Sunday, February 17, 2008

Two Weird Videos: Geckos and Remote Viewing

Here are two quick strange items for the long weekend:

Why is a bug feeding a gecko? Altruism? Friendship? Some kind of symbiosis not yet understood, most definitely. For those afraid of bugs, this one looks like a piece of tree bark, nothing buggy about it. The gecko is green and attractive. Watch it here on the BBC site.

Remote viewing is a supposed ability to see things from a distance, sometimes as seen by another. It has been reportedly studied by the US military and CIA. Here is an interesting video study purporting to show it working under a controlled circumstance. I find it a bit distracting that the subject who performs the feat is impressed and surprised, too, but it is still fun to watch.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Spoon Bending Parties

I had no idea people were still bending spoons with their minds, but apparently so-! Uri Geller was famous for this in the 1970ies, and is generally believed to have been a fraud. But now there is a new craze for this activity, with a lot of people claiming you too can bend your cutlery into very weird shapes with the power of concentration -- ideally, in a party atmosphere.

Jack Houck, a former engineer, hosts "PK" parties in which large groups of people bend ordinary cutlery. He has some instructions and a short video up on his site. His parties are covered in an article with good photos of twisted fork tines at One of the attendees, Dean Radin, succeeded (and wrote about it) and has even been invited to speak at Google. (Gratuitous connection to the software industry that you didn't expect...!)

Also on Mind-Energy, reader and bender Shannan Rohde posts video, instructions, and photos of himself bending a sad little spoon.

As usual, I wonder why people aren't doing more useful things with this skill. Lack of imagination? Too much crappy cutlery in their lives?

I gave it a half-hearted shot, but haven't succeeded yet. If you do succeed, post me a note? Or if you hear of a PK party nearby, invite me along. Perhaps I lack the right party mood, post-Superbowl!


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fate Mag Online: Browse the Weirdness!

Fate Magazine ("True Reports of the Strange and Unknown") has a sample issue up online (it's a big but fast loading PDF). I went in to look at the werewolf folklore article, but ended up reading most of it, because it's just so fun.

There are articles in this one on "Do It Yourself EVP," a fascinating bio piece on Russian psychic-hypnotist-mystic Wolf Grigorievich Messing, and the usual write-in articles from people who believe they've seen the strange and undead. There's even a sidebar on a dog who can predict who's going to die in nursing homes, like the cat Oscar profiled just about everywhere. (Note the difference in how the animals behave. Typical!)

But what made me LOL was the classifieds: Amid sections called "Magick," "Earth Mysteries," "Ghosts," "Occult," "Pyramids," "Voodoo," etc, they still manage to need a section called "Miscellaneous." Equally entertaining are the ads for books and services, sprinkled throughout.

I don't mean to mock too hard, though; I really did enjoy it, and considered getting myself and a relative subscriptions.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

October Roundup: Owls, UFOs, Ghosts

I've been busy on non-work related activities, for once!

Owls: Saw-whet migration is upon us. The local birders with Mass Audubon were caught off-guard by how many of the little owls are on the move south from Canada this year. Record numbers on some nights, and earlier than usual. These are tiny, adorable owls, who seem to like people and hang out for a bit. They even like being petted, which makes them a great ambassador for birdkind.

I put up a gallery of their extreme cuteness: Saw Whet Owl Banding in MA. I will be posting some video later. But for now, I require you to be amazed (this is not a baby bird):

Here's another set of photos (with a better macro lens) featuring yours truly holding one of these cutie pies.

And just to be slightly scientific, the site with the most data on the migration patterns and how to track these guys lives at Project Owlnet.


Last weekend I also went to a local UFO conference, hosted by Mass Mufon. There were two very interesting talks, one on crop circles and the other on the Shag Harbor Incident in Nova Scotia.

The crop circle presentation started quite strong, with a lot of data and images that can also be found on the website at BLT Research. My data analysis interest was piqued but then dismayed by claims of correlations as "proof." The speaker got less scientific and more, well, peculiar towards the end when she announced a bunch of other phenomena including the ghost of her dead brother caught on film at recent circles. I don't quite understand why the folks interested in paranormal end up mixing it all together so readily; one phenomenon probably has nothing to do with another!

The Shag Harbor UFO Crash Incident from 1967 was entertainingly recounted by Chris Styles, a good storyteller who had collected a lot of documents from the Canadian government (who are much happier to send things out on request than the US government). The most interesting sidebar was that a character named Maurice "Mace" Coffey was working as a parapsychologist investigating mysterious phenomena in the Canadian Air Force at the time of the "crash." He was the Fox Mulder of Canada. He's also editor of a collection of Maritime poetry and was later an important figure in the Northwest Territories (once helping find a downed plane, in which the survivor had lived only by cannibalism). I personally wanted to hear more about Mace, and maybe less about the RCMP.

Ghosts: I've received a few more stories about Windhouse, the haunted house in Scotland that I keep track of here. The essay is updated at the bottom with more photos from contributor Phil Mortimer (scary Photoshop work as shown below) and from another relative of a former inhabitant, Kate Bainbridge.

Phil Mortimer pics of Windhouse

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stats on Remote Viewing Tests

There are lots of bogus stats studies on parapsychology tests, but this looks more promising: UC Davis statistician analyzes validity of paranormal predictions. Pity it's in something called "The California Aggie."
In 1995, Utts was hired by the American Institutes of Research, an independent research firm, along with psychologist Ray Hyman from the University of Oregon to analyze data from a 20-year research program sponsored by the U.S. government to investigate paranormal activity.

After doing initial research, Hyman and Utts found statistical support, she said.

"The two of us did this review and we both concluded that there were really strong statistical results there, but [Hyman] still didn't believe that it could be explained by something psychic - he thought there would be some explanation [that he] can't provide," Utts said.

The research program involved remote viewing, in which test subjects were asked to describe or draw an unknown target. The target could be anything and could be located anywhere. According to Utts' meta-analysis of the 966 studies performed at Stanford Research Institute, subjects could identify the target correctly 34 percent of the time. The probability of these results occurring by chance is .000000000043.

In contrast, statistical support for the effect of aspirin on heart attacks: "The results demonstrated that aspirin reduced the number of heart attacks in people likely to have heart disease by 25 percent, with a probability of it occurring by chance equaling .0003."

Hyman's concern is valid, of course; the stats don't tell us causation, just that there's a pattern in the data that's unlikely to be due to chance. All sorts of biases could have been introduced during the experiments to produce the results.

But it's still provocative!

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Declassified Defense Research and Archaeological Mysteries

Wired online has had a couple recent pieces on defense research on ESP, paranormal, remote viewing, homing pigeons, etc. -- there are a bunch of abstracts now visible in the Scientific and Technical Information Network (a .mil site). Note: It is, in fact, extremely hard to use. Good luck.

I get challenged occasionally as to why a seemingly well-educated, presumably rational person would be interested in the paranormal. I'm always a little surprised by this question: Why not? Do we know everything? Isn't it rational and intelligent to assume we don't yet? Remember, a UFO is just unidentified, it's not necessarily from another planet. It's interesting to me that there are so many worth talking about, and the stories people tell about them are interesting in themselves. I'm certainly open to believing in many things, while being a strong skeptic about what counts as good data and strong argument.

