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Archive for the 'Fortean' Category

Explaining the giant holes in Guatemala


They are an amazing sight: even though the initial size figures were eventually corrected to a more comprehensible 66 feet diameter crater, 100 feet deep, those are still impressive and quite regular holes. The one in the image above engulfed a factory in the end of June at Zona 2, Guatemala, while a similar event happened in 2007 a few miles away, Zona 6. Below, an image of the 2007 hole:


While people were puzzled and many joked about these giant holes in the ground, the event in 2007 resulted in two casualties and the one a month ago in one death. Taking this seriously, we have to explain that these features are not mysterious nor have anything to do with “UFO tunnels”. Both features were ultimately the result of intense storms – and it’s an interesting coincidence that the new hole opened after tropical storm Agatha, since Agartha is the legendary city inside the hollow Earth.

These features do not lead to the center of Earth, however, at their bottom a hundred feet down what one finds is quite simply a sewage water collecting system. The infographic below, from Nuestro Diario (June 30th, p.5), illustrates how exactly below the opened hole a water collector tunnel around 10 feet in diameter goes through.


A few days ago a team of geologists also explored the bottom of the Zona 2 hole, you can find the whole Picasa set of photos here. All the soil in the giant hole didn’t disappear magically, it was simply washed away with the water and on to the sewage system. So much so that the sole victim’s body in the Zona 2 hole, Edwin Roberto Velásquez Salazar, was found days later in Las Vacas river, where the water from the collector system ends up.

Not only at the bottom of these giant holes one finds tunnels of the water collecting system: more importantly, perhaps, is that both of these holes were originally vertical shafts, that is, there were already originally vertical holes there, even though they were obviously not that large. Unfortunately many water draining shafts and tunnels were built in the 1950s and some were not properly recorded, and as the city grew some buildings were built over some shafts. That seems to be the case here.

Local geologists suggest then that the heavy water stream from the storm must have damaged the underground collecting tunnels, a problem aggravated by the fact that there was a difference in the level of tunnels. The graphic below (click to enlarge, from Diario de Centroamérica) illustrates, above, the proposed evolution of the holes in the first (above) and second holes.



Add to that that the soil in the city is particularly fragile, basically pumice fill – ash flows made up of loose, gravel-like particles deposited during ancient volcanic eruptions, and there’s no mystery here.

Days after the recent hole, called by many a giant sinkhole, geologist Sam Bonis, who was part of the team that investigated the 2007 case, correctly pointed out that it wasn’t in fact a sinkhole. As he told Discovery News (and National Geographic), "Sure, it looks a lot like a sinkhole. And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading."

According to Bonis, the hole was rather a “piping feature”, and the further info, photos and graphics here may help understand the giant holes in Guatemala.

Graphic: Nuestro Diario

[Almost all the info for this post comes from the blog “Ciudad Nueva zona 2 Guatemala”, with updated and detailed information on the events. It was suggested to me by friend José Ildefonso, who also provided me with most of the other information on the case]

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Laser Stars? Laser Planets!


I always assumed lasers were one of the things we technological apes were first to create in the Universe, much like a watch. If there’s a watch, there must be a watchmaker, as one chap famously argued. He was quite right, though the analogy doesn’t quite apply to other seemingly complex things which are subject to that evolution thing.

But lasers can be as delicate and complex as a watch. If there is a laser, there should be a “lasermaker”, I thought, so much so that they were first built only 50 years ago, decades after the idea was first proposed by none other than Albert Einstein and many years after their predecessors, the Masers, were demonstrated. And there can’t be self-reproducing lasers, right?

Well, as far as we know, that’s also right, and there are also no animals capable of emitting lasers, the baby above being a work of fiction which I suspect involves Photoshop (I can tell by the pixels).

But today I discovered at long last that there are natural lasers. This is quite a thing, as even if you already knew about that, I’ll say it also involves Martians! HG Wells! And Alien Abductions!


First things first, as the acronym properly tells, the LASER, or Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, works by stimulated emission, which can be used as an amplification effect by exciting a medium to obtain a population inversion. In the first Ruby laser, seen above, that worked by exciting a ruby crystal with small impurities through a coiled flash tube at just the right energy. It does resemble a watch, doesn’t it? It’s quite a gadget. That’s how I pictured the classical laser.

