Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for September, 2008

Infinite zoom to bend your mind

Be mesmerized in the endless recursion of the clip for Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants by Wild Beasts. The visual trip is known as Droste Effect.

Behind the trip there’s a not so simple mathematics. The underlying spiral, for instance, is a golden one, hailed as mystical or not so much.

Genius artist MC Escher was one of the first to explore the concept systematically, but without computers at hand, he left one of his works incomplete. Recently, with our loved PCs, mathematicians were able to reconstruct the illustration in full, which you can see for yourself here (PDF).

Want to warp your mind too? Think about this: if the video above was accomplished by constantly enlarging the objects, how big would the canvas be at the end?

Check this series of zooms into Mandelbrot fractals to have an idea, as these would be larger than the observable Universe, in a zooming trip of just a couple of minutes.

What about actual zooms?

Accomplished by seamlessly blending images captured with different photo and microscopy techniques – and some deal of illustration – delve deep into the matter, from the hair above to concrete, steel and more in Weird Weird Science’s channel.

[via cgredan, Neatorama]

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The “Carl Sagan Institute”… of Ufology!


Two years after announcing that Jesus would return with a fleet of flying saucers (in Portuguese here), and four years after fleeing a public commitment to present one single evidence to prove what they sell (roll down), the Brazilian UFO magazine just managed to hit a new low.

In this month’s issue, editor Ademar Gevaerd announces “a new way of conducting ufology in Brazil, with the creation of the Carl Sagan Institute”. Yes, you read it right. And it doesn’t stop there.

Besides the paradoxical abuse of Sagan’s name, the magazine claims that the astronomer and one of the most famous skeptical activists in history was:

“a scientist … who suspected that some [of the alien life forms in the Universe] already visits us in vehicles that we call flying saucers.

Many think that Sagan passed away without knowing the result of his search .. But that is far from the truth. Sagan had a close relationship with north-american governmental agencies dedicated to the UFO phenomenon investigation, and even Joseph Allen Hynek, considered the father of Modern Ufology, guaranteed that Sagan had a profound knowledge about the alien presence on Earth.”

The full press editorial, in Portuguese, can be read here. Believe it… or not!



Obviously, Sagan never said anything regarding a “profound knowledge about the alien presence on Earth”, and he actually spoke quite clearly about the opposite. In “Demon Haunted World”, the last book he published in life, chapter 5, he states that:

There are no cases – despite well over a million UFO reports since 1947 – in which something so strange that it could only be an extraterrestrial spacecraft is reported so reliably that misapprehension, hoax or hallucination can be reliably excluded.”

In “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”, from a series of lectures given in 1985, he also noted how:

“It is remarkable that in all these million cases there is not one example of physical evidence that sustains even the most casual scrutiny. No pieces of spacecraft chipped off with a penknife and put into an envelope and carried back for laboratory examination of exotic alloys. No photograph of the interior of the spacecraft or the extraterrestrials, or a page from the captain’s logbook. Somehow, in all of these cases, there is not a single example of concrete physical evidence. And that again is suggestive, I maintain, that we are dealing with some combination of psychopathology and conscious fraud and the misapprehension of natural phenomena, but not what is alleged by those who see UFOs.”

How could these ufologists claim otherwise? Well, it’s simple. According to them, Carl Edward Sagan lied in public! As Ademar Gevaerd stated in reply to this criticism:

“It’s obvious that in his works he speaks the opposite, since in them he plays the game of skepticism, part of governmental functions. I doubt that today he would express himself the same way, but we will never know, will we?”

