Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent Is Indeed Utterly Repellent.

I can always rely on Week in Weird, the paranormal "news" site to dredge up some horrible element of the paranormal from the past to haunt me. Last time it was their "Paranormal TV Shows That Were Cancelled Too Soon" article that brought back terrible memories of the utterly repugnant exploitation-fest that is "Chip Coffey's Psychic Kids". Today they dredge something equally repellant (get used to this pun), and even Greg Newkirk takes a skeptical tone towards this one. 

Behold The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent (2nd Edition)! Wait. It's not... not very impressive.... maybe my build up was a bit too grandiose. I'll try again... 'av a look at this tat....

Okay.... that's erm... rustic? Let's take a look round the back of this bad boy.

Let's not judge a book by it's cover and discover what the inventors of The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent, Supa Boondee Workshop, have to say about the device. Bear in mind before we do, English is not their first language. Also, I'm going to be ignoring a major elephant in the room here: In searching for the alleged mechanism for how the TGR box repels ghosts it hasn't escaped me that as ghosts haven't ever actually been shown to exist, there's nothing but speculation about the qualities they possess. Despite lots of talk from paranormal groups about electromagnetic fields, we can't view this as anything but idle speculation. In that respect selling anything that proposes to detect/capture/measure or quantify in any way ghosts is akin to selling strawberry jelly with the recommendation "9 out 10 Elves prefer strawberry". It's meaningless. What I'm looking for isn't an actual mechanism or theory but a consistent one. When we have that, then we can actually do some skeptical analysis.

From their sales site Supa Boondee Workshop say:
"You or someone may have experience with ghost or devil after bought new second hand house from the former owner. Some houses may have bad spirit inside which will interfere your daily life unhappy and frighten your children. Finally many of you leave away the house and find a new home. We have a solution for you, "Trisaksri Ghost Repeller". Just place this device in side your house and switch ON. All ghost and devil will leave away your home and won't come back again. Now who run away, You or ghost ? Save money in finding a new home."

So it'll repel the devil as well? That's handy. But how does it work? Ignoring the obvious answer "It fucking doesn't", the sales site of the 2016 version doesn't actually give many details how the manufacturers propose a wooden box with LED lights "repels ghosts" all we are told on the site is:

"Video capture the ghost then convert to radio signal and sent to WAVE KILLER."
Now, the Week In Weird article states:
"when you’re ready to clear your home of negative entities, you simply flip the switch on the Ghost Repellent box, which activates a low-level electromagnetic field, condenser microphone, and infrared camera that work in unison to detect paranormal activity. Super Boondee calls this the “phenomenon receptor”. When the machine detects an anomaly, it automatically fires off a “Wave Killer” radio blast that they claim is enough to force the nasty phantom to abandon its chosen haunt. Much like those sonic-rodent repellents, the box will simply continue to drive off ghosts no matter how many times they attempt to return."
I'm actually sure where Newkirk got this information. Possibly from the manufacturers themselves, but let's face it, if he'd just made it up himself it's probably as credible as anything Supa Boondee workshop offer. In fact, I'd say he's managed to make the device sound incrementally more legitimate, The reason for Greg's creativity is likely that Supa Boondee's statement seems to imply they posit that ghosts and spirits can be captured and held as video information. Their description clearly states the entities are sent to the "wave killer" not that the "wave killer" is fired at them. This proposition is one that even the most credulous paranormal enthusiast is unlikely to accept.

I was able to find slightly more information pertaining to an earlier version of the Ghost Repellant manufactured in 2009. At that point, the Supa Boondee site featured an FAQ page, which has likely vanished now as due to a swath of ridicule the company has likely decided the less information it offers the better.

Here's what that FAQ said:

Q: What about my house has a good spirit of our ancestor protect my family, would this machine kill their spirit ?

A: The machine can distinguist the phenomenon signal input, good spirit and bad spirit has its characteristic, the device will ignor or skip the good spirit.

Q: What happen if we unplug the machine at later time, how can we sure the ghost won't come back again with more angry ?

A: The machine is smart than ghost, fear and not return. You did not battle with ghost, the machine fight with ghost for you.

Q: How can i know my house has ghost ?

A: We can not tell you, you are the only person face this experience yourself. For e.g. having bad dream or nightmare every day, some abnormal noise in the night, fear in the night, etc.

So we're left with literally nothing. We're told what the box does but not how it does it, or how it even could do the things it states!

Let's take a look inside and see if the Trisakri Ghost Repellent's inner workings reveal anything.

Erm... that just looks like useless circuitry ripped out of something else to me. But I have to admit that pretty much describes the inside of every device I've ever seen. Luckily, I know a guy who isn't completely terrified of wires and circuits. And sent the above image to the ever awesome Kenny Biddle along with this schematic of the 2009 version published in the Week in Weird article:

Here's what Kenny concluded:

"At first glance....this looks like junk from an old PC tower. WTF is a "Phenomenon Detector"? Ha! That made-up component is probably worth $800 itself (actual retail value...10 cents)... It's just parts from a computer...and some other random electronic parts (looks like from radios) screwed to the walls of the box. It's worthless."
As Kenny points out the things that really highlight this as a complete scam are the meaningless components, what particularly struck me was the pseudoscientific glory of the "wave killer engine". Sounds like something a bad comic book villian from a 1970's Captain America comic would say. In fact...

With such vague descriptions and psuedoscientific bluster, it's clear that no amount of useless circuitry can differentiate the TGR box from magic. Checking further into the 2009 version of the TGR box reveals more outright inanity. Here's the company's statement made shortly after the device was revealed:

Announcement !

