In the Wild with Robin Williams (1951-2014)

In light of the unexpected and tragic loss of Robin Williams, one of my favorite actors & comedians of all time, I decided that as a homage to his legacy, instead of linking to some memorable scene taken from one of his films --and there's SO much to choose from-- I would instead honor his passing by sharing Robin's participation in the TV documentary series In the Wild. 20-year-old documentary

The series --which seems to have gone completely off the Internet's radar, since there's barely any online info of it available-- featured several movie celebrities playing the Attenborough-like role of naturalist presenter, in a 50-minute documentary based on their favorite animal. Julia Roberts went to the jungles of Sumatra & Borneo to film orangutans, Anthony Hopkins picked lions, the late Bob Hoskins went with tigers, and Robin --unsurprisingly-- chose dolphins.

The other reason I wanted to post this clip in the Grail, it's because it occurred to me how another reason Robin might have felt identified with the so-called 'clowns of the sea', aside from their playful & energetic nature, is because when we humans go to marine parks to see dolphins perform on a show, we see their big serrated 'smiles' and assume they are enjoying themselves & having a jolly good time.

What we don't realize is that what we mistakenly interpret as a smile is just the way the dolphin's jaw is shaped; if we weren't so focused in our own search for entertainment, we might pay more attention to the dolphins' eyes, which might reveal the inner sadness caused by their deep isolation, and the silent despair of a captive creature which was meant to live free.

On August 11th, Robin Williams sought a way out of its inner imprisonment; and while this should NOT be interpreted as a condoning or condemning of his decision, which was obviously the result of a long history of depression, I sincerely wish that wherever he is now, he has managed to find the liberty he so rightly deserved.

Rest in peace, O'Captain my Captain.

News Briefs 12-08-2014

O'captain, my captain

Quote of the Day:

Carpe diem.

Has the UFO Era Come to an End?

UFOs Against the Wall

New York Magazine has a thought-provoking piece on the field of ufology and how it seems to be increasingly becoming a relic of bygone age, using the recent MUFON conference as a case example:

MUFON has been around for 45 years and the average age of those who ponied up $239 for the conference was way past that. Many of the presenters, most of them long-established figures on the scene (Stanton Friedman, the 79-year-old widely acknowledged dean of the field, had to cancel owing to a mild heart attack) were equally venerable, as were most of the subjects they discussed. Much talk focused on the genre’s greatest hits: the Betty and Barney Hill abduction account (1961), the Lonnie Zamora/Socorro, New Mexico sighting (1973), the Rendlesham Forest incident in the U.K. (1980), and, of course, Roswell, circa 1947.

...It is true that very little beyond a shadow of a doubt forensic proof of alien presence has come to light over the years, but there are a number of subsidiary reasons for the seeming twilight of the UFO moment. With voracious proliferation of vampires, New World Order conspiracies, and the unprecedented rise of evangelical Christianity, the simple flying disc from far, far away has become a quaint, almost nostalgic specter. The saucer may have been the post-war generation’s signifier of the strange, but even versions of the unknown outlive their usefulness.

It's not a new idea - I've read a number of discussions in the past decade that touch on the lack of quality sightings/encounters, and the dearth of honest, idealistic field investigators. What is to blame? The era of affordable CG effects? The proliferation of smart-phones making UFO stories less believable without photographic proof? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Link: The End of UFOs

News Briefs 11-08-2014

NOT the end of the world. Yet.

Thanks to Kat for links

Quote of the Day:

The supermoon is a 16-inch pizza compared with a 15-inch pizza. It's a slightly bigger moon; I ain't using the adjective 'supermoon.'

Neil deGrasse Tyson

New Insights Into Two Australian UFO Mysteries.

Two of Australia's biggest UFO mysteries are in the news this week with new revelations; the 1966 Westall UFO landing, witnessed by hundreds of students and school staff, and the 1978 disappearance of pilot Fred Valentich. Both incidents will also be discussed at the Victorian UFO Action's 'Age of Reason' conference in Melbourne on September 6th. I've got my ticket, but I'm two friends short of making up the Lone Gunmen, so if you're interested in UFOs and honest research, come along.

Age of Reason VUFOA UFO flying saucer Westall Valentich

* * * * * * * * * * * *

WESTALL UFO A WEATHER BALLOON?