Shortly thereafter, gas lasers, where an electric discharge stimulates a gas, instead of a flashing light a crystal, were created. These are the ones of interest if you are talking about natural lasers, because it would be quite impractical to think of giant crystals with flashing lights pumps occurring in nature. A column of excited gas on the other hand could perhaps happen somewhere, sometime.

For instance, one tantalizing idea involves creating laser beams by dropping a large asteroid into a star. It would vaporize, producing a streak of slightly cooler material interacting with the hot, excited plasma of the star. An excited column of gas amid a star. According to theory, “amplified spontaneous emission, or laser action occurs”, with a beam emitted “as a narrow precisely aligned with the meteor streak”. And this is just one proposed way for a natural Laser Star.

Superlaser2 (Custom)

If that sounds interesting, it’s still somewhat debated. What is not speculation, and has actually been astronomical fact for more than 30 years, is that there are laser planets. Or better yet, that Mars and Venus atmospheres are emitting laser beams. Towards Earth!

In 1976 they were first observed coming from Mars by students of Charles Townes, himself a Nobel laureate for his works with Masers and lasers. They were not powerful like anything coming from a Death Star, but they were an emission 100 million times brighter than expected.

mars That would be eventually explained because the emission had been amplificated. It was a laser, a natural laser, where the population inversion in excited gas occurred in carbon dioxide at the upper levels of the atmosphere of Mars. The pump exciting that is the solar radiation itself, and the effect is thus strongest near the solar point. The red circle centered on Chryse Planitia represents the region over which the laser emissions were detected.

Chryse Planitia, by the way, is where the Viking 1 probe landed in that very same year of 1976. Were the Martians defending themselves? This may be a silly joke, but here comes HG Wells.

As many have remarked, “death rays” were a staple of science fiction long before the advent of lasers, even before Albert Einstein proposed the basic concept. In “The War of the Worlds” (1898), Wells gave the Martians a terrible heat ray.

“in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, … Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.”

How appropriate it is, then, than natural lasers were detected coming from Mars, and here’s the amazing detail: as they come from carbon dioxide gas lasers, they are lasers in the near infrared. They are invisible, and are the closest things to a heat ray. Wells was right.

Venus’ atmosphere also emits natural laser, also by the same mechanism, also in the infrared, and in fact there are proposals to help detect extrasolar planets exactly by looking for natural lasers.

So, there you have it, I was completely flabbergasted by nature, all the while assuming the laser was a human marvel when Mars and Venus atmospheres had been beaming not-so-terrible laser heat rays towards me my entire lifetime. HG Wells didn’t know about that, but his science fiction was so good it got that part somewhat right.


I promised this also involved alien abductions, and it does, even though it’s a tenuous connection. One of the episodes of the classic sci-fi series Outer Limits is “The Bellero Shield”, aired in 1964 shortly after the invention of laser.

The story involves a scientist who sends a powerful beam to space. An alien comes down the beam, using it as means of travelling, and among the many things he says, telepathically, he tells how “In all the universes, in all the unities beyond the universes, all who have eyes have eyes that speak."

This quote would be important because in an hypnosis session a few days later, Barney Hill, of the famous Hill alien abduction case, would say that the aliens who abducted him had “eyes that spoke”. Add that to the fact that the drawings he made of the alien are quite similar to the TV show alien, as you can see above (the sketches (L), the sci-fi alien (R)), and you get one amazing bit of psychosocial hypothesis applied to ufology by Martin Kottmeyer in “The Eyes that Spoke”.

One last thing, and this was just the last surprise I had. By reading the Laser Stars website, I recognized one name. Dr Donald H. Menzel was one of the pioneers to suggest laser action in atmospheres. If you know your ufology, Menzel was the also the pioneer UFO skeptibunker.