Another really entertaining collection, equally amateur web-design but much easier to use: The Photo Galleries of Mystery from the MMMGroup. Truly, if you like archaeological mysteries, this is the place to browse. Make sure you hit page two, too. It might make you wonder about time travel... The phenomenon of OOPARTS, or Out of Place Artifacts, is a strong feature of the pictures of rock carvings (people with lightbulbs, space suits...) and fossilized items. Here's a blog post about this type of find with particular reference to a find in 19th century Massachusetts, a metal fossil apparently blasted out of solid rock.

On the other hand, sometimes these things are explicit funny fakes; here's a guy who briefly got away with rock art depicting a caveman pushing a shopping cart in a British Museum Exhibit (2005).

Banksy also hung a sign saying the cave art showed "early man venturing towards the out-of-town hunting grounds". It read: "This finely preserved example of primitive art dates from the Post-Catatonic era. The artist responsible is known to have created a substantial body of work across South East of England under the moniker Banksymus Maximus but little else is known about him. Most art of this type has unfortunately not survived. The majority is destroyed by zealous municipal officials who fail to recognise the artistic merit and historical value of daubing on walls."

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dutch Near Death Experiences

A fascinating Lancet article (pdf) on a study of NDEs (near death experiences):
  • No relationship to any pre-existing medical conditions found, although young people may be more likely to experience them
  • Corroborated evidence of out-of-body experiences, despite flat EEG and coma states which should indicate impossibility of observation or recall during "death"
  • Long-term excellent recall, from interviews at 2 year and 8 year periods, of the phenomena experienced
  • Life-changing effects, even for non-religios etc. who experience them


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Test Your Psychic Powers

Participate in an online study of psychic powers run at Psi Experiments. Their first experiment is up, and all you have to do is guess (or divine) which cup the ring is hidden under. No, it's not a street hustle. You can sign up for the results, too.

Experiment One: "In Which Box is the Ring?"

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Postcard to Windhouse

Since my last update a month ago on the haunted Windhouse stories, I received email from a reader in Stirling, Scotland, whose family lived in the house in Shetland at the turn of the (last) century. Even then the house was known to be haunted, well before it turned into a picturesque ruin on the hill. Justine scanned and sent me a copy of a postcard her great-grandmother's sister Katie received referring to the ghost.

windhouse postcard

I updated the essay again, and posted some more photos and links to the family history. They're at the bottom: my Windhouse story.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

New Moon and the Stock Market

I've been quite busy recently, and am getting a backlog of post material. Here's on oldie I never got around to blogging, which is weird and short: there is evidence that the lunar phase affects stock market performance.
We find strong lunar cycle effects in stock returns. Specifically, returns in the 15 days around new moon dates are about double the returns in the 15 days around full moon dates. This pattern of returns is pervasive; we find it for all major U.S. stock indexes over the last 100 years and for nearly all major stock indexes of 24 other countries over the last 30 years. In contrast, we find no reliable or economically important evidence of lunar cycle effects in return volatility and volume of trading. Taken as a whole, this evidence is consistent with popular beliefs that lunar cycles affect human behavior.
You can see the abstract and download the paper here: Lunar Cycle Effects in Stock Returns, on the Social Science Research Network.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Windhouse Haunting Updated

I'm pleased to announce that I've updated my article about the haunted Windhouse in Scotland, based on a very interesting reader story I just received. I've added his account at the end as a postscript with a few more photos; and below that I added the Shetland online forum stories I found that appeared after I posted the original piece last January. (I got "seems to be the best researched" in the forum citation :-)

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ancient Curses

A 1700 year old tablet with a curse on it was recently unearthed in Leicester (UK). This one immortalizes some guy who stole a coat. It's amazing the things we leave behind us for posterity.
One of the most interesting finds from a site on Vine Street was a 'curse' tablet – a sheet of lead inscribed in the second or third century AD and intended to invoke the assistance of a chosen god. It has been translated by a specialist at Oxford University, and reads: 'To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Riomandus (etc.) ... that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus…' Then follows a list of the names of 18 or 19 suspects. What happened to them is not recorded.
There's another famous curse in Carlisle from the 1500's, recently carved on a stone art object that has supposedly caused all sorts of problems for the town since its installation in 2001: see Curse of the Cursing Stone. The curse itself is in old Scottish dialect, about 500 words, "one of the longest on record"-- it's addressed to the raiders on the Scottish borders, and was read out by priests to advertise their great displeasure with the illegal activities.
I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thairg toung, thair teith, thair crag, thair schulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, their armes, thair leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feit, befoir and behind, within and without. I curse thaim gangand and I curse thaim rydand; I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand; I curse thaim etand, I curse thaim drinkand; I curse thaim walkand, I curse thaim sleepand ; I curse thaim rysand, I curse thaim lyand; I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame; I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house; I curse thair wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis participand with thaim in their deides.
Curses are like legal documents, at least the good ones: they are comprehensive and leave out no body part or aspect of life, and usually they extend into eternity. My favorite curse is literary, Manfred's curse by Byron (it starts at line 200), gorgeous and bitter:
Though thy slumber may be deep,
Yet thy spirit shall not sleep;
There are shades which will not vanish,
There are thoughts thou canst not banish;
By a power to thee unknown,
Thou canst never be alone;
Thou art wrapt as with a shroud,
Thou art gather’d in a cloud;
And for ever shalt thou dwell
In the spirit of this spell.
... And a magic voice and verse
Hath baptized thee with a curse;
And a spirit of the air
Hath begirt thee with a snare;
In the wind there is a voice
Shall forbid thee to rejoice;
And to thee shall Night deny
All the quiet of her sky;
And the day shall have a sun,
Which shall make thee wish it done.
From thy false tears I did distil
An essence which hath strength to kill;
From thy own heart I then did wring
The black blood in its blackest spring;
From thy own smile I snatch’d the snake,
For there it coil’d as in a brake;
From thy own lip I drew the charm
Which gave all these their chiefest harm;
In proving every poison known,
I found the strongest was thine own.
If you know of other good literary or historical curses, I'd be interested in pointers.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

"America's Stonehenge"

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the site in Salem NH called "America's Stonehenge." (No, really, that's what the tourist name of it is.) Having crawled all over farmer's fields in Europe looking for passage graves, dolmens, and standing stones; visited Newgrange and other related sites; seen early archaeological sites in Orkney and Shetland... well, this was still pretty damn good.

It's complex, and dating says it's 4000 BC and younger; the passage graves have genuine boulders propped on supports that look eerily like the European neolithic monuments; as a bonus, there are carvings both on the site and in the visitor's center, claiming to be Ogham and sun-god related. There is even a complex "altar" stone with an underground whisper chamber beneath it.

Less convincing were the smaller "standing stones" and the astronomical alignment theories. We saw a lot of stones that were identical to the stones claimed to be alignment markers, which weren't labelled in any way. Amateur archaeology could be responsible for any number of bad theories and moved stones... but that said, an awful lot of it looked very authentic indeed.

Some of the sites on the topic: pictures of the stone writing, pictures of the site monuments, a timeline of the site's major datings and known historical events, a not bad short article on it, describing the altar stone. Here's the official visitor's site. (They keep pet alpacas there too, who are very pretty.)

