Week In Summary: #BlackLivesMatter, NASA, and Pokémon

black lives matter

Welcome to another curated list of interesting stuff that I’ve discovered online this week. It’s a bit longer than usual but a lot of stuff has happened that I think needs to feature, so without further ado…

Scenes of police violence unfolding in America were broadcast live to the world this week as a series of shootings of black men shocked the world. Many of us scrolled through our social media timelines and were met with the footage of Alton Sterling being murdered by a police officer. Later we watched Philando Castile die after being shot at point blank range by a police officer. Then came the videos of the attack on police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas which resulted in several officers being murdered and injured.

That this violence is a regular occurrence is one terrible thing, but that it now plays out to the world in real time is new, shocking and difficult to process.

I can remember the first time I heard that a man had been shot dead on the news – I was about three years old and I ran to tell my parents what had happened and I was surprised at how little my parents seemed to care. It was just an abstract thing then – something that happened to someone else somewhere that we never had to be confronted by – words spoken by a news anchor and nothing much more. Now it is all too real, in your face and there is no avoiding this brutality. Vice explores this in an excellent piece titled ‘The Week America Watched Death on Our Phones’.

Then came the news that the shooting in Dallas had been stopped by an armed police robot – news which prompts strange images in your mind before you grapple with the scary reality of the situation. Should police be this militarised? Gizmodo explores that very question and over on The Verge is a conversation about the ethics of the situation. Vice have a piece exploring the deadliest attacks on police officers in the last 100 years.


It seems that in the aftermath of these unfathomable tragedies people desperately search for anything that can justify what has happened. However it’s important to remember that there are no absolutes – not all cops are racists, not all black men who have criminal records are thugs and so on. Boingboing reminds us that we should reflect on how we respond to breaking news. It’s good to sit back and think before reacting because facts are not always what they seem.

GQ Magazine report on a fantastic take down of the crappy and entitled #AllLivesMatter response to #BlackLivesMatter.

These seem like grave times for humanity. Especially when you add to the mix the fact that Trump is so popular, that people are being subjected to racist abuse on a daily basis following the EU referendum here in England – why are right wing movements across Europe becoming more popular? New Scientist breaks it all down here and it’s scarily fascinating. 

all that’s needed for greater understanding between groups is contact – Thomas Pettigrew

In the week that saw NASAs Juno spacecraft begin its orbital mission around Jupiter many people in my timelines were not sure what all the fuss is about. Popsci have a great overview of the project, as well as previous observations of the planet too. In other NASA related news, technology used in space may be coming to Earth in the form of an exosuit for the human hand that would enable people to weild tools for longer without sacrificing dexterity.

Elsewhere, Belgian researchers have developed an extremely sensitive gas sensor and the good news is that it’s super portable and may have several different used. Chemists at UC Irvine recently devised a new method to break down plastic into its constituent elements, including diesel. This could be big news for the future of recycling!

Could a DVD player be more conscious than a human? George Johnson explores the latest ideas and thoughts around consciousness for the New York Times. Over at New Scientist Jeffrey Guhin puts forward the argument that a national ruled by “rationalism” would be terrible, and I’m in agreement.

Grist reports on a The Global Food Security Act which will see over $1 billion a year spent providing support to small farmers in developing countries. This will vastly increase their quality of life and see rise in education standards for children living in poverty. Nice one!

Did you know that Dry Shampoo might be damaging your hair? These 11 hair experts suggest that this might be the case. Excuse me while I throw mine out. I guess if something seems too good to be true, that’s for a reason.

I wanted to share this beautiful animated short which explores how modern technology has been influenced by the shapes and dimensions found all around us in nature. Technically not from this week but still worth a share, I think.

As Pokémon Go launches around the globe people are leaving their computer desks and taking to the streets in the hunt for Pokémon. Laughing Squid have all you need to know about the App. I personally walked three miles in the search of nearby Pokémon yesterday without even realising the app was making me exercise more, but many are wondering how long it will be until someone gets in trouble for trespassing or gets killed by a car because they’re so engrossed in the App. It has been reported that a teenager using the App to find Pokémon discovered a dead body. Eesh.

China have completed work on the world’s biggest radio telescope which will be used to study pulsars and can help in the search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilisations, and more. Perhaps we can expect more discoveries such as the one made by astronomers at the University of California-Santa Cruz who have found evidence of water clouds outside of our solar system for the first time.

