Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for April, 2010

Kumburgaz, Turkey “UFO": Yacht Window Reflections

They are being promoted as “the most significant UFO videos of all time”, including “two extraterrestrials [that] were caught on tape in Istanbul”. And perhaps the most amazing thing, or the dead giveaway, is that those videos have been captured not once, but several times since 2007.

Summer and springtime in Turkey, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and there comes a man named Yalcin Yalman with more of these “most significant UFO videos of all time”.

Now, Chilean researcher Andrés Duarte publishes an excellent analysis of the Kumburgaz videos and comes to the conclusion that they must be mainly of yacht side windows reflecting light at night: Los ovnis de Kumburgaz son ventanas de lanchas.

Stay with us for a summary in English of Duarte’s analysis.

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Redesigning the Ouija board


“I enjoy Ouija boards as handsome declarations of the alphabet”, Monte Thrasher wrote me last year. We have since exchanged some ideas and he shared a couple of his fascinating ideas and concepts, such as his “Oracle” project of redesigning the Ouija board.

“It occurred to me that a standard Ouija board is clumsy and labor intensive. For one thing, you use A over and over, but it’s set way off to one side”, wrote the artist. “So why not group all the vowels at the center for easy access? And Q always needs a U, so place those two together, and so on.”

“This lead me to study cryptography statistics. T is the most common consonant, and it groups most often with E, so set them side by side, and so on. I thought of making the common letters larger and the rare ones smaller. What I ended up with was a curious image, something like an oculist’s eye chart gone mad, a seemingly random mishmash of letters. Here’s an early sketch:” Improved Ouija Board

“In the final version the Oracle Board wasn’t much to look at. I realized that my statistical approach to language required, not a graphic approach like these charts, but a statistical one, a sprinkling of little letters across a field; lots of E’s, slightly fewer T’s, and so on, following the well-known set of ETAOINSHRDLU etc., from the most to the least common letters in English.”

“Visually dull but oracularly fruitful. True, its ‘messages’ were full of misspellings and garbled stuff, but any querent using the board is welcome to keep or discard whatever parts of the message he or she chooses, since it’s all equally meaningful. Or, as one clairvoyant said, the Dead make typos too.”

And this was just the beginning. From keyboard layouts to word clouds,  from the Fox sisters spiritual telegraph to the iPad spirit board apps and beyond, we will explore the idea of redesigning the Ouija board.



Here’s the Wikipedia entry for “ETAOIN SHRDLU”, that is, a nonsense phrase that linotype operators sometimes casted by simply typing the first two vertical columns on their keyboard, much like we may type “qwerty” or “asdfg”, with the difference that old linotype keys were arranged by letter frequency.

That is, “etaoin / shrdlu” are the twelve most commonly used letters in English language.


Does this linotype keyboard arrangement somewhat reminds of what Thrasher suggested for an improved Ouija board? But let’s leave that aside for a moment.

What about the idea of also having the letters of different sizes according to their frequencies, as in Thrasher’s early sketch… have you not seen something similar on any blog?


Above, a Wordle of the article “Mind Under Matter”. As a default, the most common English words such as “the”, “you”, etc., are removed, for the word cloud to clearly represent the most used relevant words in the text. And it works beautifully – even without reading the whole article one can realize it refers to the brain, illusions and consciousness quite a lot.

If we on the other hand create a word cloud without removing the “the”, “you” and everything, we get something like this:


Not very useful to quickly capture the gist of the article… but then, as it has all the words arranged by size according to their frequency, such a Wordle would be particularly useful if we wanted to rewrite the text, word by word, simply by moving… a planchette, as in an Ouija board.

And the amazing thing is, this Wordle was created automatically. You could, for instance, create a wordle for the Bible (with or without removing the most common English words) and have some great fun having the “spirits” remixing it.

I can’t express how amazingly cool it is that a novel information visualization technique can be used to automatically create an improved Ouija board following the lines of the original suggestion by a talented artist such as Monte Thrasher.

This interplay of superstition, art and technology is quite beautiful, and as we will see in the next post, actually goes way back.

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Another photo of Hipster “Time Traveller” found

time travel not

Oh, the power and the wisdom of Internet people. After more than 100k hits to the hipster “time traveller” in 1940 story, comes the comment from Angie who found another photo of the South Fork bridge reopening… and it seems to have also recorded the man in question!