All in all, a recommended visit!

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Social Drinkers Earn More Money

Somewhat disturbing, but ringing true in a bunch of dimensions... This study shows that social drinkers earn more money than non-drinkers, and claims it's because of the increase in social capital gained by knocking one back with colleagues.
Although there is a united campaign to restrict alcohol, labor market data may surprise noneconomists: recent studies indicate that drinking and individual earnings are positively correlated. Instead of earning less money than nondrinkers, drinkers earn more. One explanation is that drinking improves physical health, which in turn affects earnings (Hamilton and Hamilton, 1997). We contend that there is an economic explanation. We hypothesize that drinking enhances social capital, which leads to superior market outcomes. Glaeser et al. (2000: 4) describe social capital as “a person's social characteristics, including social skills, charisma, and the size of his Rolodex, which enable him to reap market and nonmarket returns from interactions with others.” Some aspects of social capital might be innate, but people can enhance others, such as Rolodex size. If social drinking increases social capital, social drinking could also increase earnings. We attempt to test whether drinking enhances social capital by differentiating between social and nonsocial drinking; we predict that those who drink in public will have higher earnings than those who drink at home. New data confirm that drinkers earn more, and we find that social drinkers earn even more.

The article is here and comes with a somewhat scary libertarian slant intro, be warned:No Booze? You May Lose:Why Drinkers Earn More Money Than Nondrinkers (pdf). Note, this obviously supports the value of conference trip networking as important for career, if money is an indicator of career success (it is to some).

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

10 most real life ghost photos (sic)

Ah, Pravda. It never fails to appear on the Anomalist. Here is a sample of photos of ghosts from the Russian online paper: 10 most real life ghost photos - Pravda.Ru.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Anomalist Roundup

Every weekend I love catching up on The Anomalist. Here are some picks from last weekend (that I never had time to post):

Here's a link to a strangely sincere article about recording things backwards and finding coherent messages (not just in trippy albums).

Shortly afterwards, my little hobby took a dramatic turn when I accidentally stumbled across the phenomenon in normal human speech. One of the first examples I found in speech was in Neil Armstrong’s famous first words as stepped onto the lunar surface. Forwards he says, “That’s one small step for man,” and when this same track is played backwards, the words “Man will space walk” can be clearly heard.

Suddenly my little hobby had turned into an obsession. I began taping as many people as often as I could and I found backward messages to be prolific, many of them as clear as the forward dialogue, occurring in grammatically correct sentences that often related to what was being said forward. I searched libraries and bookshops trying to find any other work on the subject and could find none. It then became obvious to me that this was a field that was totally new.

Uh huh. And here's a tangentially relevant piece on language oddity, a story of a feral girl who grew up with dogs in Ukraine. Like most stories of abandonned children, it's sad and disturbing. She's mentally handicapped. The worst part is how she treats her dog.

Here are three good pieces that collect strange stories. A piece from Pravda (unusually coherent for Pravda) on messages written in the sky throughout history; an article on sightings of flying people (without airplanes); and scary stories of Spring-Heeled Jack, a wacky killer ghost.

Finally from the land of dunes, King Tut's oldest gem may be from a meteor, because it's way too old; and sand dunes sing (sound snippets and article).


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Simple Names and the Stock Market

Not a result that will please some businessmen, but it seems that there is statistical evidence that companies with simpler names and/or companies with simple stock ticker symbols perform better on the market. Human processing may be the reason. Note, however, that it's not a sole predictor -- TiVO would have done better long term if it were, sigh.
In fact, across the entire NYSE and AMEX markets, Alter and Oppenheimer calculated $1000 invested in shares with pronounceable ticker codes would have netted $85.35 more profit after one day compared with an equal amount invested in companies with an unpronounceable ticker code.
Citation: BPS Research Digest: Why you should invest in shares with simple names.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Cryptid Hunting: What to Bring Along? at

It's that time of year again: Bigfoot season. posts an article about what extras to bring along on your hunt, to ensure proper scientific, nay, forensic, attention to the evidence. In Cryptid Hunting: What to Bring Along? we are told that today's Bigfoot hunter needs to pack:
  1. Paper sacks and envelopes
  2. Camera/video recorder (Preferrably with night vision)
  3. Tweezer/tongs
  4. Rubber gloves
  5. Magnifying glass
  6. Parabolic mic
  7. Plaster of Paris
  8. Tape measure
  9. Log book
  10. a few sterile collecting bottles or containers for fecal material samples and for urine specimens
  11. tapes to record from your parabolic mic
  12. "For DNA collection, you will want to have sterile latex gloves"
  13. "If hair sampling envelopes are not available, place samples into small sealed paper envelope or zip lock bag (no brand recommended). Use a permanent marker or pen, clearly include all sampling information with each sample. This includes name of collector, time, date, assumed cryptid, human, or known species name, field tag number, gender (if known), age (if known), location including lat./long., Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) or township."
Ok, it only gets weirder and more obsessive. Read at your own OCD risk.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

UFO Maps

Alright, this really tickles me: UFO Maps, brought to you by a mash up of Google maps and the National UFO Reporting Center.

Click on a cute little flying saucer graphic and you can find the report associated.

Edited to add: Here's another good one: Real-time satellite tracking over Google maps. Real-time in that the little satellite graphic moves as you watch, and the map shifts under it.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cloaking Device

Guardian Unlimited: Now you see it, now you don't: cloaking device is not just sci-fi:
The cloaking device relies on recently discovered materials used to make superlenses that make light behave in a highly unusual way. Instead of having a positive refractive index - the property which makes light bend as it passes through a prism or water - the materials have a negative refractive index, which effectively makes light travel backwards. It's light, but not as we know it.

Prof Milton's team calculated that when certain objects are placed next to superlenses, the light bouncing off them is essentially erased by light reflecting off the superlens, making the object invisible.

The calculations show that while the device could be used to obscure almost any shape of object, it only works over a short range of wavelengths, so if used to hide objects from human vision, they might only partially disappear.

Seems like a good opportunity for ghost sightings in the distant future.


Friday, March 24, 2006

architecture and hygiene

A friend at work pointed out this amusing site, found after he googled "architecture, hygene" late at night (Google fixed his spelling): architecture and hygiene.

The main gist is prefab houses, but Kalkin's houses are mixed in with a bunch of other entertaining content, like this easter-egg map of how an architect conceives of the universe. (I'm surprised it doesn't have phenomenology in it, but instead it gets the more relevant "anomie.")

But the order form really made my night.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Secret Passages, "Ruse and Escalade"

Off steve:, an architectural folly company offering you built-in secrete passages and hidden niches appropriate to store guns in, according to one of their animations. The videos and small 3d animations are very cute.

Which site made me think of one of my favorite news stories from my time in France: The mystery of the hilltop monastery, the locked room and the missing manuscripts. A classic locked room mystery:

From that date, a succession of immensely valuable works, including precious early religious texts and several dozen heavy 15th-century illuminated manuscripts bound in wood and leather, began disappearing from the abbey's first-floor library. Police were flummoxed. "It was one of those frustrating but also rather thrilling cases," Madeleine Simoncello, the Saverne public prosecutor, said yesterday. "Quite extraordinary items were vanishing, sometimes singly, sometimes by the dozen. By last weekend over 1,000 had gone, yet the room wasn't even open to the public and as far as we knew nobody could get in."
The resolution of the mystery is better reported in this followup article after sentencing:
Gosse, a teacher at a Strasbourg engineering school and a former naval officer, faced a rare charge of "burglary by ruse and escalade", a reference to the tortuous climb in and out of the locked library.