Finally, a Happy Pride to all of my readers, friends and family who are taking part or watching Bristol Pride this weekend. #LoveIsLove

Apply For A Free Ticket To QEDcon 2016

On a panel about Ghost Hunting

Every year I raise money to fund tickets to QEDcon for those who cannot afford to buy them for one reason or another. This year I raised funds on Indiegogo and as I have reached the target I set I am now opening applications for those tickets. At the time of writing this on July 8th there is still time to donate money to fund more tickets if you are feeling generous.

How to apply for a ticket

Simply fill the form in below and you will be entered into a draw to receive one of the tickets. Scroll down to find out how the allocation takes place. Please note: your information will not be shared with anybody other than when your ticket is being purchased from the QEDcon organisers. If you are drawn in the allocation and do not respond to the initial email within four working days the ticket may be reallocated to another person.

How the tickets are allocated

Essentially, each person who applies for a ticket will be allocated a number in a spreadsheet (1, 2, 3 and so on) and the final figure will then be entered into a random number generator and the numbers will be generated until all tickets have been allocated. So, if 30 people apply then 1-30 will be entered into the generator and if 11 tickets are funded I will draw 11 numbers. If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch via the Contact page – emails are promptly answered.

A Few Of My Favourite Things…

favourite things

If you follow me on Social Media you’ll possibly already know that I recently left a full-time job and took up part-time work ahead of plans to start studying in October. This was a BIG DEAL for me because it means a reduced monthly income and acquiring a scary student debt over the next 2-3 years BUT it is ultimately a good move and I feel really, really positive about everything.

It also means that I have a lot more free time to concentrate on projects that have been neglected lately, such as this blog and The Ghost Geek video channel. As I have more time I’ve decided to launch a new regular feature on my blog called A few of my favourite things. I’m hoping to curate lists of no more than a dozen links to things that have intrigued, inspired or educated me in the previous week.

So, without further ado… here are some of my favourite things from this week:

In the week that San Francisco implemented a ban on polystyrene, as part of an ongoing campaign to reduce waste in the city, and researchers reported that the thinning ozone layer above Antarctica is starting to heal, Slate report that light pollution may be causing early Spring in cities.

Environmental scientists realized that the first signs of spring have been slowly creeping backward in recent years, more so in urban areas, and might come a full month early by 2100.Matt Miller, Slate

Forget everything you know about shapes, head over to Gizmodo and watch this mind-bending illusion in which circles are not circles. If you know how this is done please let me know in the comments section because it’s bugging me!

More fascinating brain stuff from Laughing Squid who explore what happens if you’re never taught anything, and Lifehacker report that if you’re trying to memorise something you should exercise a few hours after learning it. On Psychology Today, Brian Bartholomew reflects on an outbreak of seemingly infectious hiccups in Massachusetts in 2012.

Pop Sci explain how scientists are planting false experiences into people brains (because life isn’t weird enough), and over at New Scientist Jessica Hamzelou reports that researchers have discovered that synaesthesia exists within sign language too.  

It was my 29th birthday on 13th June. I found myself attending a vigil in the city centre of Bath in memory and in solidarity with those killed in the homophobic terrorist attack on a gay club in Orlando, America. Over at Vice, Mark Hay explains how 2016 is only half way through and already mass shooting in America have killed 200 people. What a waste. In other news it has been reported that between 64 – 116 civilians were killed by targeted airstrikes carried out by drones since Barack Obama took office in 2009. Not as large a number as I expected.

Takepart have a fascinating feature exploring what has and hasn’t changed in conservation in the year since Cecil the Lion was killed. They report that ‘legal trophy hunting only kills about 220 to 240 wild lions a year’ and that ten times more die because of poaching.

Prepare for shivers down your spine as you listen to these sounds recorded by NASAs spacecraft Juno as it entered Jupiter’s magnetic field on June 24.

and finally, have your mind blown over at Gizmodo and learn how Entropy explains how life can come from randomness. Beautiful, beautiful, scary randomness.

