Thursday, August 17, 2017

I’ve Been Working on the Creepy Railroad


“When people say that the Internet is going to make us all geniuses, that was said about the telegraph. On the other hand, when they say the Internet is going to make us stupid, that also was said about the telegraph” – James Gleick

My high-school guidance counselor didn’t think it was funny when I told her I wanted a career in “Rail Barony”. Tough room. It wasn’t so much that I like trains, just that being a “Baron” of anything seemed like a good gig. I suppose one has to work their way up the corporate railroad ladder, and any sort of climbing sounds like exercise. I hate exercise. It makes you sweat. Consequently, I’m not a Rail Baron. Well, that and the fact that by the time I was considering what to do with the rest of my life, railroads were not an especially profitable business (mega-mergers and government subsidies were required to keep railroads afloat in the 1970’s). As it turns out I probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive things, so a future as a railroad engineer was out of the question, and as I’m not particularly intimidating, even a career rousting train-hopping hobos was outside my skill set. Turns out I’m an information technology guy. If it was 1911, I could have taken up as a railroad telegraph operator and risen through the ranks to Baronhood. In perusing the 1911 edition of Radio Telegraph Operation for Dummies, they fail to mention one specific occupational hazard. Poltergeists.

In 1851, railroad companies in the United States starting using telegraphy to coordinate the arrival and departure schedules of their trains. Before 1851, the U.S. rail system was single-tracked. Railroad managers had to be very careful dispatching trains to avoid head on collisions between trains going in opposite directions, and back-end collisions between trains going in the same direction. A time-interval dispatching system was typically used, but that worked if nothing happened between stations. The obvious solution was a two-track system, but that would require laying double tracks everywhere (and wouldn’t solve the problem of accidents involving trains headed in the same direction). A more cost effective solution was the telegraph and a series of telegraph stations, so that every station supervisor knew where the trains he was in charge of were on the tracks. That brings us to Dale, Georgia.

The Mysterious Forest of Vanished Children

Via by Brent Swancer

There are places in this world which seem to harbor ominous secrets and reverberate with the echoes of a dark history. Here unsolved mysteries, vanishings, and deaths haunt the landscape and hold evasive clues that continue to perplex and baffle. One such location is a stretch of rough wilderness and rugged mountains just outside of the city of Los Angeles, California, in the United States, which was ground zero for a series of bizarre, chilling vanishings of young children that have remained unsolved to this day and continue to stir discussion and debate.

Sprawled out within Los Angeles County, in southern California, are the San Gabriel Mountains and Sierra Pelona Mountains, and within this vast expanse of wilderness, not far from the urban jungle of nearby Los Angeles, lies the Angeles National Forest. At a total of 700,176 acres (1,094.0 sq mi; 2,833.5 km2) in area, the forest encompasses large portions of protected land that remain in remarkably pristine condition considering its proximity to such a densely populated mega polis as Los Angeles. It is a popular recreation destination for people from all over the region, and is well-known for its rugged, unspoiled wilderness. The Angeles National Forest is also known for a sinister string of vanishings that have for years lurked behind the veneer of this natural splendor.

In August of 1956, 11-year-old Brenda Howell was visiting the area from North Carolina to see her sister, and she made fast friends with a neighborhood boy, 13-year-old Donald Lee Baker. On the morning August 6, 1956, the two kids set out on their bicycles to go exploring in the San Gabriel Canyon area, near Glendora Mountain Road. They would never be seen or heard from again. When the two children did not return there was a massive search launched of the area by a joint force of police and Navy personnel, as well as hundreds of volunteers, who scoured the wilderness looking for any sign of them, but after days of searching they were only able to recover Brenda’s bicycle and Donald’s jacket, which were found near Morris Dam, around a quarter-mile away from where they had last been seen. Two months later Donald’s bicycle would also be found at Glendora Elementary School, where a student claimed to have found it in the forest not long after the two had vanished. No further evidence was ever found, and it was as if they had simply vanished into thin air.

'Harry Potter' & the Deathly Obsession? Series May Help Fans Cope with Death

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Via by Sara G. Miller

WASHINGTON — For many "Harry Potter" fans, rereading the books or rewatching the movies over and over may serve as an entertaining way to escape the real world or get a bit of a thrill.

But a new study suggests that for some, an obsession with the "Harry Potter" franchise may signal something darker: a greater awareness of death.

For some, it seems that anxiety about or obsession with death makes them want to reread the books or rewatch the "Harry Potter" films, said study co-author Lance Garmon, an assistant professor of psychology at Salisbury University in Maryland. Garmon and his co-author Meredith Patterson, an associate professor of psychology at the same institution, presented their findings here today (Aug. 3) at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

From the very start of the series, death plays a prominent role: Harry's parents are murdered by an evil wizard when he is a baby, for example. And throughout the series, fans see people close to Harry die, including several major characters.

