Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments

There is a popular book out now, called something like "The Dangerous Book for Boys". The title appealed to me, so I was planning to buy it. But when I got a chance to flip through its pages, I decided it probably didn't live up to its billing.

Now this book is a different story. I actually remember it from when I was a kid, although I had forgotten about it. One of the best basic chemistry textbooks in that it has a hands-on approach and doesn't skirt around stuff some would prefer we (and especially children) didn't know how to do, only 126 copies exist in libraries worldwide because the knowledge contained herein has been deemed "too dangerous for public consumption". Enjoy.

the golden book of chemistry experiments -robert brent

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Places to Visit: Skinwalker Ranch

Skinwalker Ranch
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Skinwalker Ranch
Grouping: General
Country: United States
Region: Uintah County, Utah
Terrain: High desert
Owner: NIDS
Status: Active

Skinwalker Ranch is a ranch reputedly located in the Uintah Basin of Utah; it is allegedly the site of a series of paranormal activities.

A precise site has never been publicly confirmed (coordinates from WikiMapia site the ranch at 40°15'31"N 109°53'16"W), but the ranch is supposed to cover 480 acres (1.9 km2) relatively near to the Utah cities of Roosevelt and Vernal.[1] Its name comes from the "Skinwalker", a supernatural being in Ute folklore.

Tom Gorman (a pseudonym) and his wife, sometimes called Terry and Gwen Sherman, bought the ranch from absent owners in the autumn of 1994, with the intention of raising cattle.[2] After reputedly experiencing what they believed to be paranormal activity, and citing personal stress, the family tried to sell the ranch in 1996. The Deseret News ran a front page article of the alleged phenomena shortly afterward.

The National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDSci), which funds study of the paranormal, purchased the ranch for $200,000.[3] The ranch featured in the media again in 2002 when NIDSci gave Las Vegas Mercury reporter George Knapp access to the ranch. Knapp wrote a two-part article, which was published in the now-defunct alternative newsweekly Las Vegas Mercury in November 2002.[2]

Hunt for the Skinwalker, a detailed book about the ranch and the NIDSci investigation which was co-written by NIDSci researcher Colm Kelleher and Knapp was published in December 2005. The authors insisted that standard scientific protocols were followed in the investigation at the ranch, and that scientists and researchers witnessed bizarre phenomena, but there has been no independent verification of those claims.[1]

A Utah talk radio host, Steven Rinehart, claimed in December 2006 on the air to have visited the ranch.[4] He subsequently posted photographs of the ranch and directions to it online (and a Google Earth link), along with purportedly unidentified footprints he found in snow near the ranch. According to Rinehart, each print was about 17 inches (0.4 m) long, and appeared to have been made by a large, bipedal creature.[5] Someone more familiar with the outdoors might, however, after viewing the photo in the referenced document, identify them as rabbit tracks.

Reported activity

Activity frequency

Activity at Skinwalker Ranch in Utah proved sporadic from the late 1990s onwards, with periods of high activity offset by periods of dormancy[6]. Many of the more unusual phenomena were transient, sometimes happening only once, or often reported as just occurring for a couple of weeks and then disappearing forever, making it difficult for investigators to get results or draw firm conclusions.

The exact pattern of activity on the ranch has proved difficult to identify during this timespan, due to the secrecy and inactivity of NIDS. However, in February 2006 George Knapp declared on the Coast to Coast AM radio show that the strange phenomena had started up again. He also stated that security measures were being used to guard the premises, and that anyone trespassing would be prosecuted.

Types of activity

A wide variety of paranormal activities have allegedly been encountered at the ranch. Unusual or unidentified aircraft, balls of light, poltergeist activity, cattle mutilation, and strange creatures have been reported [1]. Chapter 14 in Kelleher and Knapp's book "Hunt for the Skinwalker" asserts that after numerous interviews with neighbors to the Gorman ranch, many spoke of unusual experiences to NIDS researchers (one, identified as "Mr. Gonsalez" alleged that he had unusual experiences with cattle disappearances). They also claim local Ute Indians have a history of encounters with unusual objects and creatures [7]. Since the real names of these people are not revealed, these claims cannot be independently verified.
Unidentified vehicles

A refrigerator-shaped object about the size of an RV with a white light at the front and a red light at the back was reported by the Gorman family prior to NIDS' arrival. The vehicle allegedly retreated from Gorman and his nephew as they approached it. It then floated up into the clear sky and flew away.[2] The vehicle bore a limited resemblance to a Chupa, a type of UFO reported in Brazil.

