Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Meandering musings

Ah, yet another post to briefly assure my readers that I'm still here for this blog.
` I was working on another dinosaurs post, and another more important one, and then got involved with housework and creating my own office space, piano included, and cleaning up the copious quantities of cat hair, pine needles and other dust that has crept underneath all the baseboard-less walls of the house. (We've had delays in construction.)

Also, since I've been laid off from yet another job, I've been fishing for another one of those. So far, no biters.

But I also have been thinking a lot. Three of the things on my mind are:

1) Why third generation (or '3G') cellular phone technology is all the rage in America. Last I checked, other developed countries are now well into '4G' and beyond. It's like a celebration of being slow to catch up!

2) Since I'm still on the search for a job, another thing that has come to my attention is looking presentable for job interviews. One of the criticisms my boyfriend has is that I tend to leave for them without parting my hair in a straight line.
` It looks straight to me. But apparently, there are subtleties that I do not fathom. If I ask my boyfriend 'is it straight?' I have no idea what answer I'll get.
` Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It all looks the same to me. I may work at it for minutes on end and still he doesn't think it's straight.

3) And then, of course, this gets me thinking of my friends. Of all the friends I have had - not counting roommates - I'm one of the few heterosexual ones. What's odd about this is that I feel somehow different because... I'm straight.
` Now that strikes me as significant: A trait that might be considered as 'usual' now becomes 'unusual'. I'm still trying to figure out what implications this may have.

I'm also excited to announce that I'll be starting up college once again on January 6. (Thank you, Financial Aid!) Most probably, I'll write about what I learned in class up here for all to read.
` Well, back to work! I'll come back soon with more stuff!

Update: Just so you don't think my blog-skimping has been meaningless, 'back to work' began with mucking up all the litter box excavations that had been scattered through the melting snow by raccoons.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Working around work...

Somehow or another, I've managed to write a new 'chunk' on a new topic that should help to round out the content so far - dinosaurs!

It wasn't easy. First of all, I'm away from home about twelve hours a day, with no computer access: When I am home, most of my time is taken up by housework and other necessities.
` Of the time I set aside to write at the computer, I am interrupted at least once, either by power surges (from construction) which turn the computer off, or by people crowding into the room with me for several minutes, at which point I usually just go off and do something else for a while.

Nevertheless, I have finally succeeded in writing my first few bits about The Survival of the Dinosaurs. It's not entirely new, however:

My original vision, entitled Dinosaurs and their Descendants, was posted on my very first blog (on SEO-Blog) in five segments from April 30, 2005 to May 28, 2005.
` Later on, I re-edited it and posted it on the corresponding days on my first blog here at Blogger.

This time, it's getting a full makeover, and when the time comes to arrange it in the Corrigendopedia, it will be more fully updated and illustrated - by moi!
` Though I haven't done them yet, I think I can handle a few dinosaur-related illustrations: As a sample of my talent, here's a visual 'study' sketch that I did, years ago, working from a 'real life' Albertosaurus.

Real life Albertosaurus? That's right! After all...

(Click to enlarge.)
...So... they were actually models. Models that exist, in time and space, even!

Without further ado (or Albertosaurus sketches, alas), here's the new text:

The Survival of the Dinosaurs - Chunk 1

When I was five years old, I was taught that dinosaurs had all died off, so there was no chance that I could ever see what they were like.
` If only I had known that real live dinosaurs lived in my own house, remnants of a lineage that had survived the great dinosaur extinction, I might have seen my pet birds in a very different way.

I remember how my grandma would cautiously peek through the front door before entering, with the question; "Is that robin in his cage?"
` Robby might have just as well been a ferocious meat-eating dinosaur as far as she was concerned - and he as well, judging by the way he gave chase.

It is with great irony that I later learned this isn't far from what all the scientific discoveries show; Robby's own grandparents, ones living way back in the Early Jurassic, actually were ferocious meat-eating dinosaurs!
` Technically, robins are but a 'new' species of dinosaur.

The idea that birds are but a branch on the dinosaur family tree was once controversial; however, after many decades of meticulous research and hundreds of amazingly well-preserved fossil finds, there is no longer much room for doubt.

I could go on, into great detail - so, where to begin?

Which Dinosaurs Are Birds Related To?

Over a century and a half has gone by since Thomas Henry Huxley recognized that birds have much in common with dinosaurs - and in particular, a group of meat-eaters with the strangely-spelled name of Coelurosaurs.
` The word is pronounced "see LOO-row saurs" and means "hollow reptiles", in reference to the air-filled sacs preserved in their bones. These air sacs are similar to the ones found in birds, and seem to have been connected to the lungs in a similar way.

Am I supposed to know what Coelurosaurs are?

If you've heard of Tyrannosaurus rex, then you know at least one! Undoubtedly, this is the most familiar coelurosaur species, though it is also among the most unusual:
` Whereas most coelurosaurs are rather small, with long, well-developed arms, you will know that Tyrannosaurus was huge and heavy, with short, stubby arms and massive jaws.

You might also be familiar with Velociraptor, made popular by the movie Jurassic Park, although it was much smaller in real life.
` Important to know about Velociraptor is the fact that it belongs to the dromaeosaur (DRO-mee-o saur) family.
` Four noticeable features of dromaeosaurs are 1.) the single, retractile sickle-shaped claw on each foot, 2.) long arms that could 'flap' like a bird's wings, 3.) opposable fingers, and 4.) reduced and fused tail bones, resulting in a stiff, rod-like tail.
` Though Velociraptor's skin has never been found, other dromaeosaurs are known to have had feathers almost exactly like those of adult birds, differing only in the complexity of microscopic hooks.

Why Are You Telling Me This?

Because, another famous coelurosaur is precisely what you'd expect if the fearsome Velociraptor had a smaller cousin that could fly.
` Known from several well-preserved specimens, the first few having been discovered in the 1800s, it has another strangely-spelled name; Archaeopteryx (say; "arkee OP-ta-ricks").

Though it was among the earliest birds known, Archaeopteryx - and its close kin - resembled the dromaeosaurs far more than they resembled any bird living today.
` Though its well-preserved feathers were identical to those of modern birds, Archaeopteryx had teeth similar to those of dromaeosaurs, as well as a fused, stiffened tail, grasping hands, and a sickle-shaped retractile claw, among many other characteristics.

In fact, one Archaeopteryx specimen with very poorly-preserved feathers had been thought - for a whole century - to be another tiny coelurosaur called Compsognathus (comp-sog NAY-thuss) until Dr. Peter Wellnhofer noticed the feathers in 1993.

So, when are you going into great detail about all this?

It starts in Chunk 2!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

That was fast...

I got a job just yesterday! I'll get back to writing posts... after Overeating Day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Well, isn't this a predicament?

As anyone can observe, I haven't spent much time posting here, or anywhere else. In fact, I haven't even checked my email, or read anything at all on the internet much either.
` Instead, I've been busy doing housework and searching for another job, as I've mentioned before.

But, as I've gotten laid off from one of my jobs, and since the other one doesn't actually pay money, and since one of my housemates/co-workers is going back to live with his parents, I need to find another source of income.

Until then, I am not permitted to go online for any purpose, except to notify people of this development.

I don't know when I'll be back. I've applied to hundreds of establishments, am currently with four different temp agencies, and have gone to several job interviews.
` Quite often, I'm only that close to succeeding, but never quite there.

Supposedly, this development (if one can call it that) will encourage me to work harder at getting a job. Not only that; I can spend the whole day looking for work, and with my evenings free, I can do household chores instead of being on the internet, or reading, or whatever.

Real great lifestyle change. I feel like a kid again... who's been grounded!