This second photograph was found on the John Wihksne Collection, and is properly captioned “Opening of the new (1940) bridge at South Fork”.

Here’s an enlargement to help you locate the target:


And let’s remember the original photo on the Bralorne-Pioneer museum:


The cars, the tall hipster, everything seems in perfect order.

The man was there, and as we checked, his clothes, glasses and camera were available in 1940. So we return to our original conclusion:

“This is not much of a proof of time travel, and more like evidence of the cyclic nature of fashion.”

Now with double evidence. [With many thanks to the keen eye of Angie, and with a photo from Hank Sunderman]

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Time Traveler Caught in Museum Photo?

Viajante do tempo?

“Reopening of the South Fork Bridge after flood in Nov. 1940. 1941 (?)”

It’s the short description for the photograph shown at the virtual Bralorne Pioneer Museum, from British Columbia, Canada. The image can be seen specifically on this page (scroll down to the middle), among other items of the online exhibit. Did you notice anything out of place? Or perhaps, out of time?

The man with what appears to be very modern sunglasses seems to be wearing a stamped T-shirt with a nice sweater, all the while holding a portable compact camera!

Internet people reached to the obvious conclusion: it’s a time traveller caught on camera on 1940! Finally, we have proof!

If the story seems straight out of a movie and the photo is in itself a great funny find, the most amusing thing i came up with while looking into this – as an Internet person, on the Internet – was the reply for a skeptical, or perhaps somewhat cynical comment on how spurious it would seem the idea that a time traveler would want to visit the reopening of a bridge in some small town in Canada.

Read this on Doc Brown’s voice: “Of course, because we know nothing happened there right? But if we are considering time travel, how can we know if in some other timeline something historical happened right there?”

Indeed! Once you consider time travel, everything changes. But before writing Hollywood scripts, let’s get back to reality and ask again: is the photo evidence of a time traveller?

The source

As noted, the image is indeed available through the official website for Canada’s museums. It was part of the exhibit “Their Past Lives Here” from Bralorne-Pioneer, available to the public since 2004. It was put online since February this year, perhaps before that. And the peculiar “time traveller” image was only noted as such in the end of March, when it was linked on main websites such as Above Top Secret and FARK.

Given the source, we would assume the photo is authentic, and correctly dated to c.1940. Indeed, an Error Level Analysis suggests the image was not digitally tampered with, or at least that if it was, the author was smart enough to normalize the error across the whole thing.  It’s a good job, if it was a job. And again, given the source, we would assume it was not a job.

So, how do we explain the man out of time?


Not quite out of time

As members of the ATS, like “Outkast Searcher”, diligently noted, despite looking very modern the man’s outfit and even glasses and camera could be found in the 1940s. Below, similar sunglasses used by actress Barbara Stanwyck on the movie “Double Indemnity” (1944):


The outfit could also be found 70 years ago. Being used as we are to our contemporary fashion, we look at the man and assume he’s wearing a stamped T-shirt, something that would be indeed out of place (or time). But if you look carefully, you can see that he’s actually wearing (or could as well be wearing) a sweatshirt. And sweatshirts with bordered emblems were not uncommon in the 1940s – in fact you can find those in other photos from the same exhibit.


The sweater he also uses seems to be hand knitted, with buttons on the front. Something that was definitely available at the time, if he had some kind grandma perhaps.

Finally, despite some comments about the camera lens being too big for the time, too compact, it looks like a Kodak Folding Pocket model, available since the beginning of the 20th century.

kodak folding

That is: even taking this photo for granted, as depicting an authentic scene, a real man with his curious glasses and outfit in Canada 70 years ago, there’s nothing that can be seen that is actually out of place or time. He looks different from other people, but it has already been suggested that he’s using welding goggles and a glove.

This is not much of a proof of time travel, and more like evidence of the cyclic nature of fashion. These days, even a beggar can be mistaken for a trendy fashion model. Keep reading for more into this and other time travel stories.

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Get your Drunk History right: Nikola Tesla

And the most amazing thing is: it’s all true. [via Strange Attractor]

PS.: Apologies for the lack of updates lately. More posts soon to follow!

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