Westall UFO Clayton Australia flying saucer

In 1966, over 200 students, teachers, and locals in suburban Melbourne watched a UFO hover above a paddock, land, and take off again at lightning speed. Many of the witnesses were soon visited by military personnel (some wearing American uniforms) requesting they remain silent, nothing to see here, move along. Almost 50 years later, local researcher Keith Basterfield has discovered documents that may suggest the UFO was part of a secret program to monitor radiation fallout from the Maralinga atomic test grounds. Yep, you guessed it, the UFO was a high-altitude weather balloon.

The documents detail the HIBAL program, a joint US-Australian initiative monitoring atmospheric radiation levels using high-altitude balloons between 1960 and 1969. They also detail a runaway balloon, flight 292. “What is strikingly missing is a memo reporting on the actual four launches for April 1966, one of which was scheduled for 5 April 1966, the day before Westall. So we have no knowledge of where flight 292 went.”

I think Keith has a very solid argument, but a few questions remain. The launch location, Mildura, is 540km northwest of Melbourne. This would require certain weather conditions which (to my local knowledge) would be unusual in April. Witnesses describe the UFO landing and then taking off again in a northwesterly direction -- the direction from which the balloon was originally launched.

Another researcher Shane Ryan has been investigating the Westall case for many years, interviewing scores of witnesses, and producing an excellent documentary about the incident. Shane, and many witnesses, aren't quite convinced by Keith's theory. For an interesting discussion, definitely have a read of Keith's blog and the relevant comments.

Prolific Australian UFO researcher Bill Chalker has also been following Keith's work, so definitely bookmark Bill's blog and keep up to date on developments and discussions.

You can also read the original documentation for yourself at Keith's blog.

Keith strikes me as a very open-minded, honest researcher. By his own admission, this explanation is a working hypothesis, with many anomalies still to be explained. But the documents paint an intriguing picture, and it's a theory worth considering no matter how much we want to believe.

Keith Basterfield wrote:
I believe that debates such as this are healthy, and can only strengthen our collective investigation of the phenomenon. Lest anyone wonders otherwise, my take on the UFO phenomenon is that there is a real mystery here, deserving of our serious and careful attention.

To commemorate the 1966 Westall UFO sighting, there is now a UFO-ET themed playground at the site where hundreds of witnesses saw a UFO land and take off. I haven't had a chance to visit the park yet, but when I do the local kids will have to wait their turn while I pretend I'm Ethan Hawke in Explorers.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

NEW TWIST IN THE FRED VALENTICH UFO DISAPPEARANCE.

Cape Otway UFO 1978 Fred Valentich

The above photo is of an unidentified object, taken off Cape Otway 20 minutes before pilot Fred Valentich disappeared during a UFO encounter. Now a Victorian UFO Action group researcher has uncovered new information, a possible sighting by a farmer in South Australia who observed a plane matching Valentich's stuck to the side of a UFO.

The Fred Valentich UFO case is exceptional for the recorded radio transmission between Valentich and air traffic control. Valentich, an experienced pilot, was flying over Bass Strait, south of Melbourne, when he encounted a UFO. Contacting air traffic control, he gave a running commentary of the encounter before he completely disappeared. Neither Valentich or his plane has ever been found.

NASA scientist and UFO researcher Richard F. Haines investigated the Valentich case with the Victorian UFO Society's Paul Norman. They published an exhaustive report, concluding Valentich most likely crashed into the ocean. The UFOs reported by Valentich, and observed and photographed by other witnesses, remain a genuine mystery.

Fred Valentich UFO mystery

News Briefs 08-08-2014

“Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.”

Quote of the Day:

“You saw something you were not supposed to see — something few elements have been aware of, let alone witnessed.”

P.K. Dick

Moonwalking? Strange Silhouette on Lunar Surface Goes Viral


We sure live in interesting times. Advances in the processing power of commercial computers, combined with faster Internet connections and freely available content provided by public institutions, have prompted the emergence of the armchair space researcher: Individuals who are willing to commit all their free time scouring through thousands of images released by Nasa, taken by the satellites surveying the distant surface of Mars, as well as our own pockmarked natural satellite, the Moon.

One such individual, who goes by the handle Jasenko on Youtube, found a rather puzzling anomaly by using Google Moon: Something that resembles a gigantic human silhouette, casting a shadow over the lunar terrain. The image was subsequently posted on a video clip, through the channel of a guy using the alias wowforreeel. As of today, the video has received more than a million views on Youtube.

wowoforreeel included the coordinates one can use in the Google Moon program to find the anomaly --27°34'26.35"N 19°36'4.75"W-- and sure enough, after you type them it will take you to the location of the 'anomaly.'

But the first thing one realizes is that even with the total lack of scale, the distance marked by Google Moon would indicate this 'Man on the Moon' is impossibly large --hence why The Examiner decided to call it a 'Colossus'.

