Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for June, 2009

Moonwalker Bird

In the forests of Central America, this little bird, a red-capped manakin,  does the Moonwalk to impress the females. It sure impress us. Nite Owl would love it, and speaking of birds and owls, here’s another image:


“Is it a hamster… is it a fat mouse… is it a tribble? To me it’s just one of those photo’s that makes me want to laugh out loud! It is in fact an owl !!!!!!! He (obviously) was sat on a stump and all of a sudden something caught his eye walking across the studio floor…could have been a fly or a spider. He just crouched down and made himself into a round feathery ball!”, tells Jig.

It’s also the Owl ship design itself. Owls can be further surprising, if you simply surprise them:

This is not only ornithological curiosity, it’s also relevant to our Fortean interests, as the strange appearance that owls can have may have been the cause of their confusion with aliens… or gnomes. The Symmonds Gnomes.

symmonds2 Owls are also a suggested explanation for the Kelly-Hopkinsville creatures and even the Flatwoods Monster.


Is this the very prosaic explanation for these unexplained cases? Perhaps. Moonwalking birds are a good demonstration there are a lot of unexpected things out there.

As a minor Fortean note, back in April we posted about “Michael Jackson’s ghost”. [Moonwalking bird via Fogonazos]

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Weekly World News online!


The Weekly World News is not in print anymore, but almost all of its issues are available on Google Books! For it’s sheer entertainment, it’s great fun, but it’s also valuable to the ordinary investigator of extraordinary claims because not so few of those claims originated directly from those pages.

Yes, Virginia, many people took those stories very seriously. From the sounds from hell to some images of Nessie, to their Internet hit of Andrew Carlssin, at some point the tabloid source was forgotten and the story lived on.

As an interesting example, browsing the archive, I was surprised to find this front cover:


It was a surprise because I recognized the image, having seen it before, quite degraded, in this version:


Which is allegedly a photo from a soviet crashed saucer in the 1930s-40s (page in Japanese, but the story circulates in many languages).

Of course, as it must be clear now, the photo is actually an original WWN hoax. Check the story below:


In this particular case, the photo survived while the original story vanished. But it’s WWN infiltrating the extraordinary claims world, being taken very seriously by some, due to not so serious “researchers”.

Obviously, true believers will say the WWN was a disinformation vehicle and that the original 1940s photo was discredited in that 1992 story. Believe it… or not.

Can you find other interesting stories in the WWN online archive? I couldn’t find the sounds from hell story… do share your finds in the comments!

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Maggie Sort Algorithm

It’s one of the classic computer science problems. How to sort a list of elements? The old, simple pleasure of sorting music records in alphabetical order is now a matter of clicking a tab and waiting some fractions of a second. Doing that in the smallest possible fraction of a second, finding the optimal sorting algorithm, is however what makes this classic problem a subject explored to this day.

Or, as Eric Schmidt from Google asked Barack Obama, “what is the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers?

Surprisingly, Obama answers “I think the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go”. Surprising because that’s a quite good retort, as the bubble sort algorithm, for all the simplicity with which it can be implemented and understood, is also one of the most inefficient. It’s not recommended for lists larger than a dozen elements, and definitely not for a million. Whether it was a staged joke or not, fact is we have the first nerd President of the modern age.

As it turns out, 19-month-old Maggie sort algorithm is not only much more efficient than bubble sort, it’s a very good algorithm on its own. As fellow Girino pointed out, the little girl uses some convenient characteristics of the objects to sort them: she starts right from the smallest one, and constantly checks if two of them fit together to see if their position is correct or not. “I would say it’s a variation of the Pigeonhole sort, with some randomness.”

Girino even plotted Maggie Sort versus Quicksort and Python’s internal sort:


Here is Maggie sort versus Python’s sort in more detail:


It’s much more efficient exactly because it deals with a list of elements with special characteristics. Little Maggie sorted these things out.

I tried to plot her cuteness versus bubble and quick sort, but it was cute overload. [via Kenjiria, with many thanks to Girino]

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Best optical illusion ever (this year)


“The illustration below appears to show green and blue spirals….. But in fact the apparent green and blue are exactly the same colour! Don’t believe me?”

Check the revelation on Richard Wiseman’s blog. Fellow Ricardo Bittencourt, good skeptic that he is, also tested the image on Photoshop and found the colors didn’t appear to be the same, as he found there’s some color dithering (which means the spirals are actually two tones of color). The original image, with solid colors would be much better to confirm the effect.

Meanwhile, we can deal with a crude paint bucket tool and our eyes. The image below strongly suggests the colors are indeed the same, as changing the other colors changes our perception of the “green” and “blue” spirals.


If someone can reproduce this with solid colors, just to be sure, this would surely be the best illusion this year… or in many years.

UPDATE: I have found the image in PNG version, with no color dithering and solid colors. Keep reading.

Read more

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Vortex UFO over King’s Dominion

“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. It was a circular formation in the sky that stayed over King’s Dominion [Amusement Park in Eastern Virginia] today for about 10 minutes. We looked away for a minute or two and then looked back and it was no longer there.”

The poster himself explains that

“There really was a smoke ring in the sky, and if you look through the comments or watch the attached news video, you will see that many other people saw the same thing in the sky (and even had religious experiences due to it). I am convinced now that this smoke ring did come from the volcano ride. There was not much wind that day, so the smoke ring somehow stayed intact . . . I’m not sure how, but it did. I have spoken with others from my work who were there and they have said they witnessed the same smoke ring actually come from the Volcano ride. I hope this clears up some of the questions out there.”

This is the same phenomenon more widely known in the Viborg “Jellyfish” UFO, and which happens all around the world, including Brazil, of which an image follows below.

Smoke rings can be that surprising. In Portuguese, see “Os OVNIs de Vórtice” for more photos and cases.

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