Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for August, 2007

Feng Shui kills

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A Chinese bridge that collapsed killing at least 41 people was made with rocks and concrete rather than stronger steel so that it would be in “harmony with the environment, state media said, quoting an official.  … “While the cause of the collapse is still unknown, a local official at the scene claimed that a ‘traditional and risky’ model of bridge, made of stone and concrete, had been chosen over a steel structure to ensure it remained ‘in harmony with the natural environment’,” the China Daily said. [Reuters]

That reminds of a classic 1999 parody written by Steven Novella:

Alternative Engineering”
A new phenomenon is sweeping the country, gaining the attention of both consumers and manufacturers alike. Increasingly disenchanted with the cold metallic world our modern technology is producing, people are beginning to take a close look at more natural alternatives. Collectively called Alternative Engineering (AE), a host of new and old methods are gaining scientific respectability.
Alec Waterston is one such self-styled alternative engineer. … Alec’s latest project is a design for a 1200 foot non-suspension bridge. He claims the bridge will be able to span this distance without pilons or overhead suspension, and will be supported only by the ancient art of Fung Sui. “This wisdom, which is thousands of years old, is the art of channeling energy through design and form. This energy can be used to support a 1200 foot bridge, or even larger structures.” City planners are intrigued by these designs, as such bridges will cost less than half of those built by conventional designs.
Alec has his critics, however. Anthony Trellis, a professor of engineering at State University, claims that Alec’s designs run contrary to basic principles of physics and material science. An exasperated Trellis commented, “A bridge built based upon Waterston’s designs simply cannot stand. It would be unsafe in the extreme.”
Alec is not perturbed by such criticism, however. “Of course professor Trellis does not like my designs, because they challenge his precious status quo and turn his world upside-down. The protectionism of the old guard, however, is starting to crumble, like one of their obsolete buildings.”
[Continue reading]

Sad thing is, it happened and people actually died. News of the disaster via Japundit.

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Earthlights on Peru’s Earthquake?

Following the terrible natural disaster on Peru, which caused hundreds of casualties, some local news agencies are also speaking about reports from locals of flashes of light in the sky both before and after the event.

According to El Comercio from Peru,

“During the night … before and after the stron earthquake, neighbours from the districts of Miraflores, La Molina and Cercado de Lima assured having seen the sky light up because of an unexpected lightning in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, the National Hydrology and Meteorology told El Comercio that it didn’t detect any anomaly in Lima’s skies, and assured that this phenomenon could have been caused by the light of a beacon or some spinning panels that exist in the city”.

Over at MarcianitosVerdes, Luis Ruiz Noguez is receiving and collecting more reports from multiple witnesses who also claim to have seen the lights. Noguez prudently warns that before speculating if the incidents were indeed earthquake lights, the prosaic explanations must be ruled out first.

The video above, posted on Marcianitos, is allegedly of one of the incidents. It was suggested to Noguez, and has been also featured over at this blog, that suggests it’s triboluminescence.

I think the point of light that can be seen in the video along with the flash is from a conventional source (an emergency light), maybe it’s the same point of light that can be seen before the blackout. But the flash of light itself must have been indeed intense, and as there’s no sound along with it, and apparently the local institutions did not report any weather anomaly, it may possibly be the record of an earth light.

For those who don’t know about it, there’s a quick summary about earthlights on Wikipedia. In Spanish, MarcianitosVerdes have in-depth dossiers on the subjects — one of the reasons people looking for more info on Google ended up finding his excellent blog: Las luces de los terremotos.

Update: Marcianitos just posted another video:

Several flashes, including a big one around 40 seconds after the video starts, can be seen over the horizon. Noguez remarks once again that it must be verified if they weren’t explosions from the power transmission lines and transformers.

According to the reports the flashes were not accompanied by any sounds, and some say they originated in the sea. As we all know, light travels a lot faster and farther than sound, so explosions on one place could have been noticed as just lights from far away.

But at first glance, the flashes are so bright that one suspects that if they had conventional causes, then even if the sound was not heard, the causes would be quickly pointed to their origins, as the explosions themselves may have been quite significant, probably injuring or killing people.

There still seems to be much confusion, and the Peruvians need more urgent help and solidarity for their death and injured. Which also doesn’t mean we should ignore the possibility of so many records and reports of what may have been a poorly understood phenomenon associated with earthquakes.

We follow all the news with great interest and hope for the best. Check Marcianitos in Spanish for the latest updates.

UPDATE: Check the latest post on the subject, Earthquake lights or Electrical transformers? The answer seems to be electrical transformers, though there may still have been erthquake lights involved.

