Thursday, September 29, 2011

Science by magician.

Another stage psychic has been toppled by a stage magician who admits he was once a fake psychic himself. Is it just me, or is this new world where stage magicians operate as scientific debunkers disturbing anyone else?

Paul Zenon is a magician. His magic isn't real and he does not pretend that it is. It's clever and it's often hard to work out how it's done, but it's done with physical trickery. Not with wands and pointy hats. He states that he has used cold reading in the past to trick audiences. Other magicians have done the same.

I recall one British magician who 'proved' that astrology was bunk by writing a newspaper-column-type generalised reading and showing that it applied to everyone. No big surprise, pick any star sign in the newspaper and you can work it into something that's happened in your life. That does not prove that a full reading done by an astrologer who has your precise birth details is wrong. All it proved was that the newspaper columns are generalised junk. We already knew that.

I have no faith in stage psychics. Finding the right number of ghosts to fill a show, with no long blank spaces and no ghost that doesn't relate to the audience, looks dodgy from the outset. If they really are calling up the spirits of the dead to order, that's not mediumship. That's necromancy and anyone involved in that is best avoided.

I don't think any stage psychic is a real medium. A real one would be constantly distracted if they just threw themselves open to any and all ghosts around them and there's no other way to run such a show. Ghosts don't form orderly queues.

One line in that article caught my attention - is still illegal in this country to claim to be a medium...

Well, it's illegal to make money from the claim, but it seems to be just fine if you say 'psychic' instead. The law here is a shambles.

I really don't think you'd ever see a real medium on the stage. It doesn't work to TV schedules. As with the magician's debunking of newspaper astrology, it does not prove there is no real life counterpart. Actually speaking to ghosts is not a profitable occupation, they rarely have anything interesting to say and they don't know the lottery numbers because they can't see the future. Many are a bit hazy on the past, never mind the future. They also tend to turn up more by chance than anything else. Mediums do not summon spirits. That is a different and much darker practice.

Worse, if you go around telling people you see and hear the dead, chances are you'll soon have your very own rubber room. This society is not very forgiving of those who are different from what it defines as normal. So getting mediums to come forward isn't as easy as it sounds.Those who do speak out know they are likely to find themselves on some pretty hefty medication.

Medicine will tell you that 'the voices aren't real' and hold up proof in the form of 'well, the drugs stopped the voices so they were never real'. Were the voices never real, or did the drugs merely block the patient's ability to hear them? Medicine doesn't care. The symptom is gone, the patient is cured. Next!

I agree with the magician's statement that stage mediumship is almost certainly entirely a con. It's entertainment and as long as you see it as entertainment, no problem. Just as you know the magician is using trickery, be aware that the stage psychic is also using trickery.

That does not mean that ghosts don't exist nor does it mean that nobody can see them.

Even so, it does disturb me that this sort of thing is left to stage magicians while science merely dismisses the entire subject with 'I don't believe it'. Science is not supposed to be about belief.

Increasingly, in many areas, it is.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Old dog, new tricks.

When I wrote 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' and put it on Lulu, I did it in what can best be described as a fit of truculence.

It's not much of a book, a mere 30-page pamphlet really, and it happened because I kept reading 'manuals' that told the reader they'd need this or that device and they'd need this or that preparation and all of them were concerned with electronics and gadgetry

There is no such thing as a ghost detector. EMF meters measure electromagnetic fields and fluctuations in such fields might or might not mean there's a ghost around. They might mean the fridge has just switched on and caused a voltage spike throughout the mains. You don’t have to be in the same room as the fridge to measure it.

These new tri-field meters are expensive, and are sensitive enough to measure EMF changes caused by the cash in your pocket moving around. They are useless in the hands of anyone who is not used to handling such sensitive equipment and are a waste of money. They are not ghost detectors. Until we have some idea what ghosts are made of, we cannot devise any machinery capable of detecting them.

All that infrared gadgetry is likewise useless unless you understand infrared. When you point one of those infrared thermometers at a ‘cold spot’ it does not magically stop its measuring range just where you want it. It’s measuring the temperature of the first solid object it hits and the further away that object is, the wider the circle of measurement. That means moving it slightly can change the temperature reading because it’s averaging over a wide area. It is not, under any circumstances, measuring air temperature.