He had found the route after discovering a forgotten map in public archives which revealed the secret access from the monastery attic. The map was a key exhibit in the trial. The attic, reached by a daring climb up exterior walls, led to a steep, narrow stairway and then the secret chamber. A hidden mechanism opened up the back of one of five cupboards in the library. The plans suggested that the secret route to the library, once the monastery's common room, served in medieval times to spy on the monks' conversations.

You can't make this stuff up. It needs to become a movie. To round out the fun, here's the wikipedia entry on secret passages, which points to an article from Jan 2006 about an enormous secret passage across the Mexican border to the USA. And finally, I found this fascinating archive of the Museum Security Network mailing list, full of tasty and weird stories of stolen antiquities.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bumblebees Recognize People

This article explains that bumblebees trained with photos can remember faces. Does that mean bees could be used to assassinate people who are allergic? I go to the positive immediately...

From bees to wasps, spiders and even sheep, other animals have proven they can not only recognize our faces, but they navigate mazes, match objects and shapes and even associate smells with previous experiences. "Sometimes I wonder what we are doing with two-kilogram brains," mused Srinivasan.

Uh, making mazes and training insects to recognize photos?

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Your Breakfast Toast is Talking...

I assumed this was a joke project when I read the very serious BBC Online article about it, but it's not -- your toast might tell you the weather report, if you let this kid at Brunel University toast the bread for you.

"He decided on the toaster to make his work stand out from the worthy and helpful devices many of his fellow students were creating. "I couldn't compete, so I went for fun and cool," he said. Mr Southgate's ambition is to follow in the footsteps of influential British designers such as Jonathan Ive, the man behind Apple's sleek iMac computer."

He sounds serious, so here's a serious concern. The palette of bread isn't a very high resolution for information display; if you ask what people want from weather forecasts you'll probably find this: "What's the forecast for the weekend? What's the precipitation plan for the night vs. the day? Is there a winter storm warning? Temperature matters, sure, but I want to know the other conditions too."

Is that burnt crumb an indicator of a low pressure system, or a piece of bread that was caught on the rack when I pulled it out? Will cinnamon bread (my favorite) obscure the messaging?


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Number Factoids

Another break in the Thanksgiving cooking. Check out tingilinde: take a number .... I'm far from a mathematician (and was even when I dated one), but I find this list of number facts magical and opaque. These are my favorite of the inscrutable, OCD, and sometimes just silly observations:
  • 4 is the smallest number of colors sufficient to color all planar maps.
  • 11 is the largest known multiplicative persistence.
  • 17 is the number of wallpaper groups.
  • 36 is the smallest number (besides 1) which is both square and triangular.
  • 38 is the last Roman numeral when written lexicographically.
  • 92 is the number of different arrangements of 8 non-attacking queens on an 8x8 chessboard.
  • 136 is the sum of the cubes of the digits of the sum of the cubes of its digits.
  • 405 is a pentagonal pyramidal number.
  • 570 is the product of all the prime palindromic Roman numerals.
  • 1005 is the smallest number whose English name contains all five vowels exactly once.
  • 1084 is the smallest number whose English name contains all five vowels in order.
  • 1435 is a vampire number.
  • 1650 has exactly the same digits in 3 different bases.
  • 1666 is the sum of the Roman numerals.

Anyone know what a vampire number is? An amicable number? And can anyone help him fill in the ???'s? (Huh, looking at the list, I'm reminded that I kind of liked geometry.)

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fairies Stop Building Plans

Yes, this happened recently in Scotland. I'm sadder about the plan to move the stone and carve the development name into it than I am about the fairies who live under it being disturbed, but then I don't live near them.

And an award winning last paragraph, a good start for a B fantasy novel: "The new estate will now centre on a small park, in the middle of which stands a curious rock. Work begins next month, if the fairies allow."


Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Stone Balls of Costa Rica

While looking for information on a fellow UI designer at Autodesk whom I heard about at the Group05 conference, I tripped over this article: The Stone Balls of Costa Rica.

Apparently there are hundreds of these round carvings all over the country, ranging in size from centimeters to meters. They are now used as lawn ornaments by the rich! Also, according to this archealogy thread, as doorstops at a tourist cabana. Like all stone artifacts, they aren't reliably dated, and could have been "created" anywhere from AD 200 to 1500.

"For me, the spherical shape probably evolved in response to the need to move these objects. After all, spheres roll in all directions with minimum resistance. We find spheres weighing several tons atop 100 m high hills, so transport was an important consideration," says John Hoopes in the email thread. This argument seems, to me, a bit circular (not to mention spherical). I mean, primitive man moved monoliths to Salisbury plain, without having them spherical. (On the other hand, maybe the ancient English just weren't smart like the Costa Ricans?)

The photo of the stone ball is credited to Erin Bradner, who may or may not be the same one I was searching for at Autodesk. If she is, I think we'll get along just fine! (She also seems to have a respectable publication record in the field of computer-mediated communication, where my dissertation fit as well.)

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shropshire, Tree Art.

[Note for RSS readers: This is an old post, on which the comment spam had gotten out of control. I've removed and republished disallowing comments.] This was surprisingly eye-catching and disturbing as I was tooling down the road in Shropshire last month:
To be honest, I found it pretty horrifying. I went out of my way to drive past it and take more closeups, when I came back from a couple nights in Wales.
I asked in a local pub, and it's some kind of strange art project, of which I can find nothing on Google in a quick search ("red tree art painted Wales Shropshire what the hell were they thinking I almost drove off the road it looks like a pagan devil worship site").

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ohio Ghosts Like Golf

An unusual article: a detailed look at Ohio golf course ghost stories. Read about them at GolfStyles : Ohio.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize

The 2005 winners were presented at Harvard last Thursday. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Some of my favorite awards:

  • LITERATURE: The Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters -- General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others -- each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.
  • PEACE: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University, in the U.K., for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars." The locust responded mostly strongly to scenes of Darth Vader in his tie fighter. Don't we all?
  • FLUID DYNAMICS: Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany and the University of Oulu , Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Loránd Eötvös University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh -- Calculations on Avian Defaecation." The winner wore a t-shirt of the penguin poop diagram.

Other good moments included the news that the physicist who swept the paper airplanes off stage for the past 5+ years was unable to attend because he was being awarded a Nobel Prize at the moment (Roy Glauber); and the 24/7 lectures in which scientists explained complex concepts in 24 seconds and then summarized concisely in 7 words or less. "Purring is melodious snoring" got a most excellent round of applause.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Killer Dolphins, a History

The Independent has jumped on the killer dolphins bandwagon, and some of you will have noticed that the original Observer story even got coverage on the Daily Show this week! This Independent article has some (I think) unintentionally hilarious sections towards the end:

One dolphin known as Tuf Guy was trained to carry tools and messages to an undersea base called Sealab II, and could undertake tasks that were physically impossible for a human diver. Dolphins were on active service before the first Gulf War, where they were mainly used for mine detection. More sinister was the use of dolphins in a "swimmer nullification program", where a long hypodermic needle was fastened to a dolphin's beak for the purposes of firing a bullet of carbonic acid into an enemy frogman.