Well, wish me luck! I hope to be back here soon!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Importance of Skepticism in Making Limeade

Last weekend, my housemate Brad made an excellent gourmet dinner - as always - though I don't now remember what it was. I do, however, recall that part of the seasoning involved lime juice.
` After dinner, I saw the unjuiced half of the lime sitting on the counter and thought, "Won't I be clever if I use the rest of this lime... to make limeade?"
` So, I crushed the lime in such a way that most of the juice squirted out into a small glass, one of many sets of kitchen supplies given to us by people who have too many of their own. Since we also had just gotten yet more boxes of dishware, cheese graters, silverware, shakers, and the like, there were great stacks of them all around the kitchen and I didn't know where the sugar had gone to.

I asked Brad, who was probably at the time gathering together some furniture for housing all those things, if he knew where I might find some sugar. He said it was in the shaker by the toaster.
` I looked over at where the toaster had previously been for many weeks, though this space was now a hopeless-looking pile of kitchen tools. Right next to this pile was a small shaker full of white granules, so I thought nothing of pouring a great deal of it into the glass.

The taste test, however, revealed that it was, in fact, salt. It actually didn't taste bad, though I know better than to drink salt water.
` As for the toaster? It was at the other end of the room, unrecognizable with all manner of things piled on top of it, and I wouldn't have known if I was looking at it or not.
` The three of us present - Brad, Lucas and I - had a good laugh over this. Next time, I said, I would actually look for the toaster instead of just assume that because it is normally in one spot that it is still in the same place.

This is, indeed, similar to the way skeptics (including scientists) avoid making logical pitfalls, because if you really want to find the truth, you must always question your assumptions!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Just Say "No" To Quote-Mining!

Many times I have worked to create written pieces which, in one way or another, convey this basic message:
1) The scientific process, ever-moving and ever-changing, depends on contradictions for expanding and refining our knowledge of the world.
2) This is the opposite of dogma, which resists change by denying the existence of contradictions.

For some of my readers, however, my message does not get across, and that can lead to some pretty interesting exchanges.

Specifically concerning religious dogma, I've written about how scientists discover the way the world works, while at the same time, people of some faith or another deny the results because their beliefs must come first.
` Some of them go so far as to oppose the existence of gravity, preferring the explanation that the hands of God literally hold everything down onto a flat earth.

I mention this to illustrate the fact that modern technology, and all of civilization, could not do what they do without the roundness of the earth. Airplane flight paths would be far different, while satellites would be an impossibility.
` How did we know what to do in order to make them work in the first place? From scientific explanations: Explanations with a history of trial and error, that are best at predicting what would happen if someone were to do 'X' (or if 'X' were to happen naturally); these explanations are known, in technical jargon, as 'scientific theories'.

So, scientific theories are much different than the common use of the word 'theory', which usually means something like 'hypothesis' or even less.

It was but three days ago that I received an email from a reader who insists that scientific theories are not well-established but instead little more than guesses. Even more, he said that the scripture of his own faith, which has itself been changed and reinterpreted through the millennia to begin with, is every bit as reliable as actual observation and research.
` He wrote:

Who cares where the truth comes from? Truth is truth, right? You are so blind if you cannot see truth when if it is in the Bible because all you do is shun religion, you don't care about being objective as you say. Why can't you just admit that scientists don't know everything.
Believe it or not, I read in an article in the New York Times that even your astrophysicist boyfriend [huh?] Neil DeGrasse Tyson, agrees with me:

Scientists may scoff at people who fall back on explanations involving an intelligent designer, he said, but history shows that “the most brilliant people who ever walked this earth were doing the same thing.”
I quickly found this article online; the title is A Free-For-All on Science and Religion by NYT science writer George Johnson.
` To be honest, I strongly doubt this person has ever laid eyes on it. Either that, or he was not counting on me to actually check out his source, as is important in critical thinking, because what I found shows that, while the quote is from Tyson, his message was in fact the opposite of what it appears.
` I think the next few paragraphs speak for themselves (emphases mine):
When Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” failed to account for the stability of the solar system — why the planets tugging at one another’s orbits have not collapsed into the Sun — Newton proposed that propping up the mathematical mobile was “an intelligent and powerful being.”
And we found that it wasn't, now, was it? That was Tyson's real point! And he had far more to say, too:
It was left to Pierre Simon Laplace, a century later, to take the next step. Haughtily telling Napoleon that he had no need for the God hypothesis, Laplace extended Newton’s mathematics and opened the way to a purely physical theory.
You see there? Laplace and others would have been saved a lot of work if Newton hadn't given up when he did (or at least appear to).
“What concerns me now is that even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops — it just stops,” Dr. Tyson said. “You’re no good anymore for advancing that frontier, waiting for somebody else to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says: ‘That’s a really cool problem. I want to solve it.’ ”
In other words, a "no we can't" attitude, of any type, has no place in scientific advancement. You gotta keep going, even when it seems hopeless for anyone to crack the problem. Otherwise, you have zero chance of a deeper understanding.
` Tyson goes on, in the article:
“Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance,” he said. “Something fundamental is going on in people’s minds when they confront things they don’t understand.”

He told of a time, more than a millennium ago, when Baghdad reigned as the intellectual center of the world, a history fossilized in the night sky. The names of the constellations are Greek and Roman, Dr. Tyson said, but two-thirds of the stars have Arabic names. The words “algebra” and “algorithm” are Arabic.

But sometime around 1100, a dark age descended. Mathematics became seen as the work of the devil, as Dr. Tyson put it. “Revelation replaced investigation,” he said, and the intellectual foundation collapsed.
There! Now we've read the rest of what Tyson had said, before this person had so rudely cut him off. That wasn't so hard, was it?
` Apparently, however, he either did not take the time to read this himself, or at least expected me to just take the quote at face value.
` Even more importantly, you can see that Tyson, in fact, agrees with me rather than him! In fact, some of what I've written in the past has been inspired by his words.

So... what the heck's going on? Does this guy honestly think he can fool me by taking a quote out of context? Especially someone I'm familiar with, though let's get one thing straight - he isn't my boyfriend:
` I only commented that I can see how he can be considered to be the World's Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive.

Because he is. In People Magazine, anyway.

So, I am sorry, dear e-mailer, but according to Tyson, we must try ideas to test their worth and discard them if they are useless, whereas dogma - and there are many types - cannot, or is not to be tried, because by definition it is to be accepted without evidence.

So, there is 'truth' - that which is to be accepted, in your opinion, because of where it was printed (your Bible) and there is 'truth' - that which is to be accepted because it happens for real (in reality).
` If you can't interpret your religion to be consistent with modern findings of cosmology, biology and human nature, I'd say it's because your understanding is outdated a couple thousand years.

There is nothing you can do to make me believe that a scientist, while speaking about what science is, and how it is important, is really saying that science can be replaced by what you personally believe in.

The moral of the story? There are at least two:

The first one might be said as, 'Resist the temptation to mine through science writing for the one quote that glitters with ambiguity, for deceiving others is wrong - "Thou shall not bear false witness" as you might say.'
` The second one is; 'Do not trust those who will say anything to make an enemy out of those with differing views - and always check their sources.'

There could also be a third: 'Do not be so eager to use mined quotes against me, for publicly exposing logical fallacies - and their relations - is something that I am even more eager to do.'

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's great to be back on my own computer....

That's right! I finally got the first article done and there's still more good news!

After a month of shunning the importance of 'playing around on the computer' as at least two of my housemates regard it, I finally got the junk cleared out of the office, and even persuaded them to let me use my own 'computer furniture' (a nightstand and an endtable) so that I could set up my own computer and actually turn it on for once! (It's been about a month.)
` The consequence of this, I hope, will be more posts here, as well as new posts on my other blogs!

I ask myself why I didn't do this earlier - besides my reluctance to give others fuel for shaming me about treating my blog as a sort of 'writing job' on which I have a regular 'work schedule' and even 'deadlines', which have been more trouble than they're worth to meet.
` I guess I just didn't take it, well, serously enough; though I also would have done this earlier if I hadn't been under the impression that I would have my own computer space by... weeks ago. Each day I kept telling myself, "Oh, what's a few more days?"
` But, as it always turned out, there's been a lot more remodeling to be done in the new place than we had bargained for (we're getting this house done the right way rather than the 'fire hazard' way) so, that didn't happen.