Mind. Blown. [with many thanks to Igor Zolnerkevic]

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Circlemakers say “Hi” (here’s a plank to stomp with)


Of course, the Mail (and so many other vehicles) reports the story with a slightly different take:

Crop circle hiding ‘beautiful’ maths formula appears in rape seed field
An extraordinary crop circle based on the ‘world’s most beautiful maths theorem’ has appeared in a field next to a windmill in Wiltshire. The complex disc, which measures 300ft across, appeared to the east of Wilton Windmill near Marlborough in a blazing yellow rape seed field. It appeared on Saturday [May 23] just 25miles from another circle that popped up a fortnight ago by the Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum.”

They quote Lucy Pringle, who says that “Working from the centre outwards, people are suggesting it has a connection to Leonhard Euler‘s theorem e^(i)pi+1=0 which is thought to be one of the most beautiful theorems in mathematics.”

What they didn’t quote was who first suggested this decoding, and as Greg Taylor remarked on UfoUpdates, it was Daily Grail editor Richard Andrews (“Grailseeker”). This is important not only for crediting where credit is due, but because Andrews explains how he decoded the formation.

It was simply a matter of decoding the radial lines: starting from the center, notice how each have 8 bars going either up or down. This can be interpreted as an 8-bit binary code, not unlike the kind of barcode used for mail in the US and other countries. And 8-bits can be always interpreted as encoding ASCII characters, especially when we have previous formations using ASCII. And that’s how you get the message “e^(hi)pi)1=0”.

Click the image below for a nice animation by Andrews explaining the decoding:


Now, as Andrews explains, “e^(hi)pi)1=0” is not exactly Euler’s identity, which can be written as “e^((i)pi)+1=0”. He suggests this was intentional: Planck found in ‘Euler’s Identity’ Crop Circle?!

“One thing bothered me though, and that was the inclusion of the anomalous ‘h’ in the message/formula. Certainly, with the absent ‘+’, it made up the number of characters to twelve, which would make the crop circle easier to produce on the ground and more windmill-like, as well as referencing a highly symbolic number.

More significantly though, with the adjacent ‘i’, it reads ‘hi‘ – an embedded message from the maker perhaps? It was only when Jim Gilliland suggested in this Facebook thread that ‘h’ could be a reference to the Planck constant, taking us from the world of maths into the world of physics, that I realised what could be the full meaning of the embedded message.

Could the makers have left a ‘Planck’ in the design as a subtle joke on all the croppies who might pronounce this a ‘genuine’ crop circle as opposed to a circle made with a plank?!”

It would be an elegant Trojan Horse joke by the circlemakers. It would not be the first time, the 1991 Milk Hill script can also be decoded with a very humorous message (which you can read on ‘The Field Guide’). And perhaps even more elegant because it can also be interpreted as an error: there’s only one flipped bit between the ascii code for ‘h’=01101000 and the correct ‘(’=00101000. Flipping the bit happens in the best families.

Now, could this be a deliberate error? Notice how even if they didn’t flip the bit, the formula equation would still be incorrect because it’s missing a ‘+’, as Andrews noticed. A mathematician would be quick to point out how this missing plus sign is perhaps one the most important parts of the equation, because that means that transcendental numbers and the imaginary unit can equal a number as comprehensible as a negative integer –1.

The correct equation “e^((i)pi)+1=0” takes 13 characters. Could it be encoded in 12? Yes, you could also write the equation as “e^(i*pi)+1=0”, for instance. Why would the circlemakers choose a deliberately wrong rendition of the “most beautiful theorem in mathematics”*? Another error?

Perhaps, but this could also be interpreted as part of the joke, a blatantly clear message that this is no perfect message. If for nothing else, it should be clear that intergalactic aliens would hardly use the ASCII code established in 1968, with a mathematical notation of parenthesis, Euler’s number, the imaginary unit and even how one would write the Greek letter ‘pi’ in roman characters, just the way one would enter such equation in Google.

A clear message that the only mystery here is that created by humans, for humans.

With a Plan(c)k, perhaps.

– – –

*As Max Reinhold Jahnke points out, “this expression is known as Euler’s identity, Euler’s theorem is another thing (there are several of them, the most famous refers to algebra/number theory). It’s also not correct to call it a formula, since it only has constantes. =)”.

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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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