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Sonic, the Chupacabras

The “Chupacabras” is similar, both in appearance and on its background story, to a contemporary videogame character, ‘Sonic, the hedgehog’. While this short essay does not intend to claim that the electronic character was the origin for the Chupacabras, it will try to explore these curious similarities. Others have already noticed this link between the two, but usually with a tongue-in-cheek. There is however some room for serious speculation about it.

Appearance

The most widely known representation of the Chupacabras is related to its genesis with this name in Puerto Rico. If you have ever read something about the subject, it’s very probable you have seen some version of the original sketch by Jorge Martin for the sighting of Madelyne Tolentino. It was created in December 1995, and one notable thing about it are the curious pointy appendages running along the spine of the creature.

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This is exactly the trademark of Sonic, created in 1991 by Naoto Oshima and turned into the official mascot for the Sega videogame company. As a stilized hedgehog, those spikes are easily understood.

 The Sonic games franchise, which extend to this day, reached its peak success exactly in mid 1990s. Online websites mention that at this time, Sonic was more popular among american children than icons like Mickey Mouse, Abraham Lincoln or Mario (from rival Nintendo).

sonic2In the original description by Jorge Martin above, the “spine-like apprendages” are described as having colors that “change  constantly from red to blue, to yellow, to green, to orange, to violet”.

When Sonic jumps and spins to turn into a kind of ball to roll away or combat his enemies with his spikes, he is also involved on a bright sphere of multiple changing colors.

Story

At first I believed these animals to be the result of some genetic or bionic experiment“, wrote Jorge Martin. This was among one of the first speculations about the origin and nature of the Chupacabras, though other stories emerged after a while. “I now believe that they are not of terrestrial origin“, Martín added.

The culprits of the “genetic or bionic experiment” were, of course, the Americans, who have military bases in Puerto Rico. People speculated that one or more genetic monsters had just escaped. This particular version is an almost exact parallel to the background story for the Sonic videogames:

“Once upon a time there was a peaceful world called Mobius that is threatened when Dr. Kintobor, a kind scientist who was researching the Chaos Emeralds, is transformed into an evil megalomaniac after a lab accident. All the beautiful animals of the planet are transformed intro evil robotic beings, Badniks — except for Sonic the hedgehog, a friend of Kintobor that was too quick to be captured. Now Sonic must find the Chaos Emeralds, rescue his friends and defeat Kintobor before it’s too late”.

Dr. Kintobor, turned into evil Robotnik, transforms gracious animals into bionic robotic slaves, poluting and destroying the planet on his way. The whole game was “Captain Planet” style.

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Discussion

The Chupacabras didn’t appear from nothing in 1995. It didn’t came from the blue videogame character either. The origins of the Chupacabras can be traced back to “animal mutilations” in USA almost three decades earlier, and to the “Moca Vampire” of the very same Puerto Rico in 1975. These coincidences between the appearance and stories for Sonic and the abominable sucking creature may well be just that. Coincidences.

Representing spines or “appendages” the way Martin did in his drawing does not necessarily proves that it was based on a Sonic drawing. Any child, if asked to draw a hedgehog or an animal alike with spines, may draw something similar. The Chupacabras, furthermore, despite having being described as a color-changing creature, was also described and more usually portrayed as having more dark tones.

Obviously a multi-colored character is more appropriated for fun child characters than scary monsters.

Having made all of these points, and noting that probably are many reasonable others, we cannot help but to also suggest that maybe these are not just coincidences.

Both the Chupacabras and Sonic may have been cultural products that emerged and reached huge success at around the same time. They are both always referred to as a single character, as if there was only one of them — this is not very evident in English, but in Spanish countries where the language clearly differs between singular and plural forms, the Chupacabras is always referred to as a single creature. This was emphasized by Argentinian Max Seifert at the time as an indication that the phenomenon was about a myth, and not the effects of an unknown species of animals.

While Sonic in the end may not be the origin for the Chupacabras, the same cultural references and influences could explain both of them.

And then, in the end it’s always possible that Jorge Martín was playing with his children’s Sega Genesis. Or not, maybe it was just a Master System.

References

There are great in-depth dossiers in Spanish about the Chupacabras over at MarcianitosVerdes. They cover the arrival of the monster in Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

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Best "UFO" photo ever

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Well, at least the best “UFO” photo I have ever received. “JP” sent me the image above with the following report:

“These photos were taken on May 25, 2006, on route BR324 near Pe de Serra, Bahia. I was going around a hill when I saw the image of the first photo (flying saucer). I stopped the car and took the picture from inside the vehicle, sticking my head outside. Soon afterwards I tried to take another photo, but I couldn’t and the object was gone. … And these are the images I’m sending for you to analyze. They were taken with a Siemens Cf75 cellphone. Please report your findings to me as soon as possible, as that object had me scratching my head.”