After my harrowing experience with just getting one Corrigendopedia article online - especially considering its length - I decided that I couldn't take the pressure of the constant teasing and being kicked off the office computer every half hour, so I set to work clearing out the mountain of things in 'storage' here.
` So, that took about the first six hours of of yesterday - the other six involved laundry and cleaning all the floors and bathroom using a most frustrating and environmentally unfriendly method; rolls and rolls of paper towels!
` Then I spent a couple hours of today scrubbing down 'my' furniture, wiping the sawdust and plaster powder off my computer, and then finding a way to arrange everything so that I can comfortably use it without being stepped on. (It was quite a puzzle!)

In truth, this process was actually hurried along by the fact that Nate needed some photos I took of him working on-set and had just discovered that my camera doesn't work with Macs (though it's almost identical to his camera).
` To my surprise, he had no idea that I hadn't even turned on my PC, much less used it, since we'd moved in so now I actually have a legitimate excuse to have my computer hooked up now! Just as long as I continue to be the photographer....

Let's hope my excuse endures long enough for me to get some new (or at least old) posts up on this blog. I can't wait to open my Corrigendopedia!
` For now, however, I must go. There is yet more work to do. Thankfully, I'll be using rags this time rather than paper towels.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's Huge! It's Collossal! It's My First Post, At Last!

Below lies the first piece I am presenting as a part of the vast body of writing known as the Corrigendopedia. It is not what I had originally been writing; that article was actually of an ideal subject for introducing the whole purpose of the Corrigendopedia.
` This one may not, but this is a blog, not a book; it doesn't necessarily matter in what order I post things, just so long as they get into the Corrigendopedia (where they will then be placed into book-like order).

As I've mentioned - in this comment here - I'm having some difficulty finding enough time to write new posts in a consistent manner, so what I can do instead is go back through earlier blog posts and re-write them for the Corrigendopedia.
` By the time I've incorporated much of this material, I should have a sufficient framework on which to build and add 'layers', etc.

The first one I've chosen to post is appropriate for Halloween, and boy is it a doozy! Like many of my past articles, it's extremely long and thorough, though this one also required much video footage review (as reference), so there's little wonder that it took me several hours to complete it.
` Despite the fact that I get kicked off the computer virtually every day, I was still on schedule for posting it on Halloween: However, the only computer available to me during my scheduled internet time that day was being used for watching a movie - which wasn't even very good, as it turned out.
` How could such a travesty possibly happen to me? Well, this time I learned that when our Nate is gone (along with his laptop), and cannot be reached by phone, figuring out how to operate his DVD player is beyond the ability of the rest of us.
` So, no playtime for me!

Can't wait to get some space where I can set up my own computer!

Well, it's movie time again. Good thing I'm done. Without further ado the first ghost of writing for the Corrigendopedia!

World's Scariest? Or World's Least Convincing?

Originally posted Tuesday, October 23, 2007.

This article is about illusions - specifically some illusions caught on tape and marketed as reality. But first of all, we should ask ourselves; what is an illusion?
` They are natural to human perception - so natural, in fact, that having normal vision relies on them: Our brains employ mental shortcuts that normally give us the right picture - but if certain elements are taken away, our brain still fills in the gaps, even in error.
` In the realm of vision, these mistaken perceptions are more commonly called 'optical illusions'.
` However, with any of our perceptions, we can be deceived by having to fill in particularly large gaps; the less one knows, the more one's brain must compensate by 'filling in' the missing parts.

I admit, I've been fooled many times due to lack of information: For example, just last weekend, my boyfriend Lucas and I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as 'Officer Hampton' from the local police, asking about a murder in our friendly little ghetto [which I thankfully moved out of a year later].
` We didn't exactly buy that, so we wound up exchanging a few words with him and the police.
` Long story short, the same man called later, while Lucas was out, claiming that he was actually a friend of the neighbors and that they were now going to kill Lucas for telling actual police officers about the homicide.
` I immediately locked the door and began breathing into a paper bag. I'd thought those neighbors had moved to this state in order to start a new, crime-free life. It didn't make sense to me, but what did I know?
` After hours of trembling on the floor, locked in my apartment, I was more than glad when Lucas came home in one piece! Coincidentally, it was also at this time when the police had finally called me back about my claim.
` Lucas was on the phone with the police sergeant just as he was approaching to arrest the neighbors, when another call came in. It was a guy we knew who wanted to talk business, but Lucas had no time for this. Just as he was about to hang up, the guy said; "Oh, by the way, I'm Officer Hampton! Wasn't that funny?"

We let him know just how much it wasn't.

This is just one of many times in my life that I have been mortally terrified due to a lack of information: By the mere fact that I could not see who was calling, I had believed that this unusual acquaintance of ours was a seedy thug, and it almost got our normalcy-seeking neighbors arrested!

This is exactly the type of reason that I prefer to look before I leap to conclusions. But I admit, I was fooled. I very much wanted to knock on my neighbors' door and ask them if they knew what was going on. I almost did. But, 'almost' doesn't count as any kind of investigation.

In the world of television, commercial TV producers and even news journalists deliberately exploit their viewers' lack of information so that they can promote a sensational idea. As I've previously explained - in great detail - the purpose of this is to keep people watching.

In this article, I'm dealing with programs - specifically one in particular - that present people's claims of ghostly encounters just as they are told, no questions asked.
` To me, these shows seem pretty simple to throw together: First, pick a sensational topic, interview a bunch of people who claim to have real experience with said topic, then use editing effects and scary music to make it look like a TV drama!
` To give the impression of having a balanced perspective, you can even display a scientist or skeptical expert on the matter as long as you leave his arguments on the cutting-room floor; be sure to select only a few out-of-context sound bites that make him look like a complete know-nothing.
` This is very important because if the claims are portrayed as being dubious or ridiculous, the viewers may realize that the program is not actually being serious and would begin asking what joker would even present this stuff in the first place.
` Even more gravely, the viewer might actually... change the channel!

Frightening indeed!

Please keep in mind, however, that I don't outright reject evidence for ghosts: Besides, this is a television show (hello?) where entertainment value comes before everything else.
` In fact, you might be surprised to know that there was a time in my life when I would have thought this program to be proof positive of real supernatural goings-on: Secure in my knowledge that 'real' paranormal events were being showcased, I tried, just for fun, to see if I could interpret the videos as having more 'earthly' explanations.

When I began to open my mind to this perspective, I noticed just how easy it was.

For this program, called World's Scariest Ghosts, and which you can watch online along with my walk-through, I offer the viewer a whole slew of ordinariness to think about when when considering any so-called 'ghost video' they may see.
` You will find the link for viewing this program, in its entirety, shortly below.

The opening narrative of World's Scariest, concerning the ghostly cases presented in the show, states, "...But none can be authenticated. Are they real? You decide."
` I'll get around to those questions after my analysis, but first let us ask; "Why, pray tell, are the viewers supposed to be the ones to decide?"
` As you will see, it is because the so-called 'paranormal investigators' and 'experts' are not shown making any attempts to verify the paranormal claims. Instead, they profess to believe the claimants and encourage whatever drama is already present.

And see you can, right on the computer screen: World's Scariest Ghosts. That's the link. Go there.
` But, before you really get into it, I suggest reading my careful examination of the first few segments or so and then "decide for yourself" what is most looks like.

Mysterious Liquid, Noises, and People Generally Freaking Out

The first segment deals with a woman, 'Jackie' who says she kept feeling like there was evil activity in her home, and that it has to do with a reddish-orange liquid pooled on a shelf in her cabinet, apparently dripping down from above.

