Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Old West Haunting; Freeway Flyer

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/16/11

Debunked videos this week include: Zombie Cam claims to show a zombie figure caught by a hunter's camera trap, but it's just Photoshop trickery.  Snow Triangle shows a huge "snow circle" design in the Alps.  It's a fractal, as many "circles" are, but fakery seems very likely.  (Regular readers will know I think -- with some justification -- that crop circles are made by human artists.)  In the commercial-break debunk, Wedding UFO shows strange lights hovering over the water, but it's merely a reflection of a chandelier on the picture window between photographer and water.  Leaving us the subjects of this week's show.

Bird Cage Theater Ghost is another famous haunted site, and the video seems to show a ghostly image of a figure which appears as a flashlight beam passes over a wall.  At the theater, they hear scary stories and talk to the original videographer, who shows them where and how he shot the video.  First, they test whether items on a nearby table could cast reflections/shadows to form the "ghost."  They get some interesting shapes, but not the right ones.  Then they try hoaxing the image with black light paint, but the image is too vague.  But Devin has noticed something, and shining a flashlight through the wheel of a big museum coffee grinder produces a perfect match.  But, because the audience won't like the "no ghost here" conclusion, I assume, they then stage the usual ghost hunt.  Naturally, they hear spooky sounds, and one of the camera lights falls off and is mysteriously outside a door (where it was previously inside).  Rats maybe?  No, that plus an EVP are  this week's sop to believers.  Video: faked; paranormal activity: yes.  Really?

Freeway Flyer seems to show a bright light hovering over a freeway (at night) that then zips away with amazing speed.  They talk to the videographer and then set up their own highway in the desert to test some theories.  They start by shining a laser into the moving vehicle used to film the video.  But the laser beam seems too small, and the beam reveals itself when it moves: no match.  Next, they test reflections off of power lines; similar, but too elongated.  Finally, they test a helicopter with a mounted searchlight.  That and a little After Effects trickery to speed the light up at the end create a perfect match.  The team's Layered Voice Analysis (which I'm not sure I totally believe in) suggests that's how the videographer did it -- doctoring the original video to make it sexier.

So, two good debunks this week, but I'm still bothered by the apparent need to reinforce audience beliefs in the supernatural.  Why not let this show be a real supernatural Mythbusters and just go for it?

FACT OR FAKED: Asylum Apparition; Mystery Over Mexico

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/9/11

The videos the crew is not investigating this week are: Roswell Alien shows a purportedly living alien in B&W footage, though puppetry, animatronics, or CGI seem more likely.  Cascades Bigfoot is a cell phone video of a mysterious figure walking through the woods -- but it's shadowy enough to be a suit or even just a person.  In the commercial break, Sky Portal is supposedly an alien portal in the sky.  The "portal" is merely a misidentified smoke ring being used to advertise the amusement park where the video was shot. Which leaves the two cases they're actually looking into.

Waverly Hills Apparition shows 2 figures in the deserted hallway of a legendary haunted sanatorium.  A second video seems to show a toy ball moving on its own.  Waverly is a ghost-hunting hotspot, and the team gets the usual grisly tour (as seen on several Ghost Hunters shows).  A test with a ball immediately shows how uneven the floor is.  They do a wind test, and the ball moves around easily because of that, too.  Seems debunked to me, but the team becomes caught up in the ball moving too much, rather than just rocking as in the video.  That's silly.  Clearly this drafty old place with the un-level floors could produce any number of effects on a light ball like this, depending on drafts and floor dents/grooves. Then they try  to recreate the hallway apparitions with first humans (too solid), then with heaters (too obvious in frame or not defined enough when out of frame).  So, even though this "ghost" looks like another reflection or camera malfunction to me,(nothing was seen by the human filming, only the camera), they start a ghost hunt and (no surprise) hear strange noises.  Plus, the ball they set down rolls around, seemingly on its own.  I'd be more impressed with a baseball, basketball, or even a standard playground ball, rather than the lightweight play balls they're using. Vibrations in this rickety old building could probably move the test-subject ball around.  In fact, a heavier-looking ball nearby doesn't move at all.  They also get EVPs, which you should know by now I think are almost always completely bogus.  Should you be surprised that they declare Waverly Hills haunted?  You shouldn't be; the MO of the group this year seems to be to have one gimme for believers every episode.  I'm guessing the SyFy execs think there's not enough ratings in bursting believer balloons -- or rolling balls -- every week.  And speaking of balloons...