But connecting Harry Potter to death isn't necessarily a bad thing — rather, Garmon and Patterson said that they hope it can have a positive effect.

For people who do dwell on death, the series could serve as a coping mechanism, Garmon told Live Science. And for younger fans with a high level of death awareness, it could help them start to understand grown-up issues, such as dying, he added.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The dirty secret behind ball lightning is dirt

Image (left corner) and spectrum of a serendipitous ball lightning event in China, the first time such a measurement has ever been performed.
Via by Matthew Francis

Ball lightning is an odd phenomenon. The few, fortunate people who have seen an incident describe the lightning as a roughly spherical glowing object that travels horizontally for a few seconds before vanishing. However, while several experiments have reproduced something resembling the phenomenon, the physical mechanism behind ball lightning is somewhat mysterious.

Now, a team of researchers serendipitously observed ball lightning at a time when they had the right equipment to study it. Jianyong Cen, Ping Yuan, and Simin Xue were in the field measuring the properties of ordinary lightning when they happened to catch ball lightning with both their high-speed cameras and their spectrographs. They found the chemical composition of the event matched that of soil. That strongly supports the hypothesis (proposed nearly fifteen years ago) that ball lightning is basically a dirt clod dislodged and heated to incandescence by a cloud-to-ground lightning strike.

A history of time travel: the how, the why and the when of turning back the clock

Via by James O'Malley

For most of human history, the world didn’t change very quickly. Until the 1700s, kids could largely expect their lives to be similar to their parents, and that their children would have an experience very similar to their own, too. There were obviously changes in how humans lived over longer stretches of time, but nothing that even different generations could easily observe.

The industrial revolution changed all of this. For the first time in human history, the pace of technological change was visible within a human lifespan.

It is not a coincidence that it was only after science and technological change became a normal part of the human experience, that time travel became something we dreamed of.

Time travel is actually somewhat unique in science fiction. Many core concepts have their origins earlier in history.

The historical roots of the concept of a 'robot' can be seen in Jewish folklore for example: Golems were anthropomorphic beings sculpted from clay. In Greek mythology, characters would travel to other worlds, and it's no coincidence that The Matrix features a character called Persephone. But time travel is different.

The first real work to envisage travelling in time was The Time Machine by HG Wells, which was published in 1895.

The book tells the story of a scientist who builds a machine that will take him to the year 802,701 - a world in which ape-like Morlocks are evolutionary descendants of humanity, and have regressed to a primitive lifestyle.

The book was a product of its time - both in terms of the science played upon (Charles Darwin had only published Origin of the Species 35 years earlier), and the racist attitudes: it is speculated that the Morlocks were inspired by the Morlachs, a real ethnic group in the Balkans who were often characterised as “primitive”.

Truly Bizarre Accounts of Spontaneously Vanishing Bigfoot

Via by Brent Swancer

The Bigfoot phenomenon is already quite strange enough as it is, and has long been ground zero for all manner of sightings of people seeing something large, ape-like, and decidedly not human prowling the forests of North America. The main theory behind these encounters is that we are possibly dealing with some undiscovered bipedal primate, perhaps even an ancestral species of human, either way a flesh and blood creature. However, there has been much speculation over the years that this may not be the case at all, and that these beings could be something far weirder than that. Among these are reports of Bigfoot that have seemingly phased out of reality, gone invisible, or otherwise vanishing right before witnesses’ eyes. Although perhaps not quite as common as more traditional sightings reports, they nevertheless come in, and suggest that possibly something more is going on here than a mere undiscovered animal.

One very interesting account of an apparently vanishing Bigfoot was related on the radio show Coast to Coast AM on a July 15, 2016 episode hosted by George Noory. The witness, who called himself “Gene,” from Albuquerque, New Mexico, claimed that he had been hunting for elk at around 7 AM out near a border-town on the Arizona-Mexico border called Gallup. The land was located on a Navajo reservation, and described as being very remote, rugged, and mountainous. As Gene prowled through the rough landscape looking for his quarry, he claims that he got the distinct feeling that something large was following him, perhaps even stalking him. He would explain what happened next thus (transcript from the original show):

I’m an ex-Navy corpsman. I know when something’s following me. I’m about an hour and a half back in and I’m way out in the middle of nowhere. So I go around and I end up on a box canyon on top of this mesa that overlooks the boonies. It’s like a thousand foot drop off. Okay. Real quick, I head back towards the box canyon. I was trying to get away from whatever is following me. All of a sudden I hear these thundering footsteps and I lean up against the wall and here comes about 7 horses out from the middle of nowhere into this box canyon. Wild horses. I get around the box canyon and there it is. It jumps off the top of a twenty foot dead end box canyon. I was at the bottom. I’m looking up and now I’m looking at it. And it jumped, one foot down, one foot up on the side. It was exactly what everybody says that you guys talk about (Noory says Bigfoot) Yeah… and I’m in the middle of the Indian reservation on the top of a little mesa. It blew my mind. It looked right at me. I was less than fifty yards from it. I took off running. I didn’t freeze. I took off running.