I may as well tell you that there is also a sticky, reddish-orange liquid that falls on me as I step out of the shower each day. [One of many reasons I am glad to have since moved out!] After considerable scrutiny, I've determined this much:
` That a), the hideousness of my [former] bathroom ceiling is actually caused by the many tears and cracks in what must have been, at one time, wallpaper;
` and b) that wallpaper, having been painted over decades ago, evidently contains pockets of filthy wallpaper paste which liquefies and drips down when exposed to steam, which c), makes me want to get back into the shower!

Critically, we see no one asking what this liquid even is, nor do we see anyone try to find out where it comes from - as we would in a legitimate investigation!
` To these types of ghost 'experts', 'something strange in the neighborhood' is all the evidence they need to get a positive ID.

For all we know, the fluid could even have been put there on purpose, as we don't actually see it emerging from nowhere.
` However, as with my [former] bathroom ceiling, it appears to be something like gluey water leaching out from between two pieces of wood in the cabinet. Did you notice that's where the drips are forming?

The stomping noises heard in Jackie's attic might conceivably be water dripping on metal or the roof changing shape due to temperature - I generally ignore similar sounds, as they are ever-present at my own [previous] dwelling.
` Of course, that is partly because the attic above my [former] apartment is alternately occupied by tweekers doing meth, homeless people taking shelter, or a combination of the two.

Next up, we see the first of the two the ghost 'investigators' lifting himself into the attic, (starting with a shot of his feet rising as if floating), while the narrator says: "At that moment, they were attacked." It may be important to clarify that they were both fully inside the attic when we hear the screams, in case you misremember what happens:
` 'Investigator' Jeff Wheatcraft returns with a very startled look, claiming that he was almost strangled by a cord hanging from a nail. The culprit? A ghost.
` In truth, similar creepifying things have happened to me. I don't know how, but my head has been known to go through loops of various materials when I'm probing around attics/basements with a flashlight; I don't see them until I back away and find that something is wrapped around my neck!
` Presumably, he could also have been staging this 'assault' - or exaggerating something that happened accidentally. He has good reason to here because it's required on these shows - one reason I sometimes call them 'paranormal reality TV'.
` Interestingly, this incident happens out of view of the TV camera: All we see of this is a photograph of a fearful-looking Jeff standing with his head at an odd angle.

Towards the end of this all-night investigation, a probably sleep-deprived Jackie goes ballistic because she believes the ghost has attacked her four-month-old daughter.
` Evidence? Jackie says she suddenly noticed a faint red mark on the baby's forehead. It could be a bruise that took a while to appear, or - who knows? - it could be some of that dripping red stuff!
` Whatever it was could have even been there for a while before she was consciously aware of it. Perhaps, in the middle of a period of time when she saw nothing happening, she may have looked down, finally spotted it, and thought it must have just appeared seconds ago.
` Because of this 'ghost attack', we are told, she moved away after that episode and the house has been quiet ever since.

To me, that statement seems to say more about Jackie than the house.

In any case, there is nothing that can be seen or heard that is really unusual - just the way the people are reacting - we see no attempts to narrow down possibilities of what may be going on and Jackie's account is taken at face value.

Objects Moving With No Visible Cause

The second segment is a bit better than the first because it supposedly shows actual poltergeist activity before our eyes! The first of these videos shows a glass being dragged across a table, towards one edge of the frame. Then, the typewriter's roller also lazily moves in the same direction - just as one would expect something to move if someone was standing off to the side pulling on some fishing line.
` Then, a chair is mysteriously pushed out from under the table, which leads me to think that someone could be concealed behind the tablecloth and another flat surface in the foreground. After that, the reclining chair rocks just a little bit (more fishing line) and we hear the sound of the door being slammed again and again (though the door is not in frame).

The next video, shot by someone else, apparently shows some 'invisible force' grabbing the leg of a chair and dragging it offscreen; then, a piece of sheet rock appears momentarily at the edge of the frame as it is pulled from the wall by one corner.
` Invisible force? Sure; fishing line is even more invisible on videotape than it is on film. The simplicity of the movements (i.e. objects moving in a straight line from certain discrete attachment points) would suggest its heavy use here.

Who, exactly, is responsible for these incidents? It's hard to say; however, anyone can do them with some fishing wire and a little ingenuity. Odd? Perhaps. Unexplainable? Definitely not.

A Family Secret?

"Meet professional demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren." Yes, let's do meet them:

I ought to mention first that their best evidence for paranormal activity includes a video in which a young man was taped standing in a room when an indistinct shape comes into view close to the side of the camera.
` Much like a hand reaching for the 'record/stop' button.
` Then, the whole room - flickering candles and all - suddenly changes; most notably, the young man is missing.
` Much like a moment from the classic sitcom, Bewitched!
` "He just disappeared!" Ed had claimed.
` Curiously, the guy in the video didn't seem to notice anything unusual had happened at that time, reporting that he had stood in the room briefly and then went upstairs.

Oh, and we can't forget the cursed antiques in their basement - the Warrens warned of certain doom if you touch them! This is, of course, a good reason why critical investigators enjoy touching them so much. You know, to check for certain doom. Nothing yet, as far as I know.

Anyway, Ed Warren, who died last year (presumably leaving the antiques of doom to Lorraine), is probably best-known for his involvement in the Amityville 'Horror' - which later was uncovered to have more to do with the troubles of a dysfunctional family than any poltergeist.
` In the next video, we have Ed and Lorraine gathered around a table with another family, under the pretense of communicating with another poltergeist (or, what Ed calls a 'demon').

As with a spiritualist séance, we hear what sound like intentional tapping noises supposed to be responses from the demon: This could easily be faked by any one of the people sitting around the table, or even Ed.
` In fact, I ought to mention:
` The entire Spiritualism movement (mediums, séances, etc.) was started in 1848 by the young Fox sisters, who found clever ways to trick people into thinking that their questions were being answered by ghostly rapping sounds.
` Later on, they came up with new tricks, such as producing lights, ghostly hands and 'spirit-writing'.
` By the time Margaret Fox began a tour of public demonstrations of how she could seem to produce rapping sounds from any part of a theater (in reality they came from her toe), spiritualism in general had become far too popular for her to stop.
` In fact, the very spiritualists she had created accused her of being paid to make people think it was a fraud, and she later recanted her demonstrations.
` So, who knows? Someone could be using their techniques of tapping the table with their foot or cracking their toe joint against it. The camera does not even peer under the table!

Afterwards, we see footage of the table itself, with Ed apparently alone and to the left of the video camera. One of the chairs moves toward the spot where Ed apparently is, pulled by one leg.
` (Say, I wonder if fishing line is one of the basic tools of a demonologist?)
` Then, the chair moves again, while at precisely the same time the camera is also bumped - my guess is that this was Ed knocking into the camera while pulling the chair himself.
` Then, "in the name of Jesus Christ", the entire table along with the chairs slides towards Ed, apparently dragged by fishing wire threaded between the chair and table legs.

Again at the table, we next find the little girl doing homework, and her elbows are firmly braced against the tabletop while her feet are wrapped around the front legs of her chair. Can you do that right now where you're sitting?
` Try it!
` Importantly, make sure your feet are touching the chair legs, but not the floor, and that your upper torso is supported by your elbows (not your hands). Then, do a little 'abdominal crunch' to lift your knees up. The chair goes right back on two legs, doesn't it?

I don't think it works with swivel chairs, though....

This move is apparently what this girl is doing, and yet, what is it said to be? 'Oh, her feet aren't touching the floor, which means she can't be doing this herself; therefore, it's unexplainable, and that means a ghost must be responsible.'
` Not only is that a huge leap of logic, the truth is really the opposite; you can't tip a chair like that without your ankles or feet 'grabbing' it like hers are. To prove this point, all you have to do is try tipping the chair again, this time with your feet on the floor.
` Doesn't work, does it? Your feet may leave the floor, but since they are not braced against the chair, it does not move with them.