See? Just a mention of all that nonsense and I’m in rant mode at once. Don’t even get me started on orbs or I’ll run this post into thesis size. There is much more but I’ll save it for the revised version, which will be big enough to be actually worth calling a book.

The point is, I wrote that book, put it on Lulu and that was enough to get that rant out of my system. I did nothing to advertise it and forgot about it until Lulu sent me a tiny amount of money. It came as a surprise to find that people were buying it.

Well, now I have branched out into actual fiction and so I’ve had to learn about marketing. I had absolutely no idea where to start. It’s not something that science training is much help with – we investigate and write it up in a dry and dusty manner for a journal. Then we move on to the next project.

When I was just hobby-writing short stories, it was pretty much the same as writing papers except the papers were all in past-tense, impersonal, passive voice and the fiction needed an entirely different approach. Writing the occasional newspaper article had helped with that but even so, the attitude was the same as with papers. It’s done, it’s published, move on. There was never any point in ‘marketing’ a short story. I was paid at the point of acceptance and there was no royalty to push for.

I’m fortunate in that the first book – Jessica’s Trap – was taken up by a publisher, so they took care of editing and cover art and some marketing. However, I still need to push it myself because publishers release loads of books and don’t care too much which ones are big and which fail. They’ll concentrate on the successes and ignore the failures. That’s how business works. If you want to be one of the successes you have to work for it. That's how life works.

The other two so far are short story collections. I self-published those because unless you’re already famous, short story collections are nearly impossible to sell to a publisher. The first one, ‘Fears of the Old and the New’, was made up of stories I’d published in the past. The magazines and online sites had either scrolled those stories off the page or had gone out of business. The rights had reverted to me but with first rights already sold, there was no profit in hawking them round again.

I made that book so I wouldn’t lose the stories and again, was surprised when it sold. Then came ‘Dark Thoughts and Demons’, a second collection of shorts. By now I was starting to take writing seriously so this one, along with the earlier one, I put on Kindle and Smashwords as well as in print and PDF on Lulu. Look for my writing 'name' - H. K. Hillman - on those sites.

Writing, editing, proofreading, production, even half-decent covers – I can do those things. Maybe not proper artisitic covers but fairly presentable ones, I think. Still I had no idea how to market them. Finally I realised I was looking at it the wrong way. I was trying to think like a marketer, and I’m not one. Instead, I started wondering how advertisers managed to get me to pick up their ads.

Offer me a flyer and I’ll either ignore it or accept it and then drop it unread into the first bin I pass. Just as most people do. What gets me to keep an ad is if it’s attached to something that’s free.

Not something of great consequence or value. Just something free. If it’s a fridge magnet I might stick it on the fridge and maybe, one day, actually read it. I have bottle openers with ads on them, and pens and mugs and keyrings... but these are all costly to produce and difficult to distribute.

So what could I attach an advert to? Well, a story costs nothing to write. Nothing but time. Not so long ago, it would have been impossible to make use of this as an advertising medium because it would have to be printed and handed out.

Now, all it needs is a decent cover and it can go onto all the electronic distribution channels as a free short story – with ads for the full books at the end. Best of all, it costs nothing. Zero outlay, apart from a couple of evenings to bash out and edit a 3000-word story.

I have not worked out how to make things free on Kindle. The minimum price seems to be 99 cents but there are free books on there so it can be done. I’ll work on that. Hints would be welcome.

I can make it free on Smashwords which does (in theory) distribute to Kindle but that part doesn’t seem to work. All their other distribution channels work just fine. The Kindle format version is free on Smashwords anyway, as are all the other formats.

This, then, is a whole new game for me. I have, as yet, no idea of the rules so I’m working them out as I go along. One thing is clear – don’t attach ads to a rubbish story. The story is the advertisement and if it’s dull and full of errors, those reading it will assume the same will be true of the books.

While I didn’t pick one of the best to give away free, I made sure it was one of those I consider at least ‘good’. Will it work? I put it on Smashwords less than 48 hours ago and so far there are 91 downloads. It’s slowing as it scrolls down the ‘new free ebooks’ list but adding another in a few days might perk it up again.

I have no idea how many of those who read it will want to read more, only time will tell. As a marketing ploy, I have no idea how good this will be but as a cost-effective marketing ploy, it’s excellent. The cost is zero. Not many marketing techniques can say that.