The US Navy has even reportedly used dolphins to patrol and guard Trident submarines in harbour - though once they had had their fill of fish they were apt to wander off duty. With both the Russians and Americans using dolphins there was, for a while, the science-fiction prospect of "dolphin wars", in which one lot carried electronic counter-measures to jam the sonar of the other. Fortunately with the ending of the Cold War, the prospect of rival dolphins attacking one another has receded.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

Armed and dangerous dolphins are missing.

According to the Observer, dolphins trained to shoot darts at underwater terrorists in wetsuits are missing from their training ponds in the aftermath of Katrina.

Hmmm. I hope they just seized the opportunity to escape from slavery.


Friday, September 23, 2005

The Nag's Head Ghosts

From Shropshire Walks with Ghosts and Legends, p. 46:

About halfway up the hill you will see the Nag's Head pub on your right which has a most unusual haunting. Look up at the little window on the top floor. Within this room there is a cupboard and within the cupboard is a painting -- and it is actually the painting that is haunted. The painting is of an old prophet and it's said that anyone who looks at it will be driven mad. Certainly, there have been three occasions in the past when people, perfectly sane and seemingly perfectly happy, have stayed in that room and then, for no apparent reason, committed suicide. One was a man who had just been promoted, another was a young girl looking forward to getting married and the third was a First World War soldier who had just returned from the front. Not surprisingly, the cupboard is always kept locked so that no one can inadvertently see the painting these days.

The pub has more normal hauntings too. Some work was being done on the building in the early 1980s when a previously unknown panelled room was discovered. Opening the room must have released the ghost associated with it. Perhaps he was also the man in the "funny long coat and hat who came through the wall" that a young girl once saw there.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Haunted Korean Airplane

This story details a number of weird experiences on an airplane after a woman hanged herself in the bathroom (the mind boggles -- are Korean airplanes outfitted with bigger bathrooms?). Possibly the oddest aspect of this story is that a Buddhist monk travels by first class. Check it out.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Edinburgh Ghost Hunting Experiments

My friend Angus (whom I first met at Edinburgh U as an undergraduate) sent me a link to a story on an Edinburgh ghost hunter's experiments with local haunting sites. He has done experiments in two Edinburgh sites that show that naive visitors respond differently to ghost-infested spots than they do in unhaunted sites of a similar nature.

BBC News | SCOTLAND | Castle ghost hunt's 'curious' findings says of him:

He found 51% of people in vaults reputed to be haunted reported experiences, while only 35% did so in the other five. Dr Wiseman, who remains sceptical about the existence of ghosts, said he believed the background light from beyond the vaults' archways and the size of the vaults appeared to be a factor.

Okayyy.... His explanation for the even higher rate of ghost-detection in Mary King's Close is different and wackier; he's never heard of Occam's Razor, I guess.

Scientist Spooked by Ghost Study:

About 70% of those visiting the "haunted" locations reported unusual phenomena. In contrast, only 48% of people exploring the locations not reputed to be haunted had spooky experiences. At the "most haunted" site, where a sinister figure in black has repeatedly been seen, more than 80% of the volunteers reported something strange happening.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Alcohol-induced blackouts

After a debauched weekend, during which I drank enough to achieve actual gaps in my memory, I did a little reading on the impact of alcohol on the brain. Luckily for me, it doesn't look like it's clear that neurons are killed or permanently damaged, but nerve transmission is certainly impaired. Memory loss is a possible side effect, along with other neurological and physical responses most of us know about from experience.

The term for alcohol-related memory loss is "blackout," not the same as passing out. Complete memory loss is rarer than partial loss. From the article Alcohol Induced Blackouts: The second type of blackouts, fragmentary blackouts, as the name suggests, involve partial blockade of memory formation for events that occurred while a person was intoxicated. Goodwin and colleagues(1969a) reported that subjects experiencing fragmentary blackouts often become aware that they are missing pieces of events only after being reminded that the events occurred. Interestingly, these reminders trigger at least some recall of the initially missing information. Research suggests that fragmentary blackouts are far more common than those of the en bloc variety (White et al., in press; Hartzler and Fromme, 2003; Goodwin et al., 1969b).

This page summarizes some of the impacts on the brain in more detail. Alcohol-induced blackouts: Alcohol and the Hippocampus.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

40,000-year-old footprint

More wonderful archaeology: Apparently 40K years ago, size eight feet walked beside a Mexican volcanic lake. This is unexpected news in various dimensions: Telegraph | News | 40,000-year-old footprint of first Americans.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Roswell -- Another Explanation

This just broke last week, and is getting a lot of discussion among UFO trackers and bloggers. Nick Redfern has a book out theorizing that the Roswell coverup was aimed at keeping post-war human subject and military experimentation a secret, using UFOs as the cover story. Here's one link to a capsule summary: COAST TO COAST AM WITH GEORGE NOORY: Roswell Secrets.

If you want the rambling long interview with Redfern, go here: Phenomena, Area 51: The Full Nick Redfern Interview, in 6 parts.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

GotPsi? Try the Boundary Institute

The Boundary Institute has online psi tests, with automatic scoring. You can do various card prediction games, remote viewing, guessing lottery numbers, etc. It's a bit of a time sink, once you start playing. It has "meme" written all over it, too. And the research articles on the results are fascinating, although old now. (Most interesting factoid was that 2 scorers did outrageously well, until they discovered that the trials were not "random" enough; and after making the tests more random, their scores normalized again. The theory is that some individuals are supernaturally good at subconsciously learning patterns in data. Which is a pretty good psi skill if you ask me...)

GotPsi-- The tests.

No, I didn't score that well on anything, although I had better than chance on a few.


Source of Stonehenge Stone

Fascinating find: in the Welsh news, icWales - Archaeologists figure out mystery of Stonehenge bluestones.
The enclosure is just over one acre in size but, according to team leader Professor Tim Darvill, it provides a veritable "Aladdin's Cave" of made-to-measure pillars for aspiring circle builders. Within and outside the enclosure are numerous prone pillar stones with clear signs of working. Some are fairly recent and a handful of drill holes attest to the technology used. ... They were then moved 240 miles to the famous site at Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The discovery comes a year after scientists proved that the remains of a "band of brothers" found near Stonehenge were Welshmen who transported the stones.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The PaxFan

From MetaEfficient: The PaxFan: An Innovative Spiral Form.

A spiral fan was created by Pax Scientific, based on observations of natural fluid dynamics. I have a friend who needs one of these.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Amphibious Human of the Caspian

Pravda reports a strange merman creature sighted in the Caspian Sea: Mysterious amphibious creature of the Caspian. There are other such sightings from the former Soviet Union:
An amphibious humanlike being was reported in Karelia in 1928. The creature was repeatedly seen in the lake of Vedlozero by local residents. A group of researchers from the Petrozavodsk university arrived to investigate the case on location. Unfortunately, the findings were classified and the members of the research party eventually perished in the Gulag.
(Gotten from the Anomalist, which also linked to an article about Cold Fusion this week!)