After this, when the table is 'pulled out' from under her, she simply appears to be pushing it away - which similarly can only be done if one's feet are hanging onto the chair for leverage.
` If someone puts their feet on the floor and pushes, they are simply pushed away from the table.
` Try it yourself!

(Still doesn't work with swivel chairs, though!)

Waking Up, Unable To Move

Here are some eyewitnesses describing some perfectly plausible scenarios where in which they wake up in the middle of the night to see figures, feel presences, even communicate with beings.
` I have had many of these experiences myself since the age of two.

The most recent, as of this writing, was opening my eyes one morning to see that I was on my side, with a view of the floor beside my mattress. I couldn't move.
` My first thought was; 'Oh, this again.'
` Then, I heard someone walking across the floor and step onto the mattress, which I could feel sinking down behind me.
` Judging from the voice which followed, it was a man, who told me he was going to do some bad things.
` "No." I said.
` "Yes," he replied from high above my ear.
` Suddenly, my imagination ran away with me and I started to think, for a moment, that he actually existed outside of my head. I finally managed to move enough to roll over, finding nothing there but the walls and ceiling.
` Even that didn't stop me from having to take a minute to calm myself down.

I've had many similar experiences, though with a variety of characters, from a roommate wrestling with a cat, to completely floating off through the wall and into an alien spaceship.

It's called 'sleep paralysis' - it can be a usual occurrence for some people, and can happen to seemingly anyone under certain conditions, especially if they are under a lot of stress.
` It's a period of time - either when falling asleep or waking up - when some of your brain is awake - so you might think you're wide awake - while other parts are not.
` As a result, it can really appear to you as if something is watching you, as if your chest is being crushed, as if you are being restrained, as if you are being raped, as if you are being lifted off your bed, as if you are being rotated, as if small creatures are kidnapping you, or anything else that could possibly happen in your wildest dreams if you should suddenly find yourself mysteriously bound and helpless.

According to records going back many centuries, these experiences tend to be very emotional; even sleep researchers who know what's going on are not immune to having a terrifying experience.

The key feature to an episode is that you can't move: When you are dreaming, the part of your brain that allows voluntary movement is shut down. (Otherwise, you would act out your dreams. Conversely; sleepwalking is different because it takes place between dreams when you aren't paralyzed anyway.)
` During sleep paralysis, part of you is aware of the room around you while part of you is 'dreaming'. So, while you're still unable to move, you may have strange and unusual sensations around you that are often influenced by the paralysis itself, including vivid hallucinations that you may or not be able to distinguish from reality.
` That doesn't mean you're crazy, of course, just that you're not fully awake, so you're not experiencing reality like you normally would.

What these people are describing are textbook cases of sleep paralysis - being paralyzed, feeling as if they're being held down, being unable to speak, seeing people and white lights, sensing telepathic communication, etc.
` Classic examples.
` So, I would say that in this segment, we have typical examples of a phenomenon that's well-known and fairly common - up to 40% of people report at least one episode.
` The very fact that they are, I think, convinced, that something has happened in the 'real world' outside their heads is still in agreement with known cases.

In other words, it's fairly certain that something truly ordinary has happened to these people. How can that be evidence for something extraordinary?

Wildland Music Video 'Figure'

It boggles my mind how "everyone" filming a music video in the ruins of a mining town could miss the most obvious explanation behind a figure that they claimed not to see while they were actually there!

You only have to ask; why did they not see it until they watched the video?

I'd say that the most important things about this shape's appearance is the fact that 1) it doesn't move, and 2), that there is an empty space where the head should be.
` It doesn't help that the image is black and white and not in focus, so all we have is a twisted, dark lump that vaguely resembles clothing worn by a (headless) human with its arms and legs crossed and leaning against a column from what is left of a wall.
` Because it does not overlap with the top and side of the column, it would actually appear to be some sort of debris that has fallen behind the structure.

Above this tall 'lump' is a much smaller dark shape that appears to be of the same stuff, projecting out from behind the wall just above the 'lump'; it looks to be part of the same object, curled around behind the column.
` It is positioned just so that it looks like it could be a hat, reminiscent of the Invisible Man, complete with background objects creating a contiguous image both above and below the 'hat'.

The whitish part of the background moves at a different rate as the figure, and so it can be seen to pass behind the column. If you don't realize, however, that it is the background, it can look like a featureless object between the 'hat' and 'coat' that moves off to one side.
` That is basically what the cinematographer says, or to put it in his words; "There was no face on the figure, and the face is slightly disjointed from the body." (At least I think that's what it's supposed to mean - right?)
` He apparently has failed to realize that the 'face' (or 'no face'?) is obviously connected to the rest of the background several meters beyond the dark object.

I suppose I can't blame him; the optical illusion of pareidolia - the ability to see six-legged pigs in clouds, or hear a message in Stairway to Heaven played backwards, etc. - is extremely common and yet probably not much known among rock groups and camera crews.

Why bother to bring a historian on to tell about the nearby deaths of poor miners or priests if all one simply needs is a closer look to find the real explanation? Oh yeah, I almost forgot; pareidolia is far more ordinary than ghosts.
` While such illusions are easy for most people to 'get' - especially when they know what they are supposed to be seeing - it is not so easy for some of these people to realize that what they're looking at is, in fact, an illusion.
` As the producer of the video said; "There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that that was a ghost."

Personally, I'd rather believe my own eyes.

A Projected Light

This video seems to show a projected light that is moving across the surface of one side of the hallway wall, flittering over door frames and other objects to the far end of the hall, and then sliding nearer, over the surface of the other long wall and off the edge of the screen.
` The shape is flat, narrow, and near the floor, apparently unvarying except for the fact that it is distorted by the objects it's hitting - it looks like it could be a reflection, or from a car headlight coming in from a crack beneath a curtain.
` But, the man who lives in the house, Edgar, apparently thinks it's actually the ghostly arm of his mother, walking across the hall and into a doorway. (I don't see anything like an arm, nor do I see it stop at any doorway.)

That's because he's set up the camera to film whatever's making all these footsteps he hears at night. That sounds like what I used to hear in the house my grandpa had once lived in... when he was alive!
` I could hear them from the upper floor and the basement alike. I'd thought it was just temperature changes in the wood, but silly me, it could have been his ghost! Even more strangely, I also heard them when he was still alive and sitting in a chair....
` Curiouser and curiouser!

The Greencastle Mansion

Onto some photos of the abandoned mansion during a spooky lightning storm! First of all, the photographer says that there's a strong smell like sulphur and roses. I'm not sure what smells like sulphur and roses, though there's no reason an unfamiliar smell would be supernatural.
` Perhaps something's been rotting in there for a while? Or maybe it has to do with ozone from the lightning storm?
` He also says that he feels a presence and hears a heartbeat in his head that isn't his. Since he is surrounded by cameras, what evidence of the supernatural can he show us?

In some photos he took, there seems to be light reflecting off the 'melted'-looking old glass. Know how I can tell they're not inside the window? Look closely: The edges of these 'apparitions' are actually in front of the inner part of the window frame, coinciding exactly with where the glass is!
` That would also explain why the 'Pink Lady' doesn't seem to move, so much as shift a bit over the surface of the glass. So, unless ghosts typically manifest themselves on glass, I don't think there's much evidence of anything beyond the grave, much less the window.

Still, some beg to differ. Observe the 'photographic expert', who is astonished to find that the photos taken really are on the film. Of course they're on the film! Where else would photographs of window reflections come from?
` Then, Sean Dempsey, a 'computer graphics expert' is shown distorting the images with a special effects filter called 'bas relief' which I'm familiar with after spending my teenage years editing photos to create utter 'monsterpieces'.
` In my experience, this filter tends to exaggerate images in such a way that photos of real people become images of horrifyingly-distorted zombies and the like. Which was one of the ways I could make them more grotesque.
` And yet, our 'expert', Dempsey, is baffled to see that the filter has made the 'face' look like a skull. Why he's so surprised, I can't say. Even more puzzling is the question of why he did not at least examine the edges of the 'ghost', which were quite visible in the enlargement on his screen.
` Not noticing that the 'ghost' is apparently confined to the glass, his conclusion is, well, a bit colored. (Pink?) "It's either a real photo of a ghost," he says, "or it was done with a photographic technique that I don't know about."

