Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Skeptical at Work: Orbs

[ the "Skeptical at Work" concept was stolen from created by the awesome Skeptigirl blog. This edition's subject is an easy target, but maybe it'll be the start of something continuing. ]

So, among other things, my place of employment hosts some extensive convention space. Since booking was WAY down due to the economy, the suits took the opportunity to do some significant renovation.

Walls are coming down. Ceilings are gone, construction materials are EVERYWHERE. Everything is dirty.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk when two of my coworkers, "Tyler" and "Jane," were freaking out about something: "Oh my god! That's so creepy!" (and so forth.)

It turns out Tyler had been going aorund taking pictures of the carnage wrought upon the meeting space with his new camera, and was shocked to discover that the pictures he'd just taken were filled with ghost orbs!

Immediately, my skeptical ears rose up as I overheard the conversation:

Tyler: "You know they're real because they're in a different position in every shot." (Presumably, this was to explain that they weren't due to something on the lens.)

Jane: "Look at this one! He's in ALL of them!"

Tyler: "I'm creeped out now. I didn't know this place was haunted."

HE? We're already assigning gender to these spots of light? Haunted? Because of some spots on his photos? Time for me to put on my skeptic's hat.

So, what are orbs? What are some reasonable explanations for seeing them in photos taken of a darkened room filled with construction debris?

Ghost orbs or spirit orbs, for those unfamiliar with them, are light spots showing up on photographs of varying size, color and intensity.

What causes them?

For a hint at the answer, check out the many, many orbs captured in this photo taken at my New Year's Eve party immediately after midnight, January 1 of this year:
multi-color ghost orbsThe conditions of this photo were not unlike those in the event space where Tyler found the orbs: it was dark (just blacklight and disco ball, baby), so the camera's flash was on... And there was a lot of debris in the air. In this case, festive, multicolor debris that I'm still vacuuming up to this day.

The International Ghost Hunters Society , who claims to have coined the term in 1994 (probably true, just covering my bases), says spirit orbs "[represent] the soul of a departed person... the essence of who they were in life, complete with their intelligence, their emotions and their personality."

Here's an image from the IGHS claimed to be a "spirit orb":

Here's the interesting bit... Interesting to me, anyway... The IGHS site acknowledges that all orbs are not ghosts or spirits, and that many (some, like myslef, would say "all") are reflections of light from (or occasionally refraction through) dust particles, typically from the camera's flash. The following image, from the same page as that above, is claimed by the IGHS as the result of NON-ghostly dust particles:

These "dust orbs" look nearly identical to the "spirit orbs" above, and yet one is claimed to be a supernatural manifestation of a spirit. In the second image, there are several "orbs," so there was likely a lot of dust or debris in the air... but other than that, what?

In the end, that's all ghost orbs are: Dust. Nearby crap hanging in the air that happens to shoot the flash's light back at the lens. Since the lens is not focused on them, their image is blurry, thus an "orb."

Want to capture some orbs yourself? Go out at night. Take some pictures with the flash on. Maybe you'll get something, maybe not. Try kicking some dirt up at your feet. Now? Great. Now turn your flash off. Go through the same steps. Find any orbs? Nope, didn't think so.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fox News: Star Trek may literally be a gift from God

Taking a short break from dandelion murder, and what do I find? io9 has a link to a story at Fox News asking if the new Star Trek film is a gift from God.

This article would be HILARIOUS, had it been in the Onion... But it's meant with 110% earnestness:
The signs are everywhere, folks. And I believe that “Star Trek,” and similar shows, are some of these signs.
Signs of what, you ask? Oh, of the coming nuclear holocaust between Iran and Israel.

I still laugh at Fox News' "fair and balanced" slogan, which appears at the top of this story, which proceeds to assert that the Bible is literally true, that all creative enterprises come directly from Yahweh, and that we need to assist Israel in developing a photon torpedo program. And I swear to god, that last item is meant literally. No tongue, no cheek:
Would Israel be safer if it could shoot down enemy missiles and rockets with such photon torpedoes, or block them altogether with a force field? Of course it would.
Now, like everyone and their dog, I loved the new Star Trek movie. My inner nerd is experiencing a renaissance, and I've even let him off his leash a little bit to get out and get some fresh air... but seriously?

It's truly a surreal article. It starts out with it's question (Is Star Trek a gift from God?), and immediately answers it (Yes it is). Then it goes off on a bizarre rant about how we need to build a mile-high fence around Israel to keep out all of the brown people (a sentiment, it should be noted, that is pretty much antithetical to Trek's vision) and invest $100 billion into missile defense because ZOMG IRAN MAY GET TEH NUKES IN A COUPLE DECADES!

I'm pretty confident that pacificistic lefty Gene Roddenberry has been rolling over in his grave at about 165 RPM since the moment this sentence was committed to a computer screen:
What we need today are leaders who have the vision to see a film such as “Star Trek,” and say, “Why not? Why not have such weapons and protections, as soon as possible? Let’s do what it takes to make it so.”
(Actually, I think Roddenberry's ashes were shot into space, so I'm not sure he's capable of rolling over like that... I digress.)

To be honest, it seems to me that this article was likely written before all of the Star Trek hullabaloo, and merely recommended that we, you know, follow God's commands and built a freaking 1-mile high wall around Israel. Then, later, the author (or an editor) decided that more people would read it if it had Star Trek in it... So in went a couple references to phasers and tricorders, and BAM! Instant success, as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing about it now.

But STILL. Sheesh.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


So, I haven't been doing the whole blogging thing very successfully lately. Me reasons are threefold:

1) Work work work. Phew! I've In the last three weeks, I've had two week-long trips. And it looks like I may be off to Omaha next week. Sigh...

2) Horrible, awful, terrible people in my house that wouldn't leave. (Note: they are FINNALLY out of my house. And now I'm still dealing with the aftermath... Just discovered a new issue tonight that makes me FURIOUS. For those of who who haven't already heard the story, I'll have to share it soon.)

3) Twitter. Yep. I've become one of THOSE people. 140-character posts are a LOT less effort than a proper and thorough screed. But good god, Twitter can be a weird place. Yesterday, while Wil Wheaton was discussing the finer points of genital euphemisms, Trent Reznor was asking for romantic comedy recommendations. Also, today, my love for Colin Meloy, already one of my favorite musicians (seriously, I've been listening to the Hazards of Love in its entirety, over and over again more or less nonstop since it came out a month ago) grew even stronger when he declared on Twitter that "Jenny McCarthy is a crackpot." Which, of course she is...

On the topic of Jenny McCarthy, the news that she's just been given her own TV talk show to hawk her anti-science, anti-health, anti-rational nonsense is beyond disheartening.


Now I'm depressed. And so are you... So to cheer you up, here's what is perhaps the most entertainingly disturbing family portrait ever taken (possibly NSFW).