A black triangular object resembling an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter was also allegedly witnessed by Mrs. Gorman. The vehicle hovered about twenty feet above her parked car before it vanished.[2]

Known by locals as "ghost lights", the Gormans claimed that they could also move towards people as if to play a game of "chicken"[1].

Orbs and floating lights

Glowing orbs of various colors, particularly orange and blue, were allegedly seen on the property. They were described as ranging from basketball- to baseball-sized, and some contained what appeared to be swirling liquid. These objects were allegedly capable of affecting electrical items, particularly lights merely by their presence, and of melting animals, such as dogs.[2] This was possibly due to extreme heat or radiation that might have emanated from the orbs.

Another phenomena observed by the Gormans were large orange circles that floated in the sky and occasionally expelled orbs and unidentified beings. Mr. Gorman claimed blue sky was visible through one such circle he witnessed at night.[6]

Cattle mutilations and strange creatures

The Gormans allegedly witnessed numerous cattle mutilations on the ranch during their stay.[2] Some common traits of these included:

* One ear being cut off
* Excision of the cattle's genitals
* The rectum being 'cored out' of the cattle
* Exsanguination, some instances of which took place very quickly (twenty minutes, on one occasion)[citation needed]

Numerous encounters with unidentified or strangely behaving creatures allegedly occurred on the ranch. In some tales, the creatures were reminiscent of dogs or hyenas. The first unusual encounter the Gormans had on the ranch involved what appeared to be a very large wolf on one of their first days after moving to the ranch. The animal was not aggressive towards the family, but when it attempted to capture a calf, Mr. Gorman shot at the creature. The shots had no noticeable effect and the creature eventually left the homestead. Gorman later found a hunk of flesh from the animal that smelled of burning sulfur or rotten meat.[2]

Other creatures, including what appeared to be Bigfoot and an unknown, semi-transparent entity, were also said to have been encountered on the property.[2]

Exotic, multicolored birds were also reported on the ranch[2], although such instances could be explained by the wide variety of rare and exotic bird species that are seen in Utah[8].

Poltergeist activity

Trickster or poltergeist-like activity was reported both inside the Gormans' home and on their property.[2] Claims included doors opening and slamming shut, salt and pepper being switched, and objects disappearing and reappearing later in strange places. One story told of four large bulls that had disappeared from a pasture found later in a cramped cattle trailer, seemingly entranced.[9] The Gormans also reported on instances of what sounded like heavy machinery being moved beneath the ranch, and unintelligible voices emanating from the sky[9].

Terrain alterations and unusual landmarks

Other strange phenomena involving dirt, grass, and ice allegedly occurred on the property. These included several hundred pounds of soil being mysteriously removed from the ground, crop circles appearing in long grass on the property and an ice disc found in an irrigation channel. There are also 3 "bait pens" located on the property. These pens were errected to both protect the observer and to offer him or her a visual advantage while observing the property. Typically a young calf was staked to the ground next one of these pens.[2].

Explanations and criticisms

The apparently paranormal activity reported on Skinwalker Ranch has led some individuals and groups to seek viable explanations. Others have countered with criticisms of the claims and the claimants.

Proposed explanations

A range of broad explanations has been put forward to explain the strange phenomena at the ranch.

NIDS considered hallucination or delusion as an explanation for the supposed events; Knapp and Kelleher argued this was a plausible explanation for some of the events witnessed and reported on the ranch, but that it failed to explain all of the phenomena.[1]

An explanation which has gained support in some circles states that the ranch being a U.S. military testing area for advanced technology, or falling within a broader testing area, could explain many of the things witnessed there. However, as noted by Knapp and Kelleher, this explanation does not fully explain all the phenomena reported from ranch, and is furthermore unconfirmed.[1]

Some Utes who live in the region believe the phenomena are related to a Navajo curse. Their folklore tells that the Navajo sent Skinwalkers to punish the Ute. The ranch is off limits to the Ute as they are reported to say, "The ranch is in the path of the Skinwalker."[2] Junior Hicks, a retired schoolteacher and local researcher living in the Uinta region, claims contacts amongst the Ute have told him that the Skinwalker lives in Dark Canyon, beyond the ranch, within a cave decorated with centuries-old petroglyph depicting Skinwalkers[citation needed].