Guadalajara UFO Fleet seems to show a fleet of round white UFOs hovering in the sky.  Their first theory is that the objects might be birds, so they send up a flight of pigeons, but the birds are obviously birds.  Next, they try floating ping pong balls in a pool with dry ice clouds to fake the shot.  Closer, but ripples are a problem.  So, they try what I thought the obvious solution from the beginning (though I understand the need to structure the show this way) and release a mass of balloons.  Yeah, hey, bingo!  Balloons plus dodgy camera equals UFO fleet.  Which makes me think the original videographer was an idiot not to notice.  I saw three UFOs this summer, and one of them was likely a Mylar balloon floating over Yellowstone.  (Other 2 might have been a helicopter and a Chinese lantern.)  So, good job, group.  One out of two ain't bad, but...

The problem I'm having with this show this year is that each episode seems to have an obvious sop to believers -- a case where the group just doesn't push far enough.  Last year, this wasn't so much a problem, and I was encouraged.  This year, not so much.  I hope they'll do better in the second half of the season.

Monday, November 7, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Sinister Spirals: Flying Saucers

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/4/11

This week, the crew rejects Menger Hotel, which seems to show a shadowy figure walking across walls and down a hall (not enough info & possible CGI), Duende Gnome, a tiny figure chased by teens (probably a marionette), and UFO in the Clouds where a San Paolo (Brazil) photog supposedly catches a UFO hiding in a cloud and later mysteriously zooms away.  Close inspection by Bill shows the object missing from the sky as a truck passes: CGI  Galveston Ghost Face -- their commercial break debunk (which I remain glad they're doing) -- shows a "mysterious" face on the side of a building, but it's only a stain and pareidolia, the tendency of human beings to see patterns as familiar shapes -- like Jesus on a piece of toast.  Which leaves FOF with the two cases they will be investigating.

Heflin UFO Ecounter is a famous case that shows a hat-shaped silvery object floating above a road in 3 pictures and a mysterious smoke ring in a 4th.  Supposedly the photos were later confiscated by Men In Black and then mysteriously returned 28 years later.  Ben, Devin, and Lanisha go to California and talk to "researchers" who talked to the photographer, who is now dead.  Scientifically, such second-hand information means very little, and when a "doctor" (of what?) declares that Polaroid photos of this type would be very hard to fake, my spider sense goes off loudly.  I could fake you a great Polaroid UFO before I reached high school.

Nevertheless, the crew stages some experiments.  First, they re-create the photos using a remote-controlled helicopter UFO, testing whether the pics could have been taken in 20 seconds, as Heflin claimed.  Why they believe the 20 seconds is necessary, as this was before date/time stamps on photos, I don't know.  I certainly don't believe it.  But they do, and they do manage to replicate taking 3 photos that fast -- though none of the photos is as sharp and focused as the Heflin photos (which are very clear).  This, for me, would tend to indicate Heflin lied about the rapidity of his picture taking, but the crew continues.  They try some natural explanations for what he saw, using various types of wind-blown debris: paper plates, clay pigeons, and a hat.  But it's too hard to take pictures of things moving that fast.  (Hmm...  Wonder how fast that "UFO" was flying....)  Then they try a hat on a fishing line, which looks quite similar, though they then declare that there's no evidence that Helflin had an accomplice to pull of such a hoax.  This seems like flimsy reasoning  to me -- for reasons I'll explain in a bit.