Or he could just be missing some vital information. All the same, it now becomes necessary to find out who once lived in the house.
` The photographer, Guy, believes the 'Pink Lady' is the ghost of a woman, one Irene O'Hair; he also found this very same name scratched on a bedroom wall. Possibly by Irene, when she was alive, I would think.
` There's also the matter of the 'Gold Ghost', on yet another window. Much like the 'Pink Lady', it is a blob-like shape that can be seen in front of the inside of the window frame. Which leads me to ask; why does Guy insist on using a flash? That's probably what's causing it!

As for the 'ghostly' clouds; their breath-like rhythm suggests the cameraman's exhallations drifting through the flashlight beam:
` I have inadvertently videotaped my own breath sneakily doing the same thing, so I have learned not to turn my head and breathe across the camera frame, especially when it is cool or humid.
` And, like the 'mist', it even moves from left to right like that because I (like most people) hold the camera in my right hand.

On a related note, someone I know sent me a picture he took while working as 'the chainsaw guy' in a haunted corn maze last year. He did not expect to see this:

I hope it's friendly....

Strange Shapes in Photos

After more bits of descriptions of random ghostly encounters, we move onto photos of a little girl named Carrissa. Photos containing what appear to be a typical camera strap, except it's enormous-looking, overly-bright and so out-of-focus that it could not possibly be anywhere near Carissa in the room.
` But, wait a minute; that would mean the only way it could be a camera strap is if it was somehow... attached to the camera itself!!

How can we possibly explain this?

Hey, maybe that's the camera's own strap hanging down and into the picture! That would explain why the 'entities' would be photographed around a child and not an adult; the person taking the picture would be looking downwards rather than straight across the room.
` It would also explain why the shapes are mostly white (from the light of the flash bouncing off) with only a little black, and have a distinctive, camera-strap-like ribbing.
` Note also that these shapes all curve in the same orientation, as if part of a loop were hanging down from somewhere along the right side of the camera. On top of that, some of the photos show two distinct and parallel straps, as if this loop were... meant to be adjusted in size by the human hand!

But no, that's too easy; while the mother says she would believe a good enough argument against her belief that these are ghosts, no 'experts' are consulted this time. Perhaps they would (or did) say exactly what the producers didn't want to air, thus ensuring that the 'mystery' would be safe on TV!
` Instead, we get our expert opinion from the grandmother, who says; "What we're seeing in the photos is just saying 'We're here, we're part of your world, you have to trust and believe in us, too, and just because you can't see us with your eyes doesn't mean that we don't exist.'"
` Right. Because film, which captures light only from three narrow wavelengths - much like the cones in the human retina - also has the secret property of picking up 'spirit photons'!

Orrrr, maybe it's just the camera strap.

Then, the narrator tells us that her story is "strangely similar to the fictional film The Sixth Sense." According to the information presented, Carissa has not said that she sees 'dead people' or other strange things - only that something is "scaring" her - so what is the parallel again?

A Little Boy's Story

In this segment, we at least find one parallel with the movie in that six-year old Justin does claim to see ghosts. But, what do the photos reveal? That the strap on his parents' camera is wider, or at least shorter than the one shown in the Carissa photos; take note of how much more it tends to hug the lower right-hand portion of the frame.
` Could little Justin be lying, or exaggerating something that he thought he saw? Let's see; his wide eyes and nervous smile suggest to me that he is intimidated by being taken seriously. Maybe he isn't being serious? Especially in the melodramatic way that he says "closer, and closer, and closer, and closer...."
` Honestly, kids have told me tales of Bloody Mary and other ghostly sights and sounds with a much straighter face than that.

The many-times-over-exposed fake, James Van Praagh, is precisely the wrong person to introduce into this situation, because his job is exploiting people for money - even if it's giving them his (completely wrong) guesses as to what's happened to their missing child, or other vital information.
` The look on Justin's face while Van Praagh is 'investigating' on this scene seems to betray thoughts something along the lines of; 'Wow, I can't believe he's agreeing with me!'
` If Justin is just making stuff up (and since it's been well-established that Van Praagh does the same thing) he is of course going to agree that the police sketches are what he sees.

Regardless of Justin's thoughts, the only 'evidence' of ghosts here are camera straps and lots of talk. Nothing I haven't seen before.

Dots and Spots

Here we see Linda Davis walking around a basement, claiming to use her psychic powers to see luminous 'orbs'. If that is so, then why is the cameraman the one telling her where they are and how they're moving? Can he see them, too, despite not having psychic powers?
` The first 'orbs' seem to be very faint unless they are flying directly across the infrared spotlight mounted on the camera. Judging by the way they're fluttering, I'd say that these are moths, though others look like bits of cobwebs and similar things drifting on the air currents.

I knew we'd have a 'ghost-hunting' squad sooner or later. They're all about anomalies (read = fluctuations of things they think they're measuring). They forget to ask, though; what readings are 'normal'? What would they expect to find in a non-haunted house?

Houses are full of all kinds of fluctuations in temperature and in electromagnetic fields - especially in basements where all the utilities are crowded for access. For another thing, ghost-hunters in general (like the ones on the series Ghost Hunters) don't seem to know what their equipment is actually supposed to measure.
` The thermometer gun he's using, for example, picks up only the surface temperature of the object it is pointed at, yet they are all-too-often interpreted as displaying a readout of the temperature of the air just in front of the gun.
` That's a very important difference: If you point it towards people and cold walls alternately, I would imagine the temperature readout would go up and down wildly.
` As for electromagnetic readings; these detectors pick up plenty of signals from both camera equipment and electrical wires in the house (although this particular house is said to be abandoned). Some of them also need to be pointed along different axes before any readings can be made.

Before one can really go into that, we must ask what to expect in a house without paranormal activity. After all, you can't have 'anomalies' if you don't actually know what's normal and what's not.
` Unfortunately, I can't tell what is going on from what I see here, so who knows what he is really reading and whether or not it's unusual?

In any case, I'm not sure of what a true 'anomalous' reading would really demonstrate. After all; do we actually know what kinds of readings ghosts are supposed to give off in the first place? Or, will perceived strangeness suffice?

In the next part of this segment, we have a family who says they came home to find that their furniture had been moved, with strange lights and voices all around. Maybe there were burglars, or squatters. If not, it doesn't mean that anything is paranormal.
` This reminds me of story related by Jay Leno, from before he was famous, when he came home to find his clothes and other belongings strewn everywhere and drawers pulled out. He was just about to call the police when he finally remembered; that was how he'd left the apartment!
` He's learned to clean house better since then, I hear.
` But honestly, any of a number of things could be going on here, though it's hard to say without tape which shows the 'force' which is responsible.

Quite conveniently, the father, Steve, does indeed claim to have such a tape. So, what are these things? Well, the first ones appear to be out-of-focus specks of dust and similar things, flitting in and out of light beams.
` The 'backyard orbs', however, do seem to be glowing like lights, though I don't think they're anywhere past the sliding glass doors.
` To begin with, I first noticed that they do not go any farther away or closer to the camera - they move on a 2D plane. This is especially evident when one examines the 'trails' they seem to leave: Because of the long exposure of each frame (necessary in low light levels), the lights are 'blurred' and take a second to fade from the camera's innards.
` The narrator says that the lights "go around the trees" - I'm presuming that is supposed to suggest that they move behind the trees - but perhaps not, since I don't see that happening.
` Do you?
` Now; watch the light that disappears off to the left; it goes in front of the edge of the doorway; not behind it.
` Instead, the light continues into the door frame and vanishes at the edge of the glass, which is, by the way, a great 2-D surface on which to reflect small lights from inside your house!