13 things that do not make sense

I think this has circulated a bit, but in case you missed it, it's a fascinating read: New Scientist's "13 things that do not make sense", a list of thus-far unexplained phenomena in science that you want to be goofs or hoaxes, but apparently you don't get your way. They include homeopathy, cold fusion (I didn't realize it was real), the placebo effect, dark matter, dark energy, bursts of energy from space, tetraneutrons, the 10th planet, methane on Mars, the rapid expansion of the universe.

You too should count the number of times Einstein gets second-guessed in this list.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A strange bird on the Photo Blog.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Curse of the Cursing Stone

This has gotten a lot of press, and it tickles me: an artistic sculpture carved with the world's longest known curse in Carlisle is being blamed with the town's misfortunes in past years. There's a vote on as to whether the town should pay for it to be destroyed to rid them of their bad luck. One story is at BBC - Cumbria: Curse of the Cursing Stone.

thumb of cursing stone

The curse itself, a 16th century curse attributed to the Archbishop of Glasgow and aimed at the lawless raiders (reivers) of the borderlands, is vivid and vitriolic. It's also very comprehensive:

I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds.

And there are about 18 other paragraphs with details on what should happen to them. But surprisingly, it ends on an upbeat note, as curses go!


Monday, February 28, 2005

'inside the bathroom' competition

After designboom's "Kitchen of the Future" competition winners, I was afraid to look at the Bathroom results. They are scary. The Winner isn't so bad, although I had to squint a lot at the picture and text: it's the Fizzy Bubble, a unit combining bath and shower and lighting in a kind of space capsule that seats 3! Not bad, as long as you can open the hatch from inside and there's air available too!

fizzy bubble pic

The Honorable Mentions just disturbed me. The first one, from the U.S., is one of those designs you see from tech folks -- just because you can do it doesn't make it a good idea. Most people when looking in their mirror aren't happy to see how much they've aged, thanks very much. And the second honorable mention doesn't get the concept of affordances, if you ask me. Why should we remove all physical design grace from our faucets, just because mobile phones require controls close together in small spaces? I mean, really!

If you dare: designboom's 'inside the bathroom' competition results.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Stone's Public House

This is why I love Massachusetts. I went looking for a place to sit and have a drink whilst doing my biology homework and ended up at a pub the next town over. Just inside the door was a sign announcing a "Haunted Happenings" Investigation Dinner tonight (pre-reservation only, alas). I later overheard another patron in the bar explaining that it had been featured on the SciFi channel for being infested with ghosts.

Their website says this: Stone's Public House History (scroll down for the ghost stories). If I'd known then, I would have gone upstairs to see what it felt like! Here's a post by the guy who seems to be having the dinner party: The Mysterious Haunting of Stone's Public House.

More practically speaking, they do live music including Irish seisuin (drat, it's the night of my class), with blues on the weekend, and they have a nice fire and parlor open all day for lounging with a pint.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Northumberland Rock Art

Here is a fascinating site for a couple of reasons: the content, if you like prehistoric rock art, like I do; and the weirdly difficult-to-use design, which looks at first glance like it should be really usable, but on inspection proves to be so flexible you can barely get anywhere-- at least not without a thousand clicks you don't entirely understand. Or I couldn't, anyway. I finally picked this as a good way to look at the massively tagged contents: Northumberland Rock Art - Browse by Art Motifs -- if you want spirals, here's where you can find them. morwick rock art, uk  spiral

All in all, obviously a labor of love. Points for passion.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Not sure what I make of this -- at first I flashed back on the old "Two Sheds" Monty Python sketch-- but anyway: the MetroShed is a shed that you can use for another room, wherever you want to put it. The pictures feature it in a yard or park. It looks neat, if you want a shed in your yard that people can see into while you're writing the great American Novel or watching TV.


Saturday, February 05, 2005

UFOs in the Secret Files

More on the Freedom of Info Act files in the UK, this time 5 UFO sightings in west counties, and 88 total. Apparently the MoD's secret UFO department is called the S4F. I love the UK bureaucracy, when I don't live there.

Western Daily Press: Unidentified Fiery Object. And from another, less regionally-centric article: The area with the most frequent mysterious activity has been West Kilbride, on the southwest coast of Scotland. The MoD received a dozen reports during the year of increasingly dramatic visitations, from “one sphere” on April 2, “five bright spheres” on May 30 to “at least 25 yellow spheres flying in groups of five” on November 26.

The Times Online: How Britain's X-Files Said that UFOs Were Just a Waste of Time.


Friday, February 04, 2005

Britain's 10 best-kept secrets

Entertaining mostly for the sheer silliness of calling some of them state secrets, and the annotations on the files-- including "the less said about this one the better" and "as the USA are always so reluctant to part with any of our criminals, let them keep this one" -- here is the BBC NEWS on Britain's 10 best-kept secrets, found in the files following the new Freedom of Information Act.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Guide to Public Restrooms

Boston Online's Wicked Good Guide to Public Restrooms. Rated by number of toilet paper rolls.

(I had a friend in college whose mother wanted to write a coffee table book about restrooms she'd used; photos of graffiti, nice architecture, odd conversations overheard, etc. I remember it every time I visit one in a restaurant. In bus stations, I'm too busy running to remember it.)

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Monday, January 24, 2005

The "Medium" Psychic

When I watched ep. 1 of "Medium," I was annoyed by how perfect she was. It would've been fun to have her battle a little more confusion and doubt, like Dead Zone gives us. That's how "real mediums" are supposed to be -- and this article on the real Allison Dubois backs that up, while also talking about the difficulty of testing someone who isn't always 100% right and speaks in generalities about handsome men and black dogs.

Varied readings on Arizona psychic


Dead Microbiologist roll-call

Sarah Weinman posted about this, and it's not a mystery novel. Apparently some folks (Steve Quayle anyway) think that the rate of mortality for microbiologists is a little too high, and it might mean something about future bio warfare.

Steve Quayle's list with pics and method of death: Dead Scientists; and another page of Quayle's with news clippings on the same.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Aliens, Global Warming, and Climatologists

It's snowing, and they expect up to a foot or more. So I'm reading about global warming. Here's's post on Michael Crichton's State of Fear, a scientific rebuttal of bad popular science writing, in their opinion.

The comment thread is, for the most part, intelligent and points to more evidence and counter-evidence. In it, I hit this: Crichton's Caltech Michelin Lecture, aka "Aliens Cause Global Warming." He lambasts scientist for being Bad for making public appearances intended to sway policy-making and mixing specious conclusions in with Things That Can Be Proven and Are Therefore Appropriately Scientific. Yeah, ok, in many respects he's probably right to offer the reminders; but he's a poor social scientist himself to overlook the role of peer networks in doing research (and don't forget even peer review can allow bad results to get published!), the necessity of relying on second hand reports to keep oneself informed, and the lack of time a scientist has to prove everything from first principles for her own satisfaction or otherwise keep mum about it.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock

I discovered a new obsession this past year: petroglyphs.