Another general explanation is the intrusion of alternate realities, parallel universes, higher dimensions, or rips in spacetime, which may be connected with the orange portal. Both the Apache and the Hopi have folk traditions which might be interpreted as depicting travel between different dimensions.[1] This explanation might explain the diverse array of phenomena encountered at the ranch, but is problematic given the current lack of understanding about time travel and quantum physics.

A somewhat similar explanation revolves around the concept that our understanding of reality is fundamentally flawed. This may be explained by Michael Talbot's ideas that we live in a "holographic universe". Equally, it could be explained by the simulation argument, as put forward by philosophers like Nick Bostrom, which posits that we are living within a very convincing computer program, as popularized by the The Matrix movie trilogy. As noted by Knapp and Kelleher[1], these ideas are undermined by a lack of solid physical evidence.

Unique geology which ties in the concept of Earthlights[10], also known as ghost lights, has also been mentioned to explain the broad phenomena reported on the ranch. The fact that the Uintah Basin is the only known major concentration of Gilsonite (also known as uintahite or uintaite) may or may not have some bearing on this. However, a lack of evidence and the scope of the phenomena weaken such an explanation.


Critics of NIDS and the Skinwalker Ranch stories claim that the activity reported at the ranch is problematic for a number of reasons.

* The wide variety of phenomena, and their sporadic appearances, make falsifiable and even quantifiable scientific investigations extremely difficult.[1]
* Since 1996, the land has belonged to NIDS, a secretive and, by some accounts, inactive organization[11] that rarely lets outside groups investigate the ranch's alleged phenomena or verify their findings.
* Paranormal groups and reporters both have a vested interest in sensationalizing and exaggerating the claims, as a means of raising money and/or increasing publication sales. The reporting of George Knapp can be seen as an example of this.[2]
* NIDS has reported that the paranormal activity has taken a steady nosedive since 2005[12]. This development, combined with NIDS becoming inactive for other reasons has resulted in the Skinwalker Ranch investigation being put on hiatus, and brings into question the veracity of the alleged phenomena in general.
* The accounts by the Gorman family were largely anecdotal, and NIDS investigators were not able to collect enough noteworthy evidence on the ranch to change the minds of skeptical critics.[13]

Similar sites

Skinwalker Ranch is unusual thanks to the broad range of the reported phenomena. But there are other paranormal hotspots containing a wide variety of paranormal phenomena, although researchers and investigators often focus on UFO activity.

Specific locations (United States)

* Dulce, New Mexico. NIDS established a presence in the area in 1998 and 1999, based at Mount Archuleta, and interviews with local residents, especially the Jicarilla Apache, revealed large numbers of similar reports (UFOs, Bigfoot, cattle mutilation, etc.).[1]

* The Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington, an area of increased alleged UFO activity. One family reported voices (some being telepathic), strange noises, poltergeist activity, "shadow men", flying balls of light, flying vehicles and disappearing people.[14]

* Elbert County, Colorado, where one family encountered strange aircraft, numerous Bigfoot sightings, cattle mutilations, mysterious voices and encounters with humanoids and flying vehicles as well as a strange small box which "stole a tree".[15]

* San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado, where local journalist Chris O’Brien has charted a wide range of unusual phenomena and describes the area as a "paranormal Disneyland" [16].

* Sedona, Arizona, which, as well as its famous vortex and New Age beliefs, has one ranch, belonging to the Bradshaw family, that has reported similar events including strange lights, Sasquatches, cattle and dog mutilation, alleged encounters with "greys" and a portal through which they could see another world.[17]

* Bridgewater Triangle in southeastern Massachusetts and notably the Hockomock Swamp of which the name translates to "Place Where Spirits Dwell." Since colonial times the area has been a site of alleged paranormal phenomenon, ranging from UFO and "black helicopter" sightings (including many with multiple points of corroboration including police and a local news anchorman), to poltergeists to orbs, balls of fire and other spectral phenomena, always a various "bigfoot" sightings, giant snakes, and 'thunderbird' giant birds, as well as the mutilation of cattle and other livestock. Near by is the Dighton Rock the source of great controversy concerning possible pre-Columbian visitors ranging from Vikings, to Portuguese to Phoenicians. Similar to other sites the described, the area was the site of some of history's bloodiest battles involving Native Americans. The reported activity directly parallels that described in "The Hunt for the Skinwalker" yet has occurred over the course of many decades.