So. Worth a try. If anyone has any tips on how to get books under the noses of readers, I’ll be interested to hear them.

This old dog is always willing to learn new tricks.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaching vs. indoctrination.

Creationism vs. evolution - which is right?

First of all, my declaration of disinterest. I really don't care which is right. Looking at the state of the world makes me far more concerned about where we're going than where we came from. Whether the universe was created by a higher being or popped into existence all by itself simply doesn't matter at all. Whichever stance you take, you have to base it on a belief in the teachings of others because there is no means available to work it out for yourself. So I refuse to worry about it.

What does worry me is the increasing encroachment of things like this - and it goes way beyond this one item - into schools. Children are being indoctrinated at younger and younger ages into belief systems that look like science ard are not. And before 'science' gets all smug becasue they think I only mean creationism here - I mean all of it.

Children are told that if their parents smoke, their parents will die within weeks. This is child abuse. Children are told that unless their parents follow the Green God of Climatology, their parents will die and so will they. This is also child abuse. These children are being terrified by lies told to them by their teachers/indoctrinators.

If you are convinced of the scam that is global warming, take a look at this. Yes, the warmists are now falsifying maps of Greenland to pretend it's turning into the Sudan. If you rely on that map for your next trip to Greenland you're going to get a nasty shock. Meanwhile, here in the UK, we have been warned to expect snow in October. You see, 'weather is not climate' when it gets cold, but 'climate change is proven' when it gets warm. That's what passes for science now. It has followers, like any other religion, who do not question the pronouncements of the experts (the new name for high priests) and who denounce any who disagree as heretics.

It is no longer any different from any other religion.

The 'five-a-day' fruit and vegetable requirement? A made-up number. Those who made it up have admitted they made it up but the acolytes still follow it anyway,. The 'alcohol units limits'? More made-up numbers. Again, those who made it up have admitted it is based on nothing at all and yet the acolytes follow it anyway.

Lately we have seen both Climatology and Tobacco Control departments in universities (yes, really, there are tobacco control departments in universities now) refuse to disclose their data because they say it's private. It's paid for with public money, and if it's so robust, what's the problem? It makes the rest of us wonder if any data exists at all. It makes the rest of us wonder if there is any science left.

Only the faithful now support these pseudoscientists. Oh, and public money. Lots and lots of it.

Evolution is a component of the biological sciences and should be taught in schools to those pupils who opt for biology as a subject. There is no sense at all in teaching something as complex as evolutionary theory to pupils who are going to become business managers, plasterers, bricklayers, not even those who are going to be physicists, chemists or doctors. It is of no relevance to their specialism at all. Evolution is a component of biology and that is all. Stop turning it into a damn religion.

Creationism is a component of religious teaching and should be taught to children in religion classes. Not in science classes because it doesn't belong there. Like evolution, it is of no relevance to those who do not opt for religion so it should remain as a component of religion.

Neither of these belongs in the mainstream curriculum. They are both specialised components of specialised subjects and should be taught only by teachers who know what they are talking about. They should not be attempted by teachers taking a general class of younger pupils.

Neither should the complex biology of smoking nor the medical complexities of alcohol metabolism and certainly not global climate science.

Children as young as five are bombarded with what can only be described as propaganda delivered by indoctrinators. They live their young lives in terror that the world will end any day or that they'll wake up and find their parents dead.

They leave school barely able to read or add up, their heads filled with preconceived half-truths and outright lies and with qualifications that qualify them to pass a test and no more.

Meanwhile more and more single-issue pressure groups insist that their personal prejudice is taught to younger and younger children as if it was the truth.

I am very much against Dawkins' interference in the schooling system. Not because I'm a creationist - I'm not - but because it is yet another single-issue 'We are right and they are wrong' indoctrination, and there is far too much of that already. More and more of it is pouring into schools now and there seems no end to it.

When I was at school, they taught us how to think. We were shown how to work out mathematical problems and how to construct basic English then given harder problems to which we applied those principles. We were not indoctrinated with predetermined answers, we were expected to find our own.

Now children are taught what to think, and thinking the wrong thing will get them in trouble. There is no room for alternative views any more. That is not school. That is a clone factory.