Need I say more? Well, in fact I need. In 2001 the same editor expressed his opinions in a public forum, which I reproduce verbatim. From Gevaerd:

“I REALLY believe and maintain that Project SETI is a shameful waste of money. And for various reasons, the main one being the fact that the scientists involved in the structure and maintenance of the project (now, as well as in its original phase, two decades ago [sic]) know perfectly well that UFOs are a reality and that they come from other planets. In other words: they know, as is expected from well informed scientists, that we are being visited by non-terrestrial beings. Therefore, with more than 5 million UFO records in 180 countries, present in official files of armed forces of these nations, in the last 40 years, how can such a reality be denied? Many prominent scientists that claim that UFOs don’t exist know that the reality is exactly the opposite, and make such claims for obscure reasons. I give two examples, one from Brazil and another classical one from USA. Here, Ronaldo Mourão, from the National Observatory, happily claims that UFOs doen’t existe when it’s known that he was a consultant of the Brazilian Air Force in its UFO research projects, which included analysis of concrete data.
And in USA, Carl Sagan, who lived and died claiming that UFOs didn’t exist, was a partner of J. Allen Hynek for a long time in Cornell University, NY, and both were USAF consultants. But only Hynek admitted that later. Any real scientist don’t dismiss the reality of extraterrestrial visitation.”

Except, it seems, Carl Sagan, who not only stated that there’s not one single conclusive case for alien visitation, but who was also one of the, if not the biggest public supporters of SETI.

I guess that means Gevaerd, who now claims to “honor” Sagan, actually called him a fake scientist who defended a “shameful waste of money” and lied in public for “obscure reasons”? Ademar Gevaerd has just replied stating that “I haven’t changed a single bit of my opinion from that year until today”.

Why do they want to “honor” Sagan if they think of him this way? I can only think of “obscure reasons” for that. They already admitted they will be asking for donations to support this institute.


Unauthorized use of image


The Twilight Zone aspect of this situation is obvious. Beyond that we have the simple fact that this outrage is simply not legal.

We have legal standing regarding the use of Carl’s name and likeness”, wrote Ann Druyan, Sagan’s partner in almost all of his works starting from the iconic Cosmos TV series.

Druyan is president of the Carl Sagan Foundation, appropriately registered in the USA, and which has among its projects The Carl Sagan Discovery Center at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx, New York.

Carl Sagan also founded the Planetary Society, of which Druyan is also president, an institution dedicated to space exploration and which among many activities develops a new means of space propulsion, the solar sail, with prototypes called… Cosmos 1 and 2.

This is just part of the bright legacy a decade after this figure who so enlightened our age left us.

In contrast, the outrageous “Carl Sagan Institute” of ufology in Brazil, tellingly, already in its home page (the only one that works for now) uses a photo of the astronomer without proper consent. “Their use of that photograph of Carl could not have been authorized. We own those rights”, confirmed Druyan.

As for this unauthorized use of Sagan’s photo, Gevaerd replied that the claim “is ridiculous, because the photo is widely used in websites, publications, journals, etc., and is properly credited in the Carl Sagan Institute website.” This editor doesn’t seem to know much about copyright law.

He does say also that “we asked Ann Druyan about this”, but he doesn’t say if he got an answer. Well, her answer is above.

Not only is this institution illegal… it’s actually non-existent! Despite the public announcement stating that it was created in May 26 in Curitiba, a search of the local records offices revealed nothing, and Gevaerd has just confirmed that the institution is not in fact formally registered yet.

But unfortunately, this fake Carl Sagan Institute, that goes against everything that Sagan ever stood for, will probably be official soon. And they will be asking for donations soon after that, counting with all the benefits of an NGO.

We will do whatever we can to stop this, and if you want to help, please contact us.

This is one Carl Sagan Institute that must not come to reality.

[There’s a Portuguese version of this note, and Spanish writer Luis Alfonso Gámez also exposed this]

UPDATE: PZ Myers over at Pharyngyla and Bob Carrol at Skeptimedia helped spread the word against this abuse.

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Ghostly Simulacrum


“A schoolboy wedding guest was stunned when he snapped the newlyweds’ first dance – and spotted an apparition of a ghost in the disco lights”, reported the Telegraph.

The photo is interesting indeed, but in full it’s more clear that it’s just smoke lit by the spotlights.


Which takes us to the fun world of the puzzling simulacra, like the seemingly ghost girl from Argentina:

The little girl by the door may be the sister of the fog kid, but this one could have been a table, chair or bed. Granted, one may conceive it was a ghost, but stay with us for more of these ghostly simulacra.

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