But the search of weird anomalies on the grainy archived photos released by Nasa goes way earlier than Google Moon, though: Ever since George Leonard published the book Somebody Else Is on the Moon in 1976 --which used to be nearly impossible to acquire, but now luckily a new reprinted version is available on Amazon [US] [UK]-- the idea that artificial constructs which could be discarded remnants left behind by some advanced alien expedition (or maybe even by our own human ancestors, following the hypothesis of long lost civilizations that reached a technological level comparable or superior to ours) has captivated the imagination of many UFO enthusiasts.

Through the association of James Sylvan & Richard Hoagland, features known as 'the Shard', 'the Cube' and 'the Castle' were popularized on even a larger scale, just when the world wide web was starting to spread its tendrils across the Earth.

The 'Shard' The 'Cube' The 'Castle'

Unfortunately, Hoagland's more recent work has caused many to wonder whether all the 'anomalies' he keeps finding littering the surface of Mars, are actually the result of Pareidolia & the will to believe...

But another researcher who has been studying lunar phenomena for several decades is Don Ecker, former head of research for UFO magazine, which used to be run by him & his wife Vickie. Back in November of 1995, Don interviewed a man named Vito Sacchari on his long-running radio show UFOs Tonight, and who had a fascinating story to say: Sacchari was a petrochemical engineer, and back in 1979 his employers asked him to act as a chaperone for one of their business clients, a man working for an American firm conducting oil exploration in Venezuela, and take care of him while he was visiting them in Houston.

This man had read Leonard's book, and was very interested in finding out if there was any truth to it, so for the next 3 weeks he & Sacchari tried any trick they could come up with to try to gain access to the original Nasa lunar photos. According to Sacchari, their perseverance paid off, and what they ultimately found was, in every possible sense, out of this world:

Vito: The great majority of what we saw looked like excavation-type or construction activity. Coming from the petrochemical industry, we were familiar with building refineries. In the photos, there were pipelines, pipe fittings, what looked like construction equipment. I can’t say these were comparable to a bulldozer, but it was earth-moving, or moon-moving type of equipment. These things really were huge! The back of the photos had correlating data that would enable you to calculate the sizes of structures in the photos: height, sun angle and so forth. It was simple high school trigonometry to figure it out. But you can’t do that in your head! We didn’t have paper, pencils or calculators. We had to take Leonard’s word for the size of these things. We saw cracks in the lunar surface, like the Grand Canyon, with bridges spanning them, several miles apart. We saw large rectangular structures filling the insides of circular craters, that looked like they were under construction or very ancient. We saw pipelines running over crater rims.

Don Ecker: Were the craters named?

Vito: I believe so, but there were so many of them, and we couldn’t copy them down. I can’t remember from 16 years ago. Believe me, there was no way not to see these things. There were many of what Leonard called “X-drones” in these photos. It reminded us of a circular saw, shaped like an “X.”

You can listen to this amazing interview in its entirety, by clicking here.

So even though the 'lunar giant' image were to be explained away as a digital aberration or some other trivial explanation, that doesn't mean we should close ourselves to the possibility that sometime in the future, future lunar colonists could find an artifact of unknown origin buried under the powdery regolith, just as the Brookings report alerted to Nasa in 1960.

It also remains to be seen if the irruption of private interests in space exploration would allow us to have more cameras pointed at the Moon, along with drones & other forms of robotic telepresence. Maybe it will be Elon Musk --instead of Dr. Heywood Floyd-- the first man to put ever his gloved hands on the slick surface of an alien sentinel.

...Or maybe, just maaaybe, what we discover on the Moon will be far more fabulous than a boring black monolith.

_________________________________
Further Reading:

__________________________________
UPDATE:

Following the suggestions of one of our members, I went back to Google Moon, rotated the image 90° to the right:

I then decided to rotate it another 90°, so now we have completely switched the image upside-down:

From this POV, the 'colossal shadow' looks more like a crack or rift on a side of the mound. The most likely explanation for the anomaly, IMO. Thanks to WriterSP for his input.

Leading Skeptic Brian Dunning Sentenced to 15 Months Prison for Fraud

Brian Dunning

Leading skeptic Brian Dunning, of the popular Skeptoid podcast, has this week been sentenced to 15 months in a Federal prison for defrauding eBay of hundreds of thousands of dollars. His incarceration will begin on September 2.