Science is never, never 'settled'. Only religious tracts are immutable. Science that is immutable is indistinguishable from religion and if you follow anything that is 'settled' you are following a religion, not science.

Therefore I remain at the fringes of mainstream science and am glad to be here. Out here we ignore the declarations of the shamans and do not accept the commandments of the high priests. You can rail and bluster and tell me you don't 'believe' in what I do and I will tell you that I don't care what you 'believe'. I am not here to convince you of anything, only to try to persuade you to leave the hive-mind and at least consider the possibilities.

I don't care what you think. I only care that you think it for yourself.

Give children that opportunity too. Unless you're happy to produce a race of Eloi?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Meddling with things I don't really understand.

I have been meddling with Blogger, as you see. I'm not sure about this template, it's a bit bright but I'll meddle some more and see if I can tone it down without crashing the whole thing.

The new interface will take some getting used to. I also have a new toy, a comment enhancement thing from some people with surreal hair, no shoes and a tree in their office. It's free but really, they should charge enough to be able to afford some shoes.

It apparently works by finding famous people's names and... doing something. So if I mention Tony Blair or Sarah Palin, for example, it should pick up on any comments referring to them. I thought I'd give it a try.

I've been meddling in computer matters a lot recently. I worked out how to put books on Kindle so I have two short story collections there now, Fears of the Old and the New, and Dark Thoughts and Demons. Both are also on for those who prefer print. When I have finished rewriting 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' I'll put that in there too. Perhaps I shouldn't have so many projects running at once, and should concentrate on finishing them one at a time.

The weather has been desperately bad for the last few years here. Rain, wind and cold. In fact, one of the best days we had was when the rest of the country had a hurricane.This means I'm not going out investigating very much at all. I'm supposed to be looking for ghosts, not becoming one.

With all this time on my hands and all these research materials sitting around with nothing to do, I've taken to writing a lot more lately and finally took that side of things seriously when Jessica's Trap was accepted by a publisher. It was one of those 'Really? I can do this?' moments.

If I can do it, I plan to do it to the best of my ability. As with all things. How good that ability actually is remains to be seen but it will be the best I can do.

Otherwise there'd be no point doing it at all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Supernovas and predictions.

There is a supernova in the sky at the moment and as with all such events, Scotland has laid on a thick layer of cloud to frustrate viewing. It'll be there for a few days so I hope to catch sight of it in a break in the cloud layer before it's too late.

If you're in the Northern hemisphere, look for the constellation called Ursa Major, also called the Plough or Big Dipper. It looks like a saucepan and the supernova is a little above the outer two stars of the handle.

It was once believed that such celestial events were portents of disaster. Coming, as it does, just before the tenth anniversary of the mindless murder of around three thousand people on September 11th, 2001, it could be argued that it's ten years too late. Although when we have a peace envoy like this idiot, it might be best to be prepared anyway.

Something that happened at least ten years before 2001 might also be of interest. An artist made this picture which, at the time, would have looked like the product of a migraine-induced bad dream. Apparently - and I have no way of knowing if it's true or not - the picture was drawn in or before 1989.

I suspect the artist suffered migraines because there are two stylised instances of what I call 'migraine flare' in the top right of the picture. There might be a better medical term but I do not mention all my visual anomalies to doctors because that could get me sectioned.

Is there any connection? Did the artist dream about the events of 11th September 2001 twelve years before they happened? Two towers - repeated - and two planes, but not just any planes, passenger jets. The planes are not aimed at the buildings so maybe he didn't predict anything. There is nothing to suggest a prediction, nothing to connect the picture with the World Trade Centre until after the event. But even if he had drawn planes flying into towers, who would have paid any attention?

Even if he had seen the whole event and painted it exactly as it happened and included the date and time it was to happen, seriously, would you have listened or would you have scoffed? Personally, if you had said to me on 10th September 2001 that madmen were going to fly planes into the World Trade Centre I'd have laughed you out of the room. Prophecy has always been a thankless task and to be honest, if I knew a terrible thing was to happen tomorrow I would say nothing.

Why? In the current climate of fearful, weak humanity, if it was shown that I knew anything about the disaster before it happened, I'd be blamed for it.

The artist made no claim to prediction. He just drew what was in his head, possibly just something he dreamed that he thought would make an interesting picture. Maybe he had no idea that anything would ever connect that image to reality.