Just saying.

The narrator mentions that Steve - who is doing the filming himself - does not think that these 'orbs' can be due to "any known camera tricks". But wait - what about the one where you wave lights around a darkened living room?

Maybe he knows that one?

Relying on glass, however, could not account for the giant glob-in-an-oval shape, which instead appears to be a serving tray (or the like), shining brilliantly in the camera's infrared spotlight.
` Additionally, it also appears to be carried by a person, as if to shield them from view of the camera: Just before moving into a light-enough area where we would be able to see whether or not anyone is there, the shining oval suddenly moves downwards and offscreen.

So, who is perpetrating the 'lights' and the 'oval' illusions, anyway? Is it Steve himself? Do his sons love pranks as much as the Fox sisters did? Is it ghosts using LEDs to create reflections on the glass doors in the living room?
` Also, I thought Steve was trying to videotape whatever was moving his furniture. Not a single chair seems to have been displaced.
` In any case, I can't see any reason to suspect that the images are otherworldly. Dust, along with someone wielding household objects, can account for the images.

Doesn't mean they are, but they certainly don't look abnormal.

McPike Mansion Mist

Deep down, in the basement, we observe images of what appears to be large droplets of mist, or particles of something, claimed to be dry and electrically-charged as they swirl around the room.
` Electrically charged? I wonder if that would explain why the particles were rushing around so fast? Or maybe even the balls of light that have been reported: Naturally- and artificially-occurring electricity can cause some very odd spectacles, including ball lightning and St. Elmo's fire.

Conspicuously, there is no talk of asking someone who studies things like air currents, humidity, electrically-charged dust, etc. to attempt to understand the basement conditions.
` I'm no expert myself, but when I see look at the roundness of the walls and hear a mention that the mist only appeared after walking through the door, I begin to suspect air currents. Is there some kind of opening in the wall through which dusty air flows when the currents in the room are disturbed?
` For all I know, there could be a number of things going on involving some kind of mist. In any case, fast-moving clouds of dust are not unfamiliar to humans; if this cloud was emanating patterns of glowing ectoplasm, I might be a little compelled to say that it looks rather paranormal.


My most pertinent question about World's Scariest - after analyzing all of the video footage - would be; "Is this the best footage they could come up with?"
` The parts not captured on video, by the way, simply cannot be judged on the basis of the sincerity of ghost encounter witnesses:
` After all, I'm sure that some of the people who described having episodes identical to sleep paralysis were genuine in what they reported; but, as with others on the program, their belief in having seen a ghost can be viewed in a very different light when we analyze the tape.

"...But none can be authenticated."

That might be because they look authentically unimpressive.

"Are they real?"

To some people, yes.

"You decide."

I've decided that anyone who thinks the videos of World's Scariest represent real ghosts most likely has not tried very hard to think of another explanation.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Beginning of The Beginning - Writing in Layers

What's this about layers? Is this the beginning or not? Herein lie the answers - and the method to my madness:

For those who are familiar with my writing, you'll know that I am in the habit of writing essays which probably cover more than enough material to satisfy most readers.
` That, however, tends to be rather time-consuming because of the large amount of research that necessarily goes into it.

However, even when writing small 'chunks' of the essay/article, I would still probably need to do a sizeable amount of research. So; why not just do one source at a time, adding on new insights, details, and corrections, with each pass?

Crucially, I must first start out with a subject I've already done a lot of reading on beforehand, so that I can have a good feel for what I'm getting myself into - not to mention the key facts and points I should expect to cover.

Then, I must select only one or two sources and construct an incomplete article which builds upon what I already know (or think that I know), and then expand upon that with each new source.

This is much like a wiki, except that the references consist of my own college courses and several hundred reputable books, periodicals, etc. and is in fact updated only by myself.
` My materials contain a wealth of information about such things as language, muscles, hoaxes, time, space, dinosaurs, atoms, developmental biology, geology, philosophy, genetics, stars, planets, and most prominently of all, critical thinking skills and virtually anything one could ever care to know about brains - human and otherwise.

As I read new sources, and re-read older sources, I will add onto what I've already written, somewhat like adding layers upon layers onto a very tall cake (of some delicious sort, I hope); thus, I shall call each draft a 'layer'.
` When I've posted at least three layers of an article on this blog, I will add it as a new article on the Corrigendopedia site.
` Before any of these go up, however, I ought to wait until I have racked up five different articles before I even publish any part of the site at all. (Otherwise, it wouldn't be a very grand opening, would it?)

Additionally, each layer shall be annotated so as to reveal my way of asking questions and progressing onto the next step.
` Therefore, this blog ought to be much like watching me write a large essay in a series of steps so that one can see how I plan my next move, including some of the questions that I ask.
` When these blog articles become sizeable enough, I shall thereafter only mention the new parts added and link to the website article, rather than to reiterate the entire article here.

If I do a reasonable enough job at this, I expect that others might find this instructive for building up their own essays. First and foremost, however, they can probably be considered as more of a learning experience for me.

Okay, enough with the talk - where's these layers I'm talking about? Wasn't I about to start on one last time I came by?

Just as I'd planned, I did begin that first article, as well as prepare the Corrigendopedia website's main page. The following morning, however, I woke up with a double-whammy of illnesses and had to sleep a large part of the day; I was too tired and in too much pain to really think about writing or doing anything else.
` Since then, I've been recovering nicely, though am forbidden to write much in the way of blogs or screenplays or any other career-related activities until just before bedtime, when my day's work is done.
` As usual, there's been a lot of work to be done during the day; rearranging furniture and storage in the still-being-remodeled house; cleaning up plaster dust and debris; occasional basement flood relief; doing laundry and other housework; spending quality time with my housemates (including my wily cats); learning to sew properly; not to mention my 70-minute daily aerobic workouts and continuation of hunting for a third job in the present (and suffering) local economy.

Thankfully, everyone here - especially Lucas - has taught me some valuable things about time management, and I expect to have even more spare time in the near future.
` With my extra spare time so far, I've collected the articles from a former (now deleted) science blog of mine for use here, and, as you have already seen, I've decided on the fundamental 'layer' formula necessary for beginning this project (as opposed to the 'bricks' idea from before).
` In fact, assuming that I am not about to be once again called away from this computer or else interrupted by someone who needs to use the computer desk as a writing desk, I shall begin typing that first layer onto this blog right now.

When will I finish? Hopefully, by the time you are reading this article, it will already be up.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What Am I Waiting For?

To answer that; I am waiting to find a spot in which it is possible to set up and actually use my computer. For now, it sits in a corner, covered in sawdust from the remodeling that's going on in my new house.

In the course of moving, however, I've somehow managed to ruin my first post (it was on paper), so I'll be starting on another tomorrow.

In other news, I am still searching for a third job, with the help of online classified ads and a temp agency, plus I'm continuing to rearrange rooms, help with carpentry, and do massive amounts of housework.
` There really is a lot of that, especially since both the washing machine and the dishwasher (both firsts in the household) are still not working.

On the upside, at least all of the outside walls are closed up (for now), and my three housemates and I now enjoy a real, functional furnace so we don't have to go about our daily lives bundled in winter coats (it's rather hard to relax, or even wash, when violently shivering).

` Plus, we have an excellent, mostly-finished and fully-functional kitchen along with a talented chef to utilize it (my housemate, Bradley), so everyone eats very well over here.

Things should be back on track soon, since I already have plans for the Corrigendopedia website written up and scheduled for tomorrow. (It still won't be online for a little while, though.)

See you again soon!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Building the Corrigendopedia

My intended fashion of constructing the Corrigendopedia website is piecemeal: I will write tiny little sections to use as 'bricks' from which to build entire articles.

