Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Part II: Advancement of Technology

"Technology has advanced so quickly that it's just a matter of time until the truth of ghosts are unveiled."

Not my words folks and that's why they're in quotes. I agree that technology has advanced in the field of paranormal investigation even since I have been a part of it, but does that mean we are really closer to finding answers? Some seem to think so, but personally I think it actually has set us back a bit.

In my last blog in this series, "The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Part I: The Basics of the Scientfic Approach", I discussed the scientific process and how it ties in to our field. While technology plays a part it's not the headliner that many make it out to be, it's merely the supporting cast to a symphony of processes, procedures, and documentation. The technology can certainly add to the data collected as well as make up for our interpretation of events, but it can still get in the way or make our data give us the results we are looking for. I don't want to beat a dead horse in this blog, rather I am going to discuss the advancements in technology that could potentially lead us to the opening quote.

You might be surprised to learn that pagers are still in use by many emergency personnel as well as Information Technology (IT) professionals. Don't remember pagers? Well, my first "Emergency Contact" number used for my paranormal group was for my pager. I was the last in my family to get a cell phone and I am now on my fifth phone in I don't know how many years. Even when cell phones were becoming mainstream we never dreamed they would be taking several minutes of video, connecting to the internet with ease, providing GPS data, PowerPoint presentations or all of the other things that come standard on many phones today.

The biggest advancement over the years with cell phones has been the camera phone. This of course, follows on the heels of the advancement of digital cameras which are taken for granted in this day and age. When I first began in this field I had to buy film for my 35MM camera as well as pay to have it developed. A typical roll of film held 27 exposures (I use to take as many as 30). If you knew how to handle the photo business you only had to pay for what you wanted, and you were sure to tell the technician to develop all of the pictures regardless of their appearance. Of course there was also the Polaroid camera that took instant photos that was the rage for quite a while in the paranormal field and it saved you a trip to the photomat.

What a hassle, that's all I have to say about film cameras. It wasn't so much the cost, it was all of the hassle about buying the film, keeping it out of the sun, away from static, loading it in darkness, taking it to get processed and sometimes having to go back to pick it up. While it did cost a lot to buy and process film, digital cameras balance out that cost, but have less of the hassle. Although, when digital cameras made their splash with the paranormal field so did a little problem now known as "orbs". This phenomenon is not new nor was it coined by some "Dr." who cruises around on subscriber's money in a Winnebago. Orbs have been around since the film camera days as mentioned in many magazines and books about photography printed in the 1960s and 70s that I have read (I was a big camera fan as a kid).

The field I call "Orbology" came into study when digital cameras made their way into our field. The big problem in the early days was pixelization. Basically, the camera was adding pixels to the picture due to the limitations of the technology at the time. So what's the cause now? One word: Flash. The camera technology has gotten better and with better comes compact. When the cameras got better they started getting smaller and when they got smaller the flash moved to over top of the lens. The flash can reflect off of close proximity dust or airborne debris right into the lens thus creating orbs. We see the orb as being in the picture, hey; the cat is looking at it! In reality its 0-4 inches from the lens of the camera and thus won't be seen by the naked eye.

Another double-edged sword that came with digital cameras was the technology to alter the images taken by them. When a picture was taken with 35MM there were only so many ways the photo could be faked and if the negative was provided as evidence it would narrow down the possibilities to chemicals and static electricity. Digital manipulation has rendered photography and video nearly useless for paranormal investigation as well as use in other anomalous fields (UFO and Cryptozoology) since even children can create photos and videos that can take even a little work to uncover manipulation. How can you prove a photo has not been tampered with? Well, EXIF information in photographs is a start, but how can you do the same with video?

Along with cameras, the other recording media that has advanced from magnetic recording to digital is audio recorders. My first recorder I used in paranormal investigation used a regular sized tape cassette and was "portable", meaning you could clip it to your belt or carry it around as it certainly would not fit in your pocket. The big "rule" about using cassette tapes was to use fresh ones and only record on one side to prevent bleed-through. Well, I used both sides and would use the same tapes over, but only on recording the interview. I used to buy TDK D90 tapes in a ten pack about once a week back then (can't remember how much they cost, more than likely about $15). Even with an external microphone you would still get a lot of hiss and the occasional squeaky wheel (I learned how to lubricate the parts and even pad certain parts to keep the "machine" noise to a minimum). I eventually bought a micro-cassette recorder which I still use to this day, still expensive to buy tapes and a real blast to review.

Now we can walk into a department store and buy a digital recorder with a USB plug and can upload our files with ease to the computer. Prices on the digital recorders have fallen sharply and the expensive models carry a huge amount of space. Again, the big problem with technology is the ability to create fake results or to over analyze files to come up with results you desire. Technology works against us
once again.

