put his mind in a calm, resting state with anaesthetic and he could have worked it out. Dreams would do the rest.

So it's not proof. It is, however, compelling evidence, even though we can find a few possible holes in it. It's a step closer to proof and that's good enough for now.

Naturally, some who call themselves sceptics are actually cynics who would refuse to accept any evidence at all, even if they met a ghost themselves. Those are beyond the reach of logic and research and can be ignored. There is no point banging our heads on brick walls.

This case, though, is very interesting indeed, possibly unique. Many have met parents and other relatives in these experiences but they have always known of the existence and death of those relatives beforehand. This is, I think, the first description of meeting a dead sibling the subject didn't know existed.

That is a very big step forward.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Interesting things - 5.

2. The Baghdad Batteries.

This one is particularly fascinating because they genuinely look like batteries and can, using electrolytes that would have been easily available at the time, generate a voltage.

Not much of a voltage. About what you'd get from a standard dry cell these days, around 1-3 volts. So, the idea that they were used to power 2000-year-old arc lights is, let's say 'unlikely' to be generous. Especially as no arc lights, nor indeed any kind of electric light, has been found.

There is a theory that they were used to electroplate metals, but no contemporary electroplated metal has turned up. Another theory was that they were used as some kind of joke-buzzer by priests to persuade their flock that there really was power in the statues of their gods. Again, no wired-up statue, nor indeed any wires at all, have shown up.

What do I think? Well, suppose, two thousand years from now, someone uncovered my laboratory. There are all kinds of gadgets in there, some of which have proved to be no use at all. However, maybe in two thousand years, one of those devices actually does do something and is then in common use. Those archaeologists might wonder 'How did that Crowe chap come up with this? Was he two thousand years ahead of his time? Why, this machine looks like a crude defibcombulator, a common household appliance these days.'

The truth would be that I have no idea what a defibcombulator might be nor what it does. I have no idea why anything would need defibcombulating nor what anyone might want to defibcombulate. I just made this interesting thing, found no use for it and put it to one side as 'something that might be useful one day'.

Now go back two thousand years to a scientist in Baghdad. He has access to copper, iron, clay pots and acidic electrolytes such as grape juice, wine and vinegar. He has access, therefore, to everything he needs to build a battery. While playing around, as scientists used to do before politics took over, he gives himself a little electric shock from some wine-covered metals.

'Oh,' he thinks. 'That was interesting.' So he sets about building a device to replicate that mild shock. Now he has a battery - but he has no radio, no phone, no TV, not even a light bulb. He has no actual use for the device he has built. It's just an interesting thing that he'd put to one side as 'something that might be useful one day'.

At that time, it might not have occurred to the scientist that the electricity he generated could be transported from his battery to somewhere else along a strip of metal. Why would it? He had nothing to power with this new device, and nobody had thought to build anything. Besides, it would soon run out of charge and need replenishing so to the minds of the time, it would have been just an interesting thing with no practical application.

So we have batteries but no wires, and no evidence they were ever used for anything. I think they really were batteries. I think they were the product of an enquiring mind but abandoned as being of no practical use.

What they found in Baghdad was that cupboard all scientists have, where we store things that don't actually do anything useful but which look interesting.