This single rock in Utah has enough detail to last me for months, in a very high resolution picture. Look at the 1% zoom and see how crisp it is! From Roy's Blog: Newspaper Rock on Gigapixl Project.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

big heads

Via, this fellow noticed an odd trend on Yahoo news stories: pictures of giant heads behind some smaller foreground figure. His collection of thumbnails from 2004 giant heads is at "big heads."

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Monday, January 10, 2005

Rorschach Audio: EVP

A UK Telegraph piece on the new movie "White Noise," about electronic voice phenomena (aka "phone calls from the dead"): "They're heeeaaaring things..."

They pointed out that the voices sometimes sounded like snatches of conversation from foreign radio stations picked up by Raudive's tape recorder. One researcher found that one of the most impressive "voice texts" appeared to be a burst of 37 German words from an Easter Sunday radio broadcast. ...

Psychologists quickly recognised EVP – sometimes referred to as "Rorschach audio", after the test in which subjects read their own interpretation of inkblot images – as just another example of the brain's penchant for making sense even of the patently senseless.

Known as pareidolia, it lies behind such bizarre claims as the decade-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary, which sold for $28,000 on eBay in November. In its search for order, the brain simply cajoles random patterns into making sense – sometimes at the price of rationality.

Linguists have done experiments on the brain's "categorical" perception of indistinct sounds for decades. This phenomemon is one of the foundations of modern phonetic theory; based on your learned language's sound system, your brain is more likely to "hear" sounds that fit into the phonetic and phonological rules you've internalized. It will do work to make noise fit into those sound categories.


Friday, January 07, 2005

The Templars in Hertfordshire and Mary Magdalene in France

Apparently Hertford is where the legendary Templars went to ground, complete with secret tunnels underneath the post office. (I'm a sucker for secret tunnel stories.) Guardian Unlimited:Hertford, home of the Holy Grail:

"He explains that there is a stained-glass window in St Andrew's Church, just down the street, that contains a clear metaphorical allusion to the Holy Grail, and a cryptic hint that it might be hidden in Hertford. In the picture, Acheson adds, Jesus and Mary Magdalene are looking at each other 'in a very meaningful way'. (Later, I find the window, interrupting local parishioners who are decorating the church for Christmas. I think I can see what Acheson means about Jesus's expression, although mainly he just looks a bit depressed.)"

While on the topic of Mary and folklore about her, France is littered with stained glass showing her in Provence, where she is believed to have taught and lived post-Jesus. Here's a window from Chartres.


Saturday, January 01, 2005

The ESP Game: Labeling the Web

Here's another "wow" already, but for a different reason. It may be old now (it's a CMU CS student project), but it's just so cool. I could play this for hours. What's killer, and makes a good recipe mix for a school project? Online games, multiplayer, anonymous, guessing (but timed and with a pretense at "developing your ESP" for grins), viewing random pictures off the web, scores and rankings. And then making it fun to do something useful, in the end. (Although being asked to provide keywords for tiny gifs on random webpages is a bit, uh, "challenging.")

The ESP Game: Labeling the Web. (Again off Tom Coates', which I've just been catching up on.)


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Refined Beauty, for hire.

I have that paranoid worry that I'm the last to know about this, but I have no idea why. Check out this and tell me if you think it's for real:

Lara is a sophisticated young woman who acts as a travel companion to discerning gentlemen who appreciate beauty, elegance and intelligence. When she's not traveling, she shares her time between her house in San Francisco, NYC and her birthplace in Europe.

Her personality and looks combine European sophistication with the American adventurous spirit. She holds an advanced engineering degree from a top tier California university, is bilingual and an avid world traveler. In order to balance the needs of her career with her other activities, she sees very few and select individuals every year and prefers sufficiently advanced notice for travel.

Lara is a chameleon, a living contradiction. She is known to equally enjoy hiking the Na Pali or relaxing at the Punta Mita Four Seasons; exploring the St. Ouen flea market in Paris or dining at the Tour d’Argent; savoring a home-made Fondue Savoyarde in the French Alps, or attending formal events in Geneva.

It continues with her measurements.

It could be real or someone's elaborate fantasy life. I don't know which I'd prefer it to be...

Don't forget to check out the entertaining FAQ, one of which is "Do you really have an engineering degree?" All at Lara: VIP travel escort- Discreet, educated, elegant, stunning luxury escort for travel. And there's her LJ, of course.

Update on 12/20: Lara writes to me and says she's for real :-) (She must read her logs regularly, so maybe she really is an engineer too!)


Friday, December 17, 2004

The Most Haunted House in Scotland (on Yell)

I've just hit an article in the BBC News about the sale of the most haunted house in Britain, Windhouse on Yell in Shetland. I visited the site myself in 2002 whilst staying in Shetland for a week; I took enough notes and did enough research to write a mag article. Here's what I wrote up at the time, right after my visit:

... Despite the island's general lack of press -- people only go to Yell to get to Unst, famous for a bird preserve -- people from Yell are "passionate about Yell," according to the guy at the archives who gave me some of the ghost stories. Some of them are also storytellers, which might be why the house is still famous.

There's one story about the house that's one of the best-known of all Shetland folktales, "The Trow of Windhouse" or "Trow of Yell." Trows are the local fairy folk, but the trow in the tale is nothing like the normal ones. Unlike the little people or slim types capable of passing for human, this one is a huge mountain of gelatinous blubber.

[Linguistic note: "ow" is usually pronounced "oo" in Shetland. Cows are "coos" and Windhouse is "Windhoose." The archive guy said "trow" not "troo." No idea what the actual rule is, I gave up linguistics years ago.]

This one goes back to the mid-1800's at latest. The versions all agree on this: Christmas Eve a shipwrecked sailor makes his way to Windhouse, and finds the family packing up to spend the night elsewhere. Every Christmas Eve, horrible things happen and someone ends up dead. [That's MY family holidays, hey!] They invite him to go with them, but he stays in the house without them, not being scared (and maybe interested in the silver, just my theory). A giant monstrous creature attacks the house in the night, and he grabs his faithful axe (with him since the shipwreck? isn't it heavy?) and gives chase outside. He buries his axe in the giant and kills it. He finds on the ground a shapeless mass. The family is happy to see him alive Christmas Day, and he points out where he killed it. The heather there turned bright green and the spot is still known to the locals (in one version, there's an actual fence around it).

The archivist found me transcriptions of Edinburgh folklorist interviews with one of the storytellers. They read like this:

This man cam te Windhouse, te de Spences, an dey wir at tea, is I referred. An dey asked him if he wid pertake, an he said he wis hungry fer dey wirna tasted food -- ot wos all been watter logged for so many hours. An he took dis tea, and dey teld him dis story aboot de eruptions it wis ite da house, an de house bein haunted, an dey wir goin te dir cousins in Mid-Yell, an dey waanted him te come with dem. An he said he wisna fightened for no trows, ir nothin like it an as well, he didna believe in it.

After the blob is dead, the interviewer says in spectacularly lame academic style: "I see. It's interesting that sometimes in these stories that the use of cold iron could drive away the supernatural." Our innocent storyteller starts to say, "Very much so, bit dey wir..."

