Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Colored Vibrating Sand, Buddhist Singing Bowls and Levitating Megaliths

Please turn down the volume, and appreciate Japanese artist Kenichi Kanazawa making colored sand dance in beautiful geometric patterns. Magic? Perhaps, but not supernatural.

This is version of what is better known as Chladni plates, as the table top is made of a plate of steel which vibrates when he rubs the rubber balls on its border, an effect similar to rubbing a crystal glass with wet fingers. The vibrating top then makes the sand jump and accumulate in nodal patterns.

Which is a perfect opportunity to present another non-quite-magical, but quite amazing phenomenon: Tibetan singing bowls, dating more than 4,000 years ago, which make water boil almost instantly!

Except that they are not actually boiling water, you wouldn’t be able to cook noodles with it. In a way somewhat similar to Chladni plates, and as Nature News Blog explains, what the bowl is doing is making waves in water which at a critical frequency separates and forms little droplets which can jump and even bounce over the rest of the water, making it look like it’s boiling. Check out above and below some wicked videos courtesy of Denis Terwagne and John Bush:

The phenomenon is non-linear and, thanks to LOST, has a very cool sounding name, Faraday instability, due to Michael Faraday himself, a scientific legend.

And speaking of legend, vibration and Buddhist monks, we come to the last link: acoustic levitation of stones, in the legend of monastery construction, Tibetan style.


Tibetan Monks levitate stones by using an acoustic levitation technique with the aid of drums in this 1939 sketch by Swedish aircraft designer Henry Kjellson. Click the sketch for the full fascinating story.

Acoustic levitation is real, and the grains of sand jumping as well as the droplets of water bouncing are a related phenomenon. And given that Buddhist monks had singing bowls which mastered this resonance, could they have levitated giant boulders with drums?

Unfortunately, we know for a fact they didn’t. You see, there’s a limit in the amount of energy a sound wave can carry, beyond which the sound just turns into a shock wave and the more energy you put into it, it simply turns into heat.

Interestingly, you can make shock waves so powerful that could actually make water boil, unlike the singing bowls, for instance, near a hypersonic jet, though that would be a very inconvenient way to cook noodles. But it’s impossible for thin air in resonating sound to make something like a heavy boulder levitate – granted, a very powerful shock wave could move large rocks, but that’s not something you would get with drums. That’s something you would get with explosives, and this is something we already do.

Well, I hope you’ve seen enough real wonders to allow for one adorable legend to remain just a very nice tall tale!

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Posted in Fortean,Science | 4 comments

Candle Smoke Rainbow


Amazing shot by Grover Schrayer. He explains it:

“I shot it with my Fuji Finepix S8100fd, with a Raynox M-250 macro lens attached. I shot at 1/1000th or higher, using the camera’s built-in flash. The built -in flash gave me head-on illumination of the smoke, and that head-on lighting allowed me to pick up the refraction through the droplets of wax. Any other angle of illumination would not produce the rainbow effect. The hardest part was getting the camera to focus on just the right part of the smoke. I focused on the wick, or the edge of the flame, had the shutter button half-pressed and ready, and blew out the candle and snapped very quickly. Most of the time the results were less than spectacular, but when the smoke and the timing cooperated, I got shots like this…”

Another shot of smoke droplets making a candle rainbow on flickr. [via Petapixel]

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Accidental Optical Illusion


As previously seen, but up a notch! [via reddit]

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Posted in Miscelaneous | 1 comment

Koi’s Aliens

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Back in 2009, I attempted to publish skeptical notes on one alleged Alien photo a day for the whole month of November. In the end, however, the work was too much and I only managed to publish 21 of them (in retrospect I’m actually surprised I went that far):





Now, Isaac Koi, a superb researcher, has online no less than 50 of them in Koi Alien Photos, from where we get the image that starts this post. Unfortunately he has not published all his notes yet, but you may have recognized the little alien held by his arms on the right page. It’s Koi Alien Photo 01.