Besides what looks like a metallic disc on a cloudy sky, there are also what appears to be some letters in the image… I asked JP about it. He replied:

“I have no idea, and I had already noticed those letters … When I took the picture I was squatted near my car to hide from the sun! I tried to relate [the letters] to the stickers on may car’s windows! But I really don’t know! And I’m as puzzled as you! I have no interest on this UFO story. But what I saw was really strange. I still have the third image of the horizon, and if you want I can send it.”

Well, I finally realized that the letters were for “KAISER a cerveja nota 10” [“Kaiser the first grade beer”]. I wrote JP about it, but never got any further reply from him.

From the beggining the suspicion was that the image was taken from a magazine, since besides the letters, there’s a soft X going around the image. I thought at first that maybe things printed on the other side of the magazine page were appearing. But like alleged reflections of window stickers (!), they should have appeared inverted. The letters were not inverted.

tableufo325hjk Then it clicked. It’s just a white plastic table. From Kaiser beer, the promotional table is probably from a bar, and the alleged UFO is just the hole in the middle of the table. The X runnind around and the letters are actually part of the table’s surface. 

A very funny joke. I never imagined that a hole could be a “UFO”.

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The Jedi Logic

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Star Wars is specially interesting because a magical (or “paranormal”) universe was adapted to a futuristic context which still depends on technology, and one assumes, science. The saga is not actually science fiction, it’s just a nice fantasy, but there’s a notable effort to give some logic to this universe where one can predict the future, use telekinesis and hope the “Force is with them” at the same time that they travel through hyperspace to get to Death Stars powered by giant nuclear reactors.

The most visible and curious incoherence in Star Wars is that in this high-tech world, a warrior elite represented by the Jedi use swords instead of weapons like pistols or machine guns. Granted their “swords” are über cool lightsabers, a more “civilized” weapon, but as that infamous scene in Indiana Jones taught, Indiana may not be that civilized but he ended up alive. And maybe just as cool looking.

In the end, everything is explained simply because George Lucas was largely inspired by Kurosawa’s Jidai-geki samurais for his Jedi, but delving into the Star Wars fantasy, we may find a very interesting and far reaching Jedi logic for the lightsaber preference.

It’s all because the Jedis can predict the future. Just ask yourself how would you kill someone who could predict the future. Shooting at him? He does not even need to be a skilled warrior to deflect your shot, he can just easily avoid being your target by not being in the place to start with. Or he may even shoot you first – poor Greedo obviously didn’t have precognition, maybe Han Solo did.

Think of any way to kill someone who can predict the future, it’s impossible. He would always predict his own assassination and avoid it. You can try elaborate plans and dilemmas alike involving his loved ones, ideals and so on, but the fact remains that unless the future-predicting bastard lets you kill him, you wouldn’t ever be able to do it. That’s technically suicide.

That danger avoiding bastard would be pretty boring, we could have some drama at most. But things get more interesting when these future-predicting bastards are not cowards, and if their future-predicting is not equivalent to knowing with certainty everything that will ever happen (which may well be logically impossible if he plans to interfere with that). Just like the Jedi.

In such a Star Wars Universe, where some people can predict the future with progressively less certainty, it would still be very difficult to kill one of them, but not impossible. At the same time, if they were not cowards, they could train themselves to be able to foil assassination attempts without having to be always running away from them.

For instance, if you shot at one of them, even multiple times, they may predict where the shots would be (with reasonable certainty as the moment approaches) and actually train themselves to be able to either deflect or dodge them. They would be able to do that even if the shots were quicker than their “normal” reflexes. As they are predicting in some advance where the shots will be, they can plan a sequence of possible movements that will save them.

But there’s one way to kill them in which their precognition will be almost useless. And that’s close combat. If your first attack — either by hand, sword, whatever — can be predicted, your second one will depend on his reaction. Reaction that was based on his first prediction of your attack, which has just been altered when he interfered with it. And so on.

Which is, in close combat, because the predictions are being used and interfered with many times and their consequences are being felt almost instantaneously, precognition is not worth much more than plain old martial skills. That’s even more true if both fighters are capable of predicting the near future.

And that’s the wonderful reason why the warrior elite of this universe chooses lightsabers, the ultimate martial arts weapon, over more predictable weapons like guns or even bazookas. That’s the Jedi logic.

Reality would be very different if there were indeed people capable of predicting the near future like the Jedi. The whole logic of how everything works would be different. As it is, in real life we have just plain boring so-called “psychics” who can’t even win the lottery. That’s our real world logic. May the Reason be with you.

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