The interviewer ploughs on with his undergraduate, man-on-a-mission collection method: "Have you heard any other stories like that --[ Storyteller says, "No" over him] where cold iron like an [Storyteller: "No."] axe or knife could drive away the--"

Here in the transcript [I am giggling into my wine in the bar that night as I read it, btw] the poor storyteller finally gets in a complete line: "Steel. Dey mightla been steel ina yon."

The crushed interviewer, knowing this is being transcribed: "Yes."

And the storyteller pounds it home, with a long paragraph about how much more useful steel is, get off your lame old-fashioned "cold iron" academic folklore kick and let me tell you what we think up here.

Ahem. There are a bunch of other, less well-documented ghost stories, ones I was actually more interested in but didn't have much access to. There's one about a "lady in silk" believed to be a housekeeper or mistress who fell down the stairs and broke her neck. There's an unsubstantiated rumor of a woman's skeleton found under floorboards at the foot of the stair.

There's another one about a tall man ghost in a long black coat, possibly connected to the actual substantiated body story. I found it in microfilm from 1887:

Human Remains Found.-- While some workmen, who are engaged repairing the manor house of Windhouse, were removing some debris from the back of the house, they came upon the skeleton of a human being. It had apparently been that of a man of large stature, as the bones measured fully six feet long. It was lying in the position it had been put down, the arms folded over the breast. It was only a small distance under the ground and there was no evidence of their ever being a coffin, which gave rise to an opinion that it had been a murder; but if it has it is not in the memory of any of the inhabitants nor does any remember any person ever being missed.

One of the archive transcripts says it was thought to be someone who disappeared at a workmen's party. There's another report of a baby's skeleton found in a kitchen wall, but I couldn't find a date to verify that story in the paper.

The house had a pretty strange history even without the bodies. There was an earlier house higher up on on the hill in the 1600s, owned by a series of pretty nasty men (lying, cheating, beatings, hangings). The current house was the reconstruction of the old one in 1700-something, done by moving the stones down. Supposedly the foundations of the original are still visible, but I didn't go up to see. The gatehouse by the road is now a camping lodge where you can stay for 5 pounds. The farmhouse on the land opposite across the road was occupied by one of the amateur Yell historians who wrote an 8-part history of the 1600s house and its owners in a local magazine 2 decades ago.

In the 1930s, the last owner sold it and it is now on land owned by the RSPB (bird society). There are supposed to be otters nearby, which is why I was there at all. It's now a ruin that kids dare each other to spend the night in and adults told me they get an uncomfortable feeling there. I certainly did, too. I considered going back after my first view of it from the road, to actually look closer at the ruin, maybe walk around and look for the old house foundations, but I talked myself out of it.

The house was put up for sale and according to the most recent newspaper blurb (July 02), "It is the reputed haunt of many ghosts and skeletons have been found in the walls and beneath the floors of the imposing old ruin." There were interested parties inquiring from all over the world, and the new buyer is from England. I called the paper to see if they knew anything more, but they didn't. I never reached the local RSPB in Shetland, although I had a contact number and name. (Eventually I decided I had bothered people enough for details that I probably couldn't use in any ordinary travel article.)

....And I never wrote it up for any article, beyond the text you see here.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Fox Valley, Wisconsin: HAUNTED!

This was pretty amusing: a book on Wisconsin hauntings turned up so much on Fox Valley that they're doing a second volume. But most of the people interviewed for the article about it claimed to have no idea about these ghosts.

Book cites Fox Valley as a favorite haunt of supposed spirits: Shawn Reilly, Chilton's community development director, said he passed the entry on Chilton's supposed haunting around the office, and no one had ever heard of it. That entry includes supposed sightings of an elderly woman, a large orb of light, and one account of a woman entering an altered state of consciousness at the site. "If this will bring people to Chilton, maybe we can do something -- a whole marketing campaign around this blue orb," Reilly said. "Have everybody hang blue orbs outside their businesses."


Remote Viewing in India

From the Anomalist, where I went to patch up a bad day: The India Daily report on using remote viewing techniques for counterintelligence. (Note: The English is a little interesting in places.)

"The reason for the success is attributable to traditional Indian cultural richness over spirituality and paranormal activities. The remote viewing activities are nothing new for India. Indians traditionally have been doing it for thousands of years. But now India is doing it for a reason."


Monday, December 13, 2004

Update on Dee thefts: Elizabethan Artefacts Stolen

Thanks again to my friend oursin's LJ, the latest on the Dee thefts: Elizabethan Artefacts Stolen From London Science Museum.

Short Times article too.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

John Dee's Stolen Stuff and the Voynich Hoax

Posted (locked) by oursin on LiveJournal, a report in the online Scotsman on the theft of a scrying crystal of John Dee's and some of his papers from the Science Museum in London.

The crystal, used as a tool by mediums and for curing disease, belonged to maverick philosopher, mathematician and astrologer John Dee, a consultant to Elizabeth I. He lived between 1527 and the turn of the 17th Century, becoming a leading authority on “angel-magic” and beliefs that man had the potential for divine power. Also taken was a statement about the crystal’s use by author and pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper, written on the reverse of ancient deed manuscripts in the mid-1600s.

Here's an entertaining report on Dee from the "occultopedia": John Dee, the Queen's astrologer.

Unrelated except to Dee-- Searching the Guardian for Dee articles, I hit on a cool piece about an attempt to decrypt the Voynich manuscript's code:

"The Voynich Manuscript, bought by Rudolph II of Bohemia in 1568, mystified cryptographers and linguistics experts alike. Until, that is, a senior lecturer in computer science at Keele University found a solution through a test run of a technique he intended for research into Alzheimer's. Dr Gordon Rugg's suggestion is that the manuscript, a handwritten book in a unique script that contains features found in no known language, was a hoax. It is probable, on his account, that the author was the 16th-century "con artist" Edward Kelley."

Kelley was a clairvoyant of Dee's, it seems. "There is evidence Dee had the manuscript in his possession for a long time - a leading authority on Dee has attributed the numbers on the pages to him."


Friday, November 26, 2004

Bara Hack, the Village of Voices

I tried to find the turn-off for the famous "village of voices" in Pomfret yesterday, but it was too dark. This is a nice overview of links on CT ghost sites. This is a report on the 1971 investigation. An account of a ghostly whistling in Bara Hack. [Edited to add 11/07: Disabling comments due to comment spam that won't stop.]

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Connecticut Cairns in the News

When I moved to New England, I was excited about the number of unexplained stone monuments and carvings here. Here's a recent story on some cairn-like structures in a Killingworth CT proposed housing development. There's a video to go with it, from the news story on TV. - Saving the 'spiritual stones'

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Ectoplastic stories from Paris

An entertaining mixed bag of news from Paris, ghost-story focused: Ectoplasm Aint What it Used to Be. "Called Photography and the Occult, the exhibition at the Maison Europeenne de la Photo celebrates the fantastic in a series of montages and double-exposure prints." The Maison's website with some photos on the sidebar: Special Events: The Third Eye.. Sponsored in part by the Met in NYC, but I can't see any info on their website.


"We've definitely found Atlantis."

A story I somehow missed till now, and another unintentionally funny quote: We've definitely found Atlantis 15/11/2004. ABC News Online. "'To understand the enigma of Atlantis you have to have good knowledge of ancient history, Biblical references, the Sumerian culture and their tablets and so on.'"

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