Science laymen, of course, regard such things as 'woo' but at the same time, quantum science questions even the linearity of time. Biology has stated that all humans predict the future, all the time. We have to. The conversion of light into images on the retina, the transfer of that information to the brain, the brain making sense of it, takes time. Not much time but if you're trying to catch a ball, it has passed the point where you see it as soon as you see it. You catch the ball because your brain predicts its trajectory and moves your hand to where it will be, not to where your eyes say it is.

The world you see has already moved into the past. Nobody sees the present. So is it at all conceivable that anyone could see the future?

There is the process of logical deduction. If I see a ball moving I can predict where it's going. So can you. We don't even have to think about it. World politics is more complex. However, take some current world events.

Bin Laden has been killed. The tenth anniversary of what is possibly the most evil action since the Holocaust is approaching. The demon-faced 'peace envoy' to the Middle East has declared he wants 'regime change' in Iran and we all know what that means, as does Iran.

So it is no stretch of logic to predict that something will be attempted on Sunday. Where? That's not so easy to determine logically (the variables in this thought experiment are not all subject to logical actions) but I would guess somewhere in America and somewhere important, but probably not New York. Security is going to be, rightly, very tight indeed.

What will be attempted? Well, it will involve the killing of easy targets because the madmen don't like face-to-face battles. It will be an attack on a densely concentrated civilian target. I don't know America well enough to even guess where but I am sure American analysts have been considering this for quite some time. I can only hope they catch the swines before they do anything.

The three who recently entered America and who are being hunted are, I would say, red herrings. There have been ten years to plan whatever they plan. If something is planned, those who are to act it out are already in place. Yes, they are lunatics, but they are not stupid.

I should note here that I do not equate 'madmen' and 'Muslim'. We had quite a bit of inconvenience with the IRA here in the UK a few years ago but despite meeting many Irish people, I never met an IRA member nor indeed anyone who referred to them as anything other than 'nuts'. Likewise, I have never met a Muslim who called for my destruction - and I've published papers with two Muslim students and would be delighted to teach another. How many students can produce enough work for a full paper in eight weeks? Both of those Muslim students did.

In the UK we treat Muslims as suspect. We say 'Their first loyalty is to Islam'. How soon we forget. Only a few centuries ago we said about Catholics that 'their first loyalty is to the Pope', and a century or so before that, the King ordered the Jews out of Britain. If schools still taught real history, this wouldn't be a surprise.

I have experienced the new wave of hate against the smoker, the drinker, the overweight, well, everyone who doesn't conform to the Borg standard. These are as nothing to someone who sees ghosts. We might think it strange that fundamentalists can persuade an idiot to blow themselves up in a shopping centre but how many of you believe in second hand smoke, the evil of alcohol, global warming and so much of the current wave of pseudoscience blasting out now? It is incredibly easy to persuade almost anyone to believe almost anything.

My grandfather smoked and so did my father and so did I for a long time. Still do if nobody's watching. I grew up in homes with coal fires, I set off fireworks and burned bonfires, I made my own explosives, and the odd thing is, I'm not dead after inhaling all that smoke.

Yet now, I hear of parents who wash and change clothes before touching their children because of third hand smoke. I hear of grandparents excluded from their grandchildren because they smoke.

The point is, these people will believe anything at all, even the utterly ludicrous. I've tested it far beyond the old cold-reading tricks. The fun I've had...

Yet they do not believe predictions even though scientifically, it is at least not impossible whereas scientifically, harm from third hand smoke is impossible. The quantum vision of time means that the past and future can leak into the present and once in a while someone will see it. Maybe as a dream, maybe as waking vision, as might have been the case in Versailles in 1901. Quantum science allows that, yet popular science denies it. The drones, those who are not scientists but believe in the power of the great god Science, will dismiss any deviation from their indoctrination at once, but real science does not. There isn't much of that left.

Maybe some people see the future. I don't see that as a magical paranormal ability, but more as a quantum-time accident. Or maybe as a simple result of assimilating information and predicting on the basis of logical extrapolation. Some people can do that without knowing what they are doing.

Predicting the future is possible. It can happen. Although in the world we have now, if it happens to you, I'd advise you to keep quiet about it.