Now that the camera and recorder bubbles have been burst, we look at the other technology that we use in investigations. What about EMF detectors? My first detector was a Trifield Meter that I paid $250 for. It was worth every penny when I met someone in the field that would "oooh" and "ahhhh" over it, but it met its demise with an unhealthy trip down a flight of stairs at an abandoned TB hospital. I didn't drop it, but I can't swear it was helped by paranormal forces. Anyway, a quick search on the internet and I can find a new one for $130. We know that EMF detectors are not ghost detectors (despite some of the names given to some of them) and are not designed for our field. That is until Pro Measure introduced the MEL-8704, designed for paranormal investigators by paranormal investigators, hit the market. It has not taken long for this meter to begin to morph from suggestions given by its users; this is good advancement for our field as long as it is used correctly!

(The new Mel 8704 Hybrid with KII built right in)

Better technology and dropping prices have put many new meters in the hands of those who have little idea what the measurements mean or how the meter is affected, but it's not the technology's fault. The once $20,000 thermal imaging cameras are now only a couple grand each and getting cheaper every few months. Handheld weather devices are now inexpensive to carry. I use my cell phone to gather local data periodically to update our investigation forms, but having the data that is occurring in the room is essential to tie this data to the investigation. New technology is being developed for other purposes and beginning to become affordable.

The thing to keep in mind, again, is to remember the limitations of these instruments and use them as references, not answers. The key to using these scientific tools is to use them scientifically. Meaning, documentation of everything you do is essential if you are going to post your data and posting this data is the last big step in your work.

In order for these tools to assist us in moving forward we have to move forward as gatherers of information. Groups need to learn how to gather the data to support the use of these tools correctly. Random videos of orbs and shadows will never provide any proof beyond personal proof. In order for documentation to have weight it needs data and data needs documentation. No one likes filling out paperwork, but if we are to move forward as a field of science, we need to act like a science first.

Coming soon: Part III in this series of the Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation will offer a closer look into where I left off in part I with the scientific method and how the tools play their part.

Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Ohio Paranormal Convention

How do you get Bigfoot, Grassman, Mars, a list of authors and paranormal investigators (and an archeologist) into one room? You book a room at the Hara Arena in Dayton.

August 14th kicked off the Ohio Paranormal Convention with a pair of bands (The Goody Two Shoes and Lonesome Tumblers) that rocked the house (and made things a bit hard to hear in the vendor area), lesson learned. It would have been hard to realize, unless they told you, that this was Southern Ohio Paranormal Research's first attempt at a convention. The show was balanced with cryptozoology, UFO discussion and not to mention a whole lot of ghost stuff as well. It had prize drawings, psychic readings, psychic healing, famous faces, and a great audience.

Where was I on this night? Um, driving toward it. I got into town on Friday night to find out that the Hotel I booked back in September of last year had changed ownership (pays to confirm reservations folks). It would have paid if I had booked at the official hotel as well (although Keith Age and some of the other rowdy folks would certainly have kept us awake) but I saved a tiny amount of dough and picked one a bit closer to the venue. Why am I telling you all of this? On to the show...

I had seen Hara Arena in pictures and amazingly, it looked the same in person. I was aware there was a gun and knife show going on at the same time and this proved to be good research. It looked as though there was a report that a Bigfoot was seen in the woods nearby with as many *place-your-southern-person-nickname-here* toting guns filing in to the main area of the arena. It was actually a bit unsettling, but as long as you don't make eye contact or attempt to read their belt buckles you are sure to be fine. One side note to this; When we walked into the conference area there was a sticker on the window "No Firearms Permitted Inside".

My wife and I made our way around the various vendors who were still setting up their goods and began to meet some of the other speakers at the event. I made my way to Joedy Cook's table (Ohio Center for Bigfoot Studies, out of Cincinnati), who was a late addition to the convention and would be speaking on his personal experiences and investigations of Bigfoot. I had thought I was the only Cryptozoology speaker on the bill until late July, but I saw his name pop up on the convention website and began to sweat. I E-mailed him and introduced myself. I was a bit apprehensive when he mailed me back and said to give him a call, I mean, this guy was on Monsterquest for crying out loud. He was laid back and was glad I was going to be there. It turned out to be a good thing there was two of us covering the cryptid angle and it was definitely great to have Joedy there, especially to meet and talk with him and I can definitely say he's a class act who knows his stuff. (Joedy, his decoy and that's me on the right)

I also made my way across the way to say hello to John Kachuba, author of "Ghosthunting Ohio" and many other various books dealing with his personal ghost investigations. I had met him a year ago during one of his library tours and wanted to thank him personally for including my group's name (Ohio Paranormal Investigation Network) in his book, "Ghosthunting Ohio". I was amazed to find that he has uncovered some startling evidence about ghosts, he's actually captured some real ghost poo. You have to see it to believe it. He's another class act and he brings a great blend of healthy skepticism and journalism to his unique approach to covering this field. Never read his books? Shame on you, I recommend his books since he provides a ghost story with some back history while telling the tale through his eyes as he investigates.

We had a late start on Saturday morning as guests were a bit slow to arrive (hey, it's 9 in the morning on Saturday!), but John Kachuba starting things off before 11 with his breakdown of various Ohio haunts that he has investigated over the years. If you like his books you'll love hearing him talk about his experiences, a true professional public speaker.