Finally, they put up a saucer-shaped balloon to "prove" that what Heflin saw could have been a large object further from the camera, as he claimed.  Results look similar (though they don't match the size and distance he claimed to have seen the object at).  So they decide to explode the balloon, as if it had hit a power line, theorizing the hat-shape might have been an actual balloon, and its explosion could have created the smoke ring.  The explosion, though, just kills the balloon.  Devin, however, recreates the smoke ring with a metal tube, diesel fuel, and propane, essentially blowing a smoke ring into the sky -- with technology available from the time.  So that, at least, could be hoaxed.  Ben notes that El Torro Marine Corps is near the original sighting area, and might have been doing testing.  Devin adds that perhaps the MIB were really from the government, as they claimed, and protecting a then-secret project, only to return the pictures later.  Ben concludes that they were able to show that the craft could have been close to the vantage point, something hoaxed, or something far away -- so the case is still open.

I say, nice try, but you didn't try hard enough.  First, I would ask, if I wanted to fake this, how would I do it?  1) I'd simply toss a pie plate or vintage hub cap (both made of metal at the time) in front of the camera -- or have someone do it for me.  2) I'd take as many Polaroids as I needed to get a some good shots, and then I'd throw the rest away.  Remember, there are no negatives with this type of film (or, at least, the negatives elements are seldom kept).  Unless the photos were numbered in their canister (I don't remember if they were), there would be no way to tell how many photos I actually took to get 3 good ones.   3) And for a capper, I'd use Devin's set-up to get a mysterious smoke ring -- or just have someone blow a cigarette smoke ring for me and then photograph it back-lit against the sky so that it appeared black.  Because I'm clever, I might take all 3 pics against slightly different backgrounds, to make it hard to compare shadows to show the passage of time while I was experimenting.  4) Then, I'd claim to have taken the pictures faster than I actually did, just so people would think I couldn't have faked them in the supposed time frame.  (He wouldn't have time to throw a hat into the air 3 times in twenty seconds and take pictures!)

I don't buy that no one ever having come forward as an accomplice is proof of something not being hoaxed.  My brother hasn't come forward to talk about our hoaxed monster/UFO photos, has he?  And even if they were famous, would he?  It's a silly argument.  But, if I had no accomplice, I'm certainly capable of rigging up a pole with mono-filament to take the pictures myself.  Heck, I've even got a convenient van to attach it to.  All I need is a bit of time to move the rig around between shots -- and since I've already decided to lie about how long it took me to take the pictures....

Which is to say, I think that -- because of this case's iconic nature -- the team was way too easy on this one.  In my experience, anything that can be faked, likely has been faked.  People do hoaxes for a number of complex reasons, and sometimes, once done, they don't admit it ever.  Look how long the Loch Ness and Cottingley Fairy hoaxes took to be exposed.  It's reasonable to assume that some hoaxers carry their secrets to the grave rather than face embarrassment or public ridicule, especially in a famous case like this.  (And let's not even start in on the malleable nature of memory and how people can come to believe their own lies.)

Sorry, team, you blew this one.  I hope you'll be harder on iconic cases in the future -- as you were on the UFO in the Woods story a few seasons back (even if doing so may crush the feelings of your want-to-believe audience).

Spiraling Rods shows mysterious wave-like creatures flying through the sky.  (Those of us who saw the Monster Quest show know they're really just insects and slow-shutter digital cameras, but maybe that bears repeating here.)  Bill, Austin, and Jael go to Joplin, Missouri, to talk to the videographer.  He claims to have taken the pictures after setting off a bug bomb -- so it couldn't be bugs -- and to have taken similar photos in winter (though we never see any of those).  The team then bug bombs the area, sets up a net tent, and brings in various critters to try having them fly past the camera.  Bats don't look like it, nor does a slingshot, but the team wisely notice that the bug bomb has not cleared the area of insects -- not nearly.  (You'd have to be a dope to think it would.)  So they catch some bugs and try fly-bys with some of the bigger ones.  Close ... until they put on the slow-shutter night shot, and then ... Bingo!  Perfect match and a job well done.  Hopefully, this puts the "rods" case to rest for good.  Mistaken identity, bugs, and shoddy camera work (and knowledge) -- end of story.

So, one out of two this week ain't bad, though given last season, I'd come to expect more from Fact or Faked.