Then something threw a rock at me. It was a huge rock. I’d say it weighed about 8 pounds. It would have killed me. I looked and I tripped out… at a 120 to 200 yards there it was… and it looked at me. I’m sorry George but… that far. I’m telling you. It blew my mind. It threw an 8 pound rock at least 120 yards. And this thing was not small. This thing was huge.

What Causes Spooky Out-of-Body Experiences? It Could Be Your Ears

Credit: Mangojuicy/Dreamstime
Via by Amanda Onion

While driving and accelerating in his car, a patient in France suddenly had a bizarre sensation. He felt like he was outside his car, looking in at his physical self, which was still at the wheel.

The patient was part of a new study that links problems of the inner ear with eerie "out-of-body" experiences. These experiences are curious, usually brief sensations in which a person's consciousness seems to exit the body and then view the body from the outside.

The study analyzed 210 patients who had visited their doctors with so-called vestibular disorders. The vestibular system, which is made up of several structures in the inner ear, provides the body with a sense of balance and spatial orientation. Problems with this system can cause dizziness or a floating sensation, among other symptoms.

Maya Elzière, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Hôpital Européen in Marseille, France, and co-author of the study, enlisted patients who had experienced a range of issues, from recurrent vertigo and tinnitus to infections in the ear. Among these patients, 14 percent reported out-of-body experiences, compared with only 5 percent of healthy people without vestibular disorders who said the same.

"Out-of-body experiences were about three times more frequent" in patients with vestibular disorders, versus those without these disorders, said Christophe Lopez, lead author of the study and a neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université in France.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Church in Brazil Removes Pigeons With Hypnosis

The pigeon-hypnotizing bullseye (credit: BBC)
Via by Paul Seaburn
We’ve gained notoriety
And caused much anxiety
In the Audobon Society
With our games
They call it impiety
And lack of propriety
And quite a variety of unpleasant names
But it’s not against any religion
To want to dispose of a pigeon

Fans of satirist Tom Lehrer will recognize these lines from his song, Poisoning Pigeons In The Park. Members of a Catholic church in Brazil may have agreed that it’s not against any religion to ‘dispose’ of a pigeon but felt bad about the poisoning option, especially since their church was overcome with so many of the birds.

“The pigeons would come in here and do poop in everything, they would fly in the hour of Mass, I would curse and even throw balls of paper to try to frighten them, but they would nest on top and they would not leave at all.”

A secretary in Nossa Senhora da Consolação, a parish in downtown São Paulo, describes the scene during most masses. Father José Roberto Pereira, a parish priest, told the BBC that “the pigeons were breeding and making a lot of noise during mass” for the seven years he has been there. When all of their attempts to rid the church of the birds failed, they called in a pigeon exorcist. Or more precisely, a pigeon hypnotist.

Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh May Be the 1st Known 'Giant'

The possible skull of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Sanakht of the Third Dynasty.
Credit: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Via by Charles Q. Choi

The supposed remains of Sa-Nakht, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt, may be the oldest known human giant, a new study finds.

Myths abound with stories of giants, from the frost and fire giants of Norse legends to the Titans who warred with the gods in ancient Greek mythology. However, giants are more than just myth; accelerated and excessive growth, a condition known as gigantism, can occur when the body generates too much growth hormone. This usually occurs because of a tumor on the pituitary gland of the brain.

As part of ongoing research into mummies, scientists investigated a skeleton found in 1901 in a tomb near Beit Khallaf in Egypt. Previous research estimated that the bones dated from the Third Dynasty of Egypt, about 2700 B.C.

Prior work suggested that the skeleton of the man — who would have stood at up to 6 feet, 1.6 inches (1.987 meters) tall — may have belonged to Sa-Nakht, a pharaoh during the Third Dynasty. Previous research on ancient Egyptian mummies suggested the average height for men around this time was about 5 foot, 6 inches (1.7 m), said study co-author Michael Habicht, an Egyptologist at the University of Zurich's Institute of Evolutionary Medicine.

Ancient Egyptian kings were likely better fed and in better health than commoners of the era, and so they could be expected grow taller than average. Still, the over 6-foot-tall remains the scientists analyzed would have towered over Ramsses II, the tallest recorded ancient Egyptian pharaoh, who lived more than 1,000 years after Sa-Nakht and was only about 5 foot, 9 inches (1.75 m) tall, Habicht said.

