Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Best of Ghost Hunters?

I admit that I watch the series "Ghost Hunters," and "Ghost Hunters International," and I love these shows.

The lure of the paranormal sucks me in every time.

Though I
do watch the shows because of my love of history and historical sites, I also watch it because of course I'm hoping that I'll see something very convincing and believable.

For the most part the shows disappoint and fall short repeatedly. There's lots of flying orbs, indistinct voices, and blurry images. However, I keep coming back because on both shows there have been some very eerie and convincing footage at times.

1. This EVP, as they call it, kind of freaked me out. The following are two clips of the same event, at a prison in Poland from Season One, episode 23. The two ghost hunters hear a fairly clear and loud female voice, speaking in what sounds like Russian or Polish. There's also emotion in her voice. It's either outright trickery, or can't be explained by me.
Go to 3:59 on tape....
Go to beginning of tape.....

2. The following clip is from a hotel in Brazil, from Season 1, Episode 16. When I watched it again, I was not as impressed as the first time. I don't know why it made such an impression on me. Here you can see a figure walking through the kitchen hallway. Go to 4:13 on the video.

3. Lastly, here is a long and very audible EVP from "Ghost Hunters," Season 4 , Episode 7 Interestingly, it was captured at the Mt. Washington Resort in NH.
Watch the beginning of the clip.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Telekinesis Debunking

My sister enjoys reading the skeptic blogs and such. She sent me this link of James Randi very convincingly debunking a so-called psychic named James Hydrick on "That's My Line," in 1981. James Randi, who is now 82 years old, is offering 1 million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate proof of the paranormal. He has challenged many famous psychics to tests, and they have avoided him. He's even been sued for libel by Uri Geller.

I believe there are realities beyond the human mind or understanding, and that humans may be able to experience or perceive these realities at times. These realities, though, are probably more profound than some guy moving a pencil or bending a spoon. As James Randi shows, the paranormal has never been proven to exist whatsoever with any sound scientific means.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Room of One's Own

Yesterday I spent time at my new studio space! Recent developments have allowed my friend MK to rent out a small yet inspiring and sunny corner of her studio! I'm not calling myself an "artist," (too much pressure) but a person who likes to look at and create images I like. So there.

I'm at the Atlantic Works Galleries on Border St. in East Boston.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Foreign Accent Syndrome

In my mind (pardon the pun) there's no subject more fascinating than neuroscience. Whenever I see articles about recent discoveries, I'm glued to the article. Especially interesting to me is how speech and language are manifested (for most people) in the left hemisphere. Having some knowledge of speech/language development and anatomy, I'm quite aware of the damage that occurs ---like Broca's Aphasia, apraxia of speech, and Wernicke's Aphasia-- in the adult brain due to TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

One kind of brain damage effect I had not heard of before is called "Foreign Accent Syndrome." The article I read was about an English woman named Kay Russell who suffered a severe migraine, and subsequently developed a French accent. (see below)

Most people with the Foreign Accent Syndrome have no prior skill or experience with the foreign language they develop an accent for. In fact, English speakers can develop accents that sound Russian or Chinese, or a variation of English such as Australian or Jamaican. Some subjects will also have odd changes in reading or writing ability. For example, Kay Russell writes English prose as a native speaker of French would, with the grammar and syntax differences expected.

Subjects who are bilingual or trilingual will suffer very odd effects. For example, a bilingual Korean women lost her ability to speak Korean, but could read it. She could only speak English, which was her acquired language! I was especially intrigued to find she lost her native language ability! Years ago when I was working in a nursing home as a teenager, I remember an elderly woman who suddenly began speaking fluent Sicilian Italian after 45 years of not speaking Italian! She had lost her acquired English completely.