Next up was Bill Scott who shared some of his knowledge as well as some clips from his upcoming documentary, "Haunted Kentucky: Spirits of the Bluegrass". Keith Age followed with some very interesting pictures of various investigations including many from Waverly Hills. I've seen hundreds of pictures this year sent to me, on the web or ones of my own that were odd, but some of his were downright mingboggling. He announced that there was a sequel coming to "Children of the Grave" coming soon. He's another great personality and down to earth guy who loves to dish out crap to everyone while taking his own beating in return (he fell asleep during Bob Hunnicutt's presentation and was awaken by laughter as his expense).

Sean Feeney , of the Anomaly Response Network, discussed the code of ethics (or lack of) in the paranormal investigation field. He's a well-rounded investigator having knowledge with UFOs, cryptids and ghosts and worked with the legendary Kenny Young. He talked a lot about the missing approach of true science in our field, I looked forward to his speech since I saw it on the convention website and I was not disappointed.

Rie Sadler came all the way from Maryland to share with us some of the haunts of the tiny state known for little other than being the home of the Baltimore Orioles, Ravens and some guy named Edgar (Allan Poe, that is). Some interesting stories were shared about various places formerly owned by famous people (including the home of Poe as well as the bar he is said to haunt).

Bob Hunnicutt reviewed plenty of impressive photographs from his investigations of various locations (Gaither Plantation and Waverly Hills). He also demonstrated ways to evaluate supposed paranormal photos. Again, another great guy who definitely knows his craft. (Below: Bob talks to the crowd during our panel session while I look on)

Then came James A. Willis. Nothing can really prepare you for James. He's weird, and proud of it. He is typically full of energy, but today he came armed with a can of liquid dynamite (one of those ginormous cans of energy drink). During his presentation he was running around so much he had to stop himself and stated if he continued he'd be out in the hallway talking to himself. Probably the best speaker of the weekend with his high energy, comedic presentation and mixed content with paranormal and zany all rolled into one (like the giant marble ball on a headstone that moves by itself or like the world's largest ball of paint, great stories, ask him). James is the co-author of "Weird Ohio" and the founder of the Ghosts of Ohio (click his name, visit his group!). (There was an incident -see photo at right- that happened in the back of booth city near where Willis was set up, he claims no responsibility but the rumors were flying)

Sunday morning came and we got to sleep in an extra hour! 10 A.M. was the start time and it wasn't long until the crowd rolled in. Joedy Cook opened the day with his in-depth look at the Bigfoot phenomena with many photos of purported nests, a look at the Gigantopithecus theory (which he disagrees with and I agree with him), possible pictures of Bigfoot himself, as well as some personal encounters including his first one in Michigan where he was only a few feet away from this legendary creature (and he could have let others shoot it, but chose to protect it, great story and one I'm sure he doesn't regret). He ended by reinforcing that despite reports that the eastern Bigfoot is more aggressive than the western one, they still seem to show compassion toward children and the elderly.

Beth Brown, a battlefield ghost hunter, shared with us a great story as well as a video of a ghost investigation into a battlefield at night as well as shared some EVPs she has collected. Next up was actor/archaeologist/cultural anthropologist John Sabol. John's an intense guy and came across like a professor (well, that's because he was one). He provided his interesting way of "unearthing" ghosts instead of the typical way of waiting (and hoping) one decides to visit. He states that he "participates" in general activity that potential ghosts of that time period and location would have while others observe and record. When progress is made he "performs" for the ghost using specific information and cultural specifics that would make the ghost associate with him (he might act like he's someone the ghost might have known). He claims his encounter rate is much higher than with typical ghost hunting approach (which makes sense since it's part of how Parapsychologists approach spontaneous case investigations). Interesting theory that deserves a closer look by groups. (Above: John Sabol speaks to a guest from his table)

Earl Benezet, former Kentucky Director for MUFON (now the Director for Kentucky UFO Reporting Center) shared some very interesting photographs of the moon as well as Mars. He also shared some interesting theories about what is up there and what some of us know about it.

The last speaker on the list was Brian D. Parsons. A ghost guy for 13 years he came to the show to talk about basic cryptozoology. OK, I can't talk about myself in the 3rd person. Originally I received an invite to come to the event, but I replied asking if I could speak. They were looking for a cryptid guy and I instantly said yes. I discussed the basic definition of cryptozoology and why it is considered "paranormal" when it really isn't. I went over basic history of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and former cryptids. I also briefly touched upon some of the recent stories in the cryptid world as well as investigation basics.

The last part of the event (other than giving out the grand prize of the 4 channel DVR to none other than....Keith age! Who only put in 1 ticket!) was a panel discussion focusing on the crowd's prior experiences with ghosts or to answer questions. The panel consisted of myself, John kachuba, James Willis, Bob Hunnicutt, and Brian Klein (the host and another guy who definitely knows his stuff). We each shared one of our personal stories from our investigations and then fielded a couple of questions from the crowd.
(Above: Brian Klein leads the panel discussion, missing from the photo is Bob Hunnicutt who is at the far left out of frame)
All in all, I would say that everyone had a good time there from the speakers to those in the audience. I am definitely looking forward to next year...