Dunning has now posted 'a message' about his conviction and sentencing on his website, a move which some skeptics have applauded as taking ownership of his crime, while others aren't as impressed. While I really don't care to get too deep into this affair, I'd have to side with the latter. In particular, unless there are more details I'm not party to, Dunning's description of how he earned his riches (through his company Kessler's Flying Circus, or KFC) seems rather misleading:

[W]e developed a pair of useful widgets: ProfileMaps, that showed a map of visitors to your MySpace page; and WhoLinked, a WordPress plugin that showed who has linked to your blog. These both included an eBay advertisement. Amazingly these both went viral, and through 2006 and 2007 our ads drove enough new customers to eBay US to earn KFC about $5.3 million dollars. Keep in mind that was the company's gross revenue; we had overhead and employees and costs like every other company. I was the second highest paid employee, and I did earn over a million dollars personally over 2006 and 2007 before taxes. [my emphasis]

The original indictment describes the crime, involving 'cookie-stuffing', in a very different way:

[T]he defendant provided free applications at two of his websites that users could download and use on their own websites: "ProfileMaps.info," which showed the physical location of visitors to a MySpace profile, and "WhoLinked.com," which showed who was linking to the user's website or blog. Any visitor to those websites could download either or both applications. Both applications included code that operated as follows: when a user visited a website that had installed the Profilemaps or Wholinked applications, the code would cause the user unknowingly to receive an eBay and/or CJ cooke with KFC's Affiliate ID without the user having clicked on an eBay ad or link, without the user knowing that his or her browser had been re-directed to the eBay and/or CJ affiliate tracking server, and without the user seeing any content of an eBay site. As a result, KFC would be paid if that user subsequently conducted an eBay revenue action within a certain period of time. [my emphasis)

I was also a little...skeptical...about Dunning's final words, in which he says though he regrets "this stain", he will "own it". From what I have seen, apart from this 'message' that some others have linked to on social media, Dunning has assiduously avoided taking ownership...his Twitter feed does not mention his sentencing or link to the message, neither does his Facebook page. There is no link to the message, or mention of his conviction/sentencing, on the front page of his own website. And perhaps worst of all, there seems to be absolutely no mention of it anywhere on the Skeptoid site - a venture which regularly asks for financial donations from listeners (the most recent being an August 1 podcast release titled 'Listeners Have Another Say'). Top left of the site does feature a link to 'Support Skeptoid' though.

In fact, Dunning's done such a good job of 'owning it' that today, while browsing various skeptical websites discussing this topic, I've seen a number of comments posted by Skeptoid supporters who were totally unaware of not only his prison sentence, but the conviction (which was recorded more than a year ago) [Update: an example here].

But it's not really my concern - I leave it to the real skeptics to dissect the case in more detail.

[Update: Skepchick have done a very good job of exactly that in this blog-post - it pretty much touches on everything I was thinking]

Related:

News Briefs 07-08-2014

Only 2 months left!

  • Prion Pee-on: New urine test could determine if you're going to turn into a human mad cow.
  • Romancing the (cold) stone: ESA's Rosetta becomes the 1st human spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson has had it with your Monsanto fear-mongering!
  • After several memorable cameos, Stephen Hawking is finally having his own movie --and it has Oscar written all over it.
  • Mike Clelland: If you've seen a UFO up close, there's a chance you are an abductee --and my 2 cents on the matter.
  • Robotic exoskeleton gives Korean workers super-strength. Now in case of an alien queen attack, they can all do a proper Gangnam-style fight.
  • Giant spiders: Monstrous myth or terrifying truth?
  • What's next for the Newkirk couple after visiting the lair of Mothman? Why visiting a secret Nazi compound in California!
  • Last week I said adiós to my long-running Red Pills of the Week on Mysterious Universe, so I decided to go out with a bang.
  • The 'retirement' didn't last long though: Here's my essay on the weird connections between Alien close encounters, Celtic traditions, Mayan legends &... salt?
  • You wanna cry about something worthier than the Red Pills? Studio Ghibli is shutting down!! :'(
  • Just act natural: Video of a bear walking on two legs is Sasquatchly freaky.
  • Attention, conspiracy theorists! The Warren Commission report on JFK assassination has been digitized, and is available online
  • Grimerican blogger Fortean Mind, on the 'Science' of Myth building.
  • Tangentially Speaking: Chris Ryan talks to Ethnobotanist extraordinaire Dennis McKenna.
  • Red Pill of the Day: The downside of inviting Dr. Ian Malcolm to your wedding.

Quote of the Day:

"Psychologists have hitherto failed to realize that imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself."

~Immanuel Kant