And it’s also his first appearance ever: on a German article, “Der Mars-Mensch!” published on Neue Illustrierte, from Cologne. On April, 1, 1950. There’s also another photomontage of the Alien coming out of his silver disc, and the accompanying story makes reference to an American sergeant named “D. Ussel (13th Airborn Division)”. Koi remarks that “dussel” is German for sucker, or perhaps fool.

If there was any doubt this was an April Fool’s joke, Achim Martin, who provided the copy of the original article we are seeing (via Loren Gross), noted the following issued of Neue Illustrierte on April 5th clarified it was indeed an April Fool’s – and that the “silverman” alien was an artist from the ice-skater group “The Lidstones”. Koi however suspects neither of the pair Joan and James Lidstone were the face of the alien, but rather that they were in another image of the joke showing a multiple exposure image.

Martin Kottmeyer had already identified one source of the series of images on the Neue Illustrierte prank, “one of which is a retouched picture of Dr. E.W. Kay’s model saucer that appeared in the press on January 11, 1950”. I produced this comparison to confirm the identification:


This also illustrates how the images were created by combining original photos with a lot of airbrushing.

On the note I wrote about it, “Die Fälscher Alien”, I quoted Koi himself, through the kind collaboration of “Internos”, from the ATS forum, who pointed me to the many valuable snippets Koi had been sharing there. As it turns out, already in 1982 Loren Gross had named Neue Illustrierte as the source, and had published copies of the article in 2003 sent by Martin. The Neue Illustrierte prank had even reached an AP news wire on April 1950 – and also the Talk of the Times, from where it echoed in the US too.

If any German reader is able to search for Cologne newspapers, particularly around April 1, 1950, they may finally put to a much due rest to this photo”, I wrote in 2009, unaware that years before a German reader had already done that. The photo has been put to rest.

But this explanation, as all good explanations should, does raise some interesting points. At the exact same April Fool’s, another German newspaper published another very similar April Fool’s prank. Coincidence? No. Conspiracy? Probably not.

In fact both pranks were inspired by the hoaxed story of a crashed saucer and its occupants known as the Aztec Crashed Saucer hoax. That very same hoax is actually also where most of the details of what is better known as the Roswell Crashed Saucer story originally appeared. They would only be associated with Roswell decades later.

I’ll be updating and correcting the information on some of the posts I made back in 2009 given the most excellent reference Koi has published.

Unfortunately, to this day, over a century from the invention of photography, and six decades after the initial flying saucer craze, there’s not one single photograph of an alleged Alien that is even remotely intriguing. Sure we still have lots of unexplained ones, mainly because of their unknown origins, but even them are always within the limits of even a shoestring hoaxing budget.

Of course, if you happen to know or have one, you can always e-mail me the scoop of the millennium.

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Through the Eyes of a Statistician

The adorable video above, an entry to The American Statistics Association contest, shows the world “through the eyes of a statistician”.

Statistics is all around us and can be seen in the marks left by the actions of hundreds, thousands of people on objects such as a gas pump slot, as well as on a door handle (as it gets worn out, the corrosion will leave a normal distribution bell curve shaped pattern). On the other hand, the stains left by dripping oil from car engines on a parking lot will display a discrete Poisson distribution emerging pattern.

That reminded me of a funny fact: the “Adam” statue by Bottero at Time Warner Center in New York has a shining area that ends up contrasting against the rest of the sculpture. A tabloid even described the urge to touch the area as “irresistible”.

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Men may be more interested in the statues of the “Crazy Girls” casino in Las Vegas:

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Back to something less related to sexuality statistics – which turns the parts down there “irresistible” to groping – , I also remembered the story about a Buddhist monk who supposedly left his footprints on the wooden floor on which he had been praying for twenty years:

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My critical sense does not buy this story, mainly due to the way the footprints don’t seem to follow the foot parts that actually bear most of the weight, or at least should wear out the wood a bit more – especially the little toe area. Or maybe the peculiar way he is supposed to have been praying can indeed create those footprint patterns?

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Applied statistics, along with other fields of science, would let us put this story to test! [via The Five Best Statues for Groping]

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Posted in Miscelaneous,Science | 2 comments