This is probably the most effective method; especially at this time, since moving house and finding a third job are my two foremost full-time activities.

In writing a series of somewhat self-contained article sections, I plan to develop my ability to keep the reader interested enough to read onto the next section.

Frankly, my hope is that those reading this blog feel disappointed that there's not more to these small pieces, so that satisfaction can only be met on the Corrigendopedia website.

At this time, I am using my spare minutes to focus in on the opening of my first article: I have decided that it needs more work, so that will be in my next post rather than this one.

As for today's personal morning news, so far I've applied for a pawn shop, a video rental place, and two different restaurants... well, back to it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Challenges, Challenges!

Sure, we all learn new things about the world, though do you ever think much about how, in order to learn something, you must often unlearn something else that was contradictory?

As a critically thinking person, I cannot help but notice that the culture surrounding me propagates many misconceptions about the world:
` A small, but prevalent, example is the assumption that the direction water spirals down the drain is affected by what side of the equator it is on.

While a phenomenon having to do with the earth's rotation, called the Coriolis Effect, determines the cyclical direction of storms and water currents, it is virtually negligible when it comes to plumbing; its effect on less-than gargantuan scales can only be glimpsed in carefully controlled laboratory conditions.

You can challenge this myth in real life: If you watch water drain from a sink a few times, it will probably swirl one way just as often as it does the other. (You can also change the direction with your hand!)
` And one more thing; a flushing toilet flows either clockwise, counterclockwise, or straight back, and this is determined by the angle of the spouts near the rim of the bowl!

However, it is possible that if this is the first time you've heard this revelation, you may yet forget it in the future! Why?
` Because; I repeated the myth first and corrected it afterward, placing the myth most prominently in one's awareness.

A month from now, which would you remember? The well-ingrained myth that you've heard a hundred times, or that one instance in which you've seen it dispelled (assuming this is the case)? Will you forget it or not?

I've known this general principal for some time, though just prior to this writing I found an interesting article which really exemplifies it. (Shankar Vedantam, Difficulty in Debunking Myths Rooted in the Way the Mind Works, Washington Post, 2007.) It starts out with the description of a psychological experiment:

Norbert Schwarz, a University of Michigan social psychologist, had some volunteers read a flyer issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This flyer repeated many commonly held views about the flu vaccine and labeled which ones were correct and which ones were actually common misconceptions.

Half an hour later, the older volunteers incorrectly remembered the 'trueness' or 'falseness' of 28 percent of the statements! Younger volunteers misremembered the same amount, except this was after three days rather than thirty minutes.
` As for the older individuals at three days, they falsely remembered about 40% of the statements!

The unsettling thing about this is not just that the volunteers wound up with misconceptions about which statements were true and which were false, but that they believed their own mistaken perceptions were put forth as fact from the Center of Disease Control!

That didn't shock me, considering the well-established fact that conscious memories are basically reconstituted from a surprisingly sketchy recording in your brain, resulting in a picture of what you think happened, or what you think you learned.
` It could be relatively accurate to begin with, but over time you can forget more and more details, and to compensate, your brain may 'flesh out' the sketch differently - thus your memory changes without your being aware of it.

This is why people get into arguments over the details of what happened, say, last Wednesday, or what they did on a road trip, or perhaps even what they learned in physics class! Interesting indeed, and you can rest assured that I have more to say on the subject.

Schwarz's study, which has since been confirmed in many peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, shows that reciting a myth to someone - even for the purpose of dispelling it - makes that myth more memorable in the person's mind!
` If they cannot remember the correction as clearly as the myth, they're more likely to believe the myth is true.

And so, the very fact that many myths are challenged may actually help them to stay around. In addition, according to research by Kimberlee Weaver at Virginia Polytechnic (and others), a message heard often enough may seem to have been repeated too many times to have come from only one source.

When that happens, the sheer number of repeats can mentally 'overflow' from the original source and be perceived as coming from other, independent sources.
` So if an untrustworthy source says one thing over and over, you might get the sense that you've heard the same thing elsewhere, giving the impression of believability.

Plus, research by cognitive social scientist Ruth Mayo of Hebrew University found that after two things are shown not to be associated, repeating the names of both things close together in time still create the feeling that they are connected.
` If I say; "Bill was shown not to have stolen the car," you feel that Bill is associated with stealing cars, don't you?

So, what if you don't say anything at all? According to a recent study by University of Southern California organizational psychologist Peter Kim, when you don't challenge an assertion, the silence is taken as confirmation.
` Apparently, in the absence of a reply, people will still hear what they want to hear!

The whole point to this is; ensuring that I'm getting correct information across to someone can be difficult if they are also exposed to contrary information.

So you may wonder; what authority do I have to go around shelling out correct information in the first place? That's an excellent question.
` To begin with, I've long been a science enthusiast and have a huge amount of scientific and skeptical understanding from reading the hundreds of publications currently in my possession.
` Secondly, I have more than seventy college credits so far - mostly in science and math - at Everett Community College, though I have not been able to afford tuition since successfully completing Spring 2008.

Someday, however, I will be able to say that I have at least three degrees - in psychology, biology and writing - most likely from Washington State University. You can count on that.

` In the meantime, each day that I go to work at my blue-collar job, I will be pondering the cost of attaining those degrees versus the cost of not having them.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I have a dream...

Greetings and welcome, people of all stripes and backgrounds! There's room for everyone, so please make yourselves comfortable.

My name is Sarote E. Quine, your friendly neighborhood science writer, working
to offer you an understanding, not only of what's going on in the world, but also how to figure these things out for yourself... and then use this knowledge to deceive others and bend them to your will.

Do you ever wonder why one person's recollection of an event can be so different from someone else's, yet both people are sure their own account is correct? That's an important topic in psychology and manipulation - which I'll discuss, of course - but did you know that this is part of the reason why human beings bother to practice science?

It is well-known that we have many various biases and soft spots in our thinking, and the whole point of science is to find them out so that moving forward with some level of confidence is actually possible.
` Though part of the scientific method involves taking great pains to avoid mistakes, scientific research is also required to go through a gauntlet of criticism (by scientists whose jobs do not depend on the outcome).
` Also essential is for independent researchers to actually repeat these studies or observations in order to see whether or not they find the same thing. If they don't, it may be 'back to the drawing boards' again!
` Basically, just about any scientific claim is considered to be possible as long as no real contradictions are found.

That's the general gist of what scientists do every day: If you can understand that, then I expect you can also understand all sorts of things about scientific methodology, critical thinking and other things with big scary names, as well as the hows and whys of amazing scientific discoveries.

Along the way, I'll be instructing my readers how to do all kinds of fun stuff, including various ways to come up with crackpot ideas and sell them to the unwitting public. At the same time, I hope that they wisely use this knowledge to spot other crackpot ideas.

Sound dangerous? You bet it is!

In all seriousness, I'm here to promote our natural human curiosity and problem-solving abilities, as well as to enhance public perception and enthusiasm for science. At this time, especially, I believe it is sorely needed because science education in the United States (and many other countries) has been rather substandard for some time.
` It is a fact that most Americans fail to understand basic scientific concepts that they would probably be better off knowing, and a lot of this probably has to do with a large amount of
poor and unreliable science presentation in school and the mass media.

Thus, it is no wonder to me that there are so many intelligent people with a lot of misconceptions about science and critical thinking who fancy themselves as having superior knowledge. As a consequence, they help to continue spreading misinformation, confusing yet others.
` On the other hand, we have people who may feel that even basic critical thinking skills would take too much time and effort to learn, or perhaps that they are not 'smart enough' to learn them, or that they don't want to bother because it is 'not their job' and they will supposedly never need to know these things.

My true goal here - besides creating conniving masterminds - is to demonstrate that, although our minds are very fallible and although we are often presented with more information we know what to do with, any feelings of being overwhelmed or cynical are not warranted.

Here I go....