From a speech/language anatomy standpoint, people do not actually develop pure foreign accents, as a native speaker of a certain language would. Instead, damage to the brain causes changes in the speaker's intonation, stressing, patterns, and pitch. Vowels may be longer, or altered. As listeners try their best to understand what they are hearing, it is natural for them to assign a known accent. Some listeners, for example, think Kay Russell sounds Russian or Eastern European. In any case, Foreign Accent Syndrome, though it may seem alluring or sexy at first thought, is very distressing to people. Our voices, indeed, are very much a part of our identity and personality.

The DNA of Chocolate Has Been Sequenced

Forget about humans and sheep, now the genome of chocolate has nearly been sequenced by scientists. News like this makes chocolate lovers very happy. Apparently botanists hope the DNA information will help devise 'super' cacao trees, capable of producing more cocoa beans, and resisting disease better. Seventy percent of the world's chocolate is grown in West Africa, by small farmers! Here's an article from the Washington Post below, with more detail.

Scientists have painstakingly mapped the DNA of human beings, corn, turkeys - and now chocolate.
A group of researchers led by McLean candy company Mars is nearly done sequencing the genome of the cacao tree, which produces the seeds used to make cocoa. The information will speed up the process for creating a stronger tree that is more resistant to disease and easier to grow for millions of farmers.

And a better tree, they hope, means more chocolate for everyone for years to come.

Rather than keep the delicious secrets to itself, the company behind M&M's and Snickers has decided to share the information with the world.
"The information is so rich and so accurate we felt there was no reason to hold back," said Howard-Yana Shapiro, a Santa-bearded chocolate scientist whose technical title is global staff officer of plant science and research at Mars.

The goal of the genome project is not to genetically engineer chocolate. Rather it's to improve the traditional method of breeding trees, a laborious, trial-and-error process in which researchers try to isolate the sweetest traits and replicate them. That can take as long as 15 years to complete.

With a map of the cacao tree's genetic makeup, scientists could cut that process down to two or three years. For instance, they could extract the DNA of a young tree and see whether it has the right genes for resisting diseases instead of waiting years for the tree to mature.

But enough about the science. Bottom line: Will the new information result in better-tasting chocolate?
Perhaps, Shapiro said. He noted that some discerning eaters have complained that the quality of cocoa has fallen in recent years, but no one knows whether that is because of soil, weather or genetics. At least one of the keys to flavor is the fatty acid content of the cocoa. "Now finally, we have insight on how to stabilize it and raise it over time," Shapiro said.

The world's cocoa supply is grown mostly by small farmers because the process is so laborious.
It begins with picking a pod off a cacao tree. The farmer then splits open the pod and scrapes the seeds out. Then the beans are fermented for a number of days, which is when they get their tasty chocolate flavor. Lastly the beans have to be dried. The cacao plant is especially hard to grow because it is highly vulnerable to pests and disease. According to Mars, farmers suffer $700 million to $800 million worth of damage every year.

More than 70 percent of the world's cocoa supply comes from West Africa, where the biggest source is Cote d'Ivoire, followed by Ghana. Indonesia is the world's third-largest producer.
Brazil used to be one of the top producers of cacao, until a fungus called witches'-broom struck the crop in the late 1980s and devastated the country's industry. "It was a wake-up call," Shapiro said. "Imagine what would happen if something hit Africa."

The United States does not produce much cocoa, only a small amount in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. But because domestic companies such as Mars and Hershey's rely so much on the ingredient, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been trying to breed a better cacao tree since 1999.
In 2008, Mars, in partnership with IBM and the USDA, began sequencing the cacao genome. Mars committed $10 million to the project and decided to share preliminary results with the public three years ahead of schedule. During their work sequencing the cocoa genome, researchers learned a few things about the raw makeup of chocolate. Its DNA is much easier to read compared with other crops, allowing scientists to yield more information about the cacao tree's characteristics, said David Kuhn, a USDA research molecular biologist based in Miami.
So eating too much chocolate may be an indulgence that expands the waist. But, as it turns out, Kuhn said, "it's a very well-behaved genome."

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