Common characteristics

It is worth noting that these similar locations share some of the following characteristics with Skinwalker Ranch:

* They are situated in rural areas
* The annual income of a large majority of nearby residents is lower than the national average[citation needed]
* There are military bases relatively close by
* Many areas have a strong local Native American and UFO theorist presence

The connection between Skinwalker Ranch, these other similar locations and Native Americans is of particular significance. Several hotspots hosting similar alleged phenomena to those reported at Skinwalker Ranch are connected in some way to the Ute.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Colony Experiment

Almost a month ago, Discovery channel debuted a new reality show called "The Colony", a post-apocalyptic exercise based on the premise of a handful of survivors of a viral pandemic banding together in Los Angeles and attempting to work together to survive in their new reality.
Time Magazine reviewed the show, saying in part: "Of course, The Colony can't really reproduce the strain of surviving the end of the world. Its subjects haven't actually seen most of their loved ones die; they know they will return to a functioning society; we know (and a title card reminds us at the end) that experts are standing by to help them if they meet any actual danger. Still, the show is loaded with interviews with psychologists and homeland-security experts to remind us of the theoretical stakes." And they're right. However, the show does contain some useful information.

Actually, I had not even watched the show until tonight. In fact, I only heard about it for the first time a few days ago on an online forum, where some folks were discussing the fact that the team members built a generator using a small engine and an automotive alternator (something longtime readers know I am quite familiar with), and had to switch to a smaller pulley on the engine, from the 8 inch or so pulley they started out with, in order to get enough power to charge their battery bank. The commenters on the forum agreed that this was backwards from their understanding of how it should work.
This piqued my interest, so tonight when I noticed that Discovery was running a marathon session of the show, I sat down and watched a few hours of it. So here are my comments.

First of all, the forum members are correct in that a larger pulley on the engine spins the alternator faster and thus should produce more, not less power. The problem is that, with the small engine used, that large pulley brings the alternator to a speed which produces maximum power at an engine speed too low to supply that power. The engine they used needs to reach at least 2000 rpm and preferably 2500 rpm before very much load is put on it, and the 8" pulley doesn't allow that to happen. Also, even if you controlled the field and didn't switch it in until the engine reached 2500 rpm, the 8" pulley doesn't allow enough torque transfer because it "gears up" and trades needed torque for unnecessary speed. I know this, because I've tried it. If they hadn't just happened to have a smaller pulley, though, they could have bypassed the built-in regulator in the alternator, and scrounged something to build a power resistor to gain more control over the field, bringing down the output to something the engine could handle, even with the oversized pulley. That would be a good idea, even with the proper sized pulley, because the stock regulator does a terrible job of charging a battery bank.

In such a situation, the thing to find to build such a power resistor would be a piece of nichrome wire from an electric heating element in a space heater, water heater, stove, or something like that.
While on the subject of the electrical system, I noticed something else I would like to mention: in the episode where the traders came around in their truck, they had a little "difficulty" getting power to demonstrate the functionality of the air compressor they were trying to trade. They covered it by yelling about the inverter being off, the cord unplugged, etc. But I chuckled as I imagined the set technicians scrambling in the background to plug into line power when they suddenly realized that inverter wasn't ever going to start that compressor! In fact, there's a pretty good chance they had to replace the inverter after that little fiasco; which highlights another reason a decent-sized AC generator (like the one they were bartering for) is better than the alternator setup: the inverter is the bottleneck when it comes to running big loads.

They had their stuff together a bit more with the plumbing. That shower is a work of art, and they demonstrated flushing a toilet by pouring water directly into the bowl. They do need to tie the two together, by using the greywater saved from the shower (not to mention greywater from other washing chores) for flushing.

Just a couple more comments: IMHO, they need to keep the nanny goat for her milk, but barbeque the young goat. Also, somebody is gonna have to put Michael in his place. He has some useful skills, yeah; but in every other way he is detrimental (and I stress mental) to the group.

Added Aug. 18: I'm watching the show right now, and Michael is lamenting that, since their new genny doesn't work right, he can't weld. Actually, all he would have to do is connect 3 of the batteries in series for 36 volts, and he can weld with that. Or, if he controlled the field of the alternator as discussed earlier, he could use the output of the alternator directly for welding. Like this:

The pedal-powered washing machine was pretty ingenious. I would like to try that, but I think I would prefer to use a 15-gallon plastic drum.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bailouts: How Did We Get Here?

I have just invested an hour and eleven minutes of my time into listening to one of the most educational speeches I have ever heard. I recommend that you do the same. Even if you don't believe what he is saying, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance.
Bailouts are on everybody's mind nowadays, and G. Edward Griffin gives us insight into what the bailouts really are, where they came from, and what will be the end result.