Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for May, 2009

Do Roombas Dream of Electric Sheep?


Release a Roomba in a room, shut down the lights and set the camera for a half hour long exposure. The end result is the beautiful image captured by SignalTheorist.com recording the path of the little cleaning robot through all the floor.

The artificial intelligence behind the navigation of the vacuum cleaner is somewhat secret, but HowStuffWorks describes in general terms how it works, from the initial measuring of the room size to the spiral and the seemly random vacuuming.


Besides its simple beauty, the image is also spectacular because it relates to the early age of robotics and artificial intelligence. In particular to the “electronic turtles” created by William Grey Walter in 1948, more than six decades ago.

Those were his “Machina Speculatrix”, named Elmer (ELectroMEchanical Robot) and Elsie (Electromechanical Light-Sensitive robot with Internal and External stability), the former seen below with Walter:


Walter’s artificial turtles are among the first autonomous electronic robots in history. As such, they are also among the simplest. What looks like a small head was in fact a photoelectric sensor, but different from real turtle’s heads, it was constantly spinning. Something like ‘The Exorcist’, but with no puking. Keep reading to know more about these adorable turtles and how they were “possessed” by free will, consciousness and intelligence. As Walter described them, of course.

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Mars Attacks trading cards – in high resolution!


The 1996 Tim Burton movie was based off the original, violent and utterly cool 1962 trading cards, which you can now appreciate in high resolution glory. [via Nerdcore]

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The Screamin’ Demon of Mexico: Monkey Business


“Sometime around May 11, 2007, a wealthy Mexican rancher named Marao Lopez found this creature, less than one foot tall, in a steel trap. The property was in Metepec, … Mexico. … The creature was alive, shrieking and scared. … the ranchers decided to kill and preserve it the morning of the third day … They dunked it in water … for many hours, and it finally drowned. It’s ability to survive so long underwater has made many feel it was amphibious.
Within days, word about the strange creature had gotten to Jaime [Maussán]. … Jaime considered Marao Lopez an honorable man. Since Lopez was wealthy, and money was never mentioned as a variable in this situation, Jaime sees no motivation for a hoax. Jaime requested access to the body, now mummified, for tests at various universities. Around this period of time, Marao Lopez died mysteriously.”
The Screamin’ Demon Of Mexico By Joshua P. Warren

A very cheesy mystery thriller, full of plot holes and told by Jaime Maussán, illustrious member of Ufology’s Hall of Shame. So it’s really no surprise twist that the “Screamin’ Demon of Metepec” is just another hoax. Keep reading for the video and some ordinary investigations.

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Obama – Yes We Can = Thank You Satan?

After laughing about it, there’s a serious side to this sort of “reverse speech” or “subliminal messages”. No, not a serious satanic side, but the rather interesting way this effect exploits some glitches in our perception.

When you are presented with an incomprehensible speech, your brain tries very hard to find some meaning, giving way to a sort of auditory paredolia. So, when someone gives you that meaning, you are actually able to hear it.

This effect is funny when “subtitling” foreign languages:

You native English speakers must know this exact very same video has also been “funny subtitled” in many other languages, and that even English speaking videos are “funny subtitled” in other languages. “Eyes without a face” sounds like “ajudar o peixe” in Portuguese, or “helping the fish”. It actually sounds exactly like that when the Portuguese “subtitle” is given.

Science has been studying the special dedicated way we perceive speech in more detail, and one particularly fascinating bit of research is related to sine-wave speech. It’s an artificially constructed sound, “lacking the harmonic structure of speech and not having the pulsing structure associated with voicing”, but with the frequencies and amplitudes of the sinusoids set equal to those of the original speech.

“These artificial signals could be perceived in two ways. Listeners who were told nothing about the stimuli heard science-fiction-like sound, electronic music, computer beeps, and so on. Listeners who instead were instructed to transcribe a ‘strangely synthesized English sentence” were able to do so. They heard the sound as speech, even though the speech sounded unnatural”.

The most amazing thing is:

“Once that [speech listening] mode is engaged, it is difficult to reverse the process. Listeners who have heard the stimuli as speech tend to continue to do so”.

You can experience this effect for yourself trying these examples. First listen to the sine-wave speech. Then listen to the original. Then listen to the sine-wave speech again. It will be almost crystal clear in its meaning. If we gave you a “subtitle” along with the sine-wave speech you would also understand it perfectly.

The lesson is not that some real message was hidden that can be understood by those wise enough. The lesson is that we can extract some arbitrary meaning from almost anything that sounds like speech.

This is how “Yes we can” can be turned into “Thank you Satan”. Reversed, it becomes:

“nac ew seY”
”Thak yu Satn”
”Thank you Satan”

As a side note, “Yes we can” reversed sounds even more clearly as “É eu sei” in Portuguese, which means “Yes I know”. But this is pure coincidence with no real meaning other than the ones some people force fit in.

Of course, there are some instances where reverse speech is intentionally inserted into music, but the persuading effect this has is highly doubtful, curiously this is usually done exactly to cater to those who believe reverse speech works.

If you still take reverse speech seriously, you may also find relevant that some adult movies have very spiritual “subliminal” messages.

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Sources and links:
An introduction to the psychology of hearing by Brian C. J. Moore
Fun with sine-wave speech
– via Renegade Futurist

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Flying Saucers in the Amazon


For all of its political incorrectness, this cover is too good not to share. [via ufofu]

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