Houska Castle – The Gates Of Hell

Via by Mr. Bricks

The Czech Republic's Houska castle is said to be one of the strangest places on the planet. Most castles have a some kind of valid purpose behind them and are built in the best interest of the people around them, or are supposed to be. But the reason behind this castle being built was rather odd one . Supposedly the hole the castle was built around is said to be bottomless and a gateway to hell, yes a gateway to hell.

That's not even the strangest part…..

10 Bizarre Legal Cases From Medieval Europe

Photo credit: Jean-Paul Laurens
Via by Tristan Shaw

By modern standards, legal systems in medieval Europe were unfair and weak. Trials by ordeal, in which an accused person had to prove their innocence by winning a contest of some sort, were considered perfectly reliable in reaching a verdict. Torture was common in getting confessions, and punishments were often inhumane. History has preserved a number of cases from this period, some of them strange and ridiculous, others highly disturbing.
10. Rose De Savage

On a January morning in 1280, a group of men kidnapped a woman named Rose de Savage while she was walking to church. The band’s leader, John de Clifford, moved Rose to his house and made her undress. He then raped her, and after he was finished, he locked Rose in an upper-story bedroom.

Over the next 21 months, Rose was held prisoner in the same room, forbidden to leave. In November 1282, on St. Martin’s Day, Rose was able to escape from de Clifford’s house by jumping out a window. After Rose was safe, a trial against John de Clifford was organized for “rape and breach of the king’s peace.”[1]

In court, de Clifford denied the charges. In fact, Rose was the one who ended up going to jail. Since she didn’t provide the exact dates of her rape and imprisonment, her accusations were considered false. After Rose’s imprisonment, a jury did eventually find John de Clifford guilty, but he was let off with a fine.

9. Rolandino Ronchaia

Rolandino Ronchaia was a hermaphrodite who lived in Venice in the 14th century. Although he was born with a penis, Ronchaia grew full breasts and had a very feminine appearance. As an adult, he married a normal woman, but the marriage fell apart because he couldn’t have an erection.

After his wife left him, Ronchaia moved into a relative’s house in Padua.[2] Tempted by his feminine features, another guest made a pass at Ronchaia and had sex with him. From that point on, Ronchaia decided to start living as a woman. He changed his name to Rolandina, moved back to Venice, and worked as a female prostitute.

In Venice, Ronchaia attracted a huge number of clients, none of whom knew he was a man. Unfortunately, Ronchaia attracted the eyes of city authorities, too. He was brought to trial on a charge of sodomy, and though the authorities were aware of his condition, Ronchaia was sentenced to be burned alive.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The “Curse” Of The Ramones

Via by Nick Redfern

Having just now read Brent Swancer’s article “Rock Stars and Mysterious Curses,” I thought it would be an ideal time to bring to your attention the issue of the “curse” of the Ramones. They just happen to be my all-time favorite band. I first got into the group as a kid and never looked back. I would always go and see them play when they toured the U.K. – which was usually when they had a new album out. Some of the best gigs were in 1985, when they were touring to promote their now-ironically-titled album, Too Tough To Die. Along with Leave Home and Subterranean Jungle, it’s among their best. Forget 1989’s Brain Drain, which was a horrible glitch in an otherwise solid, unrelenting career.

Being in the audience was like going into war, but it was all fun and it was a good way to burn off tension and anger. I also enjoyed the fact that, after a few years, they all began to pretty much hate each other. The clashes undeniably added to the music and the atmosphere in fine and violent style. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy (and, later, Marky, C.J., Richie and – for just two gigs – Blondie’s Clem Burke) might not have been the best of friends, but so what? You don’t need to be friends to get up on stage and play well.

Me and my mates gravitated to the band not just because of the music (fast, furious, and filled with catchy choruses), but also because of the image: low-slung guitars, black-leather biker-jackets, and scowling faces. They were the perfect band for us. They still are. In fact, aside from when I am grudgingly forced to wear a crappy gray, long-sleeve shirt on Ancient Aliens (I can’t even begin to count how many times that same bloody shirt has been worn…), I don’t think I own even a single collared shirt (if I do they must be buried under a pile of crap somewhere…). I threw the last one out a few years back. But, I do own at least a couple of hundred t-shirts and three biker-jackets. It’s hard to break habits.

I have to say that I was glad when they split in 1996 – it would have been ridiculous to see a band such as the Ramones playing songs like “Warthog,” “Psycho Therapy” and “Pinhead” in their sixties. Retiring when they were all still in their forties was exactly the right thing for a band like the Ramones to do. By that time, only Joey and Johnny were left from the original line-up, so that was another reason to say goodbye. All of which brings me to the so-called “curse” of the Ramones.