Mystery Hand Haunts Belfast Mill Workers

the mysterious hand close up

HuffPo have reported that during the creation of a historic gallery by Belfast Live it was noticed that a photo taken in 1900 of some Belfast mill workers shows a disembodied hand resting on the shoulder of one of the women.

photo of mill workers
The Mysterious Hand

Sure enough, if you look at the woman seated on the right of the first row of four she has a hand resting upon her shoulder that appears to have no owner. So, is this a ghostly manifestation? Thing from The Addams Family dropping in to say hi? Or does she literally have a disembodied hand sitting there?

the mysterious hand close up
Close up of the hand

As a paranormal researcher of some experience I can tell you that when it comes to photographs nothing is ever what it seems. Many people believe that photo manipulation was born when the modern computer was created but it pre-dates Photoshop by a long, long time. In fact, as soon as the science of photography was perfected for general use people began to manipulate the photographs they were taking.

Usually this was to correct over-exposures and similar issues by fitting two photographic plates together to create one image, other times this would be for comedic or artistic effect. Photograph manipulation was particularly popular among advertising agencies and also, more controversially, for political propaganda – the most noted case of this being Stalin having opponents erased from or added into photos.

stalin photos
Naughty, naughty Stalin…

People also faked ghostly apparitions in their photographs by creating purposeful double exposures which would result in ghostly figures appearing in the photograph alongside the medium or the customer (who was often hoping to contact a deceased loved one.) American spirit photographer William Mumler is by far the most famous employer of this method of trickery, having been caught out and tried in court for fraud.

Mumler photos
Examples of the work of William Mumler

The mysterious hand in the photo of the Belfast mill workers is most likely the result of photo manipulation. I suspect there were other people in the photo who were edited out, with the hand accidentally being left in place – or proving too difficult to erase cleanly. Today we would call this sort of mistake a “photoshop fail” and there are whole web galleries devoted to left behind limbs. Here are some examples:

catalogue photo error
How many hands does this man have?
miley cyrus photo error
Miley Cyrus appears to have a third hand


basketball player photo
Extra hands would be useful in basketball, I guess…

So, You’ve Been Called A Racist…


Yesterday after news that more people in the United Kingdom voted to Leave the European Union than had voted to Remain, I found myself in the bizarre position of trying to explain to a small group of people that just because they were Leave voters and they were not racist didn’t mean that racism wasn’t an issue.

It was almost like a scene from a film in which the director is trying to make a point about white privilege. “It’s about something more than immigration” one white woman moaned, “and I’m not racist. How dare they say I’m racist?”

I wanted to tell her that it was incredible that she was making this about her when friends of mine (plural) have taken to social media to share incidents of racial abuse they have been subjected to just in the few hours since the EU Referendum result was announced. Social media has been awash with people hurling racial abuse at strangers and it is worrying that this result, and the concerning language used by Nigel Farage and others on the Far Right in this country have normalised this sort of discriminatory behaviour.

In an interview with Alternet, Noam Chomsky attributed the popularity of Donald Trump to the creation of fear, commenting that “People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”

It is predominantly people in the working classes of Britain who have felt the results of the changing economy – especially the harsh welfare cuts and funding cuts to services brought into place by the Conservative government. For some though the blame doesn’t lay directly with these right-wing politicians but, instead, with people coming to take what is ours.

The Telegraph reported that one of the predictors of whether an area of England voted Leave was how few immigrants actually live there, proving surely that this is about isolated people lashing out at abstract fears about the person coming to get them and what they have?

When I look at Nigel Farage and his ilk I see a less-blunt version of Donald Trump who blames all of the ills on this country on foreigners and invisible powers such as the so-called “unelected EU”. They’re coming to take your job, they’re coming to kill you, they bring disease and crime… and although all of these distasteful accusations are untrue it’s easy to see why people who believe them might have cause to be afraid and might look for a leader to rally behind.

The language of hatred and fear can have dangerous outcomes and I am fearful of what may come in the next few years. I find it terrifying that Britain First (whom I consider a hate group) have been conducting military training for its members and speak of war and violence as a means to achieve their aims. They’ve been associated with the assassination of Jo Cox (which they’ve denied) and have also threatened the mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, cabinet member Sajid Javid and others with “direct action” because they’re Muslim.

I worry about the divisive language used by mainstream politicians (David Cameron calling refugees a swarm, for example) that gives this extremism a green light.

Discriminatory abuse and violence is going to get worse and I no longer recognise the country I grew up in because of it. There has always been racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism… but I’ve never felt as though they had true power over us.

That has changed. It has been legitimised by men is suits such as Nigel Farage and we’re all going to suffer for it. He plays the politics of hatred and it is him- not immigrants -that is making Great Britain a worse place.