Since the 5th March 2009 we launch this product, we have received a lot of complaint where you can read the comments on various forum on the internet. Most people against this product which made us unhappy, so we will wait about 2 more weeks if the feedback is remain negative we may decide to terminate Ghost repellent out of our product ranges. Herewith, we apologise for the uncomfortable sensitive caused to you at this time.

Thank you,
(Boondee Laboratory)
11th March 2009

Hmmm sounds a like"If you lot don't stop pointing out what terrible scam artists we are.... we won't sell this scammy shit anymore!" Good. Of course, they backtracked on this when they went back to the well and released the device in 2016. Apart from some minor cosmetic changes, the major difference between the 2009 and 2016 models is the price. You may think "Well the box was negatively received and it is a MASSIVE fucking con. One can't be surprised if they lower the price." Except they haven't raised the price. Considerably. The 2009 model was selling for $259, whilst the "improved" 2016 model retails for $1500. I think I know the reason for this huge price hike. I think Boondee may have sold a very small number of these boxes in 2009, and they've decided that if they just sell one or two this time around before yanking the product again, the high price point make this worthwhile.

Now,  you may well be forgiven, given all I've told you, to suspect that this whole Trisakri Ghost Repellant is a hoax. How gullible do these people think believers in ghosts and spirits are? Well, Boondee also sells a wide range of dodgy devices. Here's their "free electricity" device, which I initially thought was a "free energy" exploiting piece of tat. The truth is actually a bit more worrying. 

The device, also housed in a plain wooden box, attaches directly to your electricity meter meaning not only is it dangerous, it's actually illegal! That's if actually works. The description offered is equally as vague as that offered for the TGR box:

"Generally any electrical appliances when apply with home electricity it will run your watt hour meter. But Boondee resonant device does not run your watt hour meter. This is a reason why it is called Free Electricity, you use electricity but the watt hour meter is not spinning. Thus you don't pay electric bill !!"
So no, I don't think this is a wind-up.... that's Boondee's other "free electricity" device, the GR 777. I shit you not. Just look at it's windy wooden majesty.

It's clear Boondee are an equal opportunity exploiter. Whilst their GTR box targets those with legitimate fear of ghosts and spirits, their free electricity devices target the poor and desperate. Without a doubt the Trisaksri Ghost Repellant is repellant, but the only thing it will ever rid you of is your cash. I doubt your daft enough to buy one, but I suspect someone somewhere won't be. 

What Are My Dark Hidden Motivations?

I'm going to make this quick. A frequent line of argumentation I receive in response to the criticisms of the people and organisations I comment on is to attack the motives behind my commentary. The reason people do this is very simple. They can't actually coherently argue against the points I raise, so they target the reason for raising them.

There are some common reoccurring themes, jealousy and money being the most common two. I've lost count of the amount of people who've called this blog click bait and accusing me of generating money through ad revenue. Here's the latest idiot to do this, a commenter called Daemenus on my recent post about the Youtuber Bearing. After a laughable string of logically inconsistent attempts to defend Bearing's use of an image he didn't own or alter in any way shape or form, or failed to correctly credit once (I incorrectly said he had credited Total Drama Island, upon rewatching the discussion in which I thought this occurred the statement is actually made to him and he squirms awkwardly in response. I apologise for misleading my readers into believing Bearing showed the slightest shred of decency. He didn't.), Daemenus made this utterly laughable comment:

"I realize that may be hard for you since you are only blindly attacking for profit, it's only natural for you to use Psychological Projection to tell yourself we are as blind and selfishly motivated as you are."
Hmmm... there's and easy way to debunk this one guys. It won't require screen caps or trawling through libraries of ghost app images or the slightest bit of research. Take a look at this page. What don't you see? There are no advertisements, there's no merchandise, no pop-ups, no amazon links, no sponsored content. You'll see that at the bottom of my page there are no links to click bait that contradicts everything I've written above, as you'll find on the Pharyngula blog of staunch feminist PZ Myers. There you can happily nod and cluck as he points out perceived misogyny and then go and generate him some cold hard cash by following a link to "cheerleader had no idea why they were cheering".
Unlike PZ I don't hold my principles until the foot of the page or when there's fucking money on the table. Also, there's no link to a Patreon page or a Go-Fund-Me, I don't have one, I've no intention of having one. I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with bloggers and vloggers who seek funding from their audience, some of them make excellent content and deserve support, but I don't like to be beholding to anyone. Plus, I'd have to be.... you know... good and stuff. I suppose the biggest irony of this questioning of my motivation is it always comes in defence of people who are making money from their audience. Bearing, for example, has ads on all of his content, he also has a Patreon and makes a handsome $626 a video.... oh and a merchandising store selling tee-shirts with a stolen image, which Daemenus laughingly insists is "parody" some-how. Previous to this, I received similar criticism from supporters of Jayne Harris and HD paranormal, who is charging hundreds of pounds for online courses in demon identification or some other nonsense.

I've never made a penny from the blog and I never will.

So why do I do it? What really motivates me? It's quite simple. To paraphrase One-Punch Man: "I'm just a guy who's a skeptic for fun..."

Hey... I should put that on a tee-shirt. No one will notice, right?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Free Speech Under Threat? Copyright and Cartoon Bears.

Even those unfamiliar with feminism opposing, social justice warrior baiting cartoon bears may have come across the hashtag #freebearing over the past 24 hours and may be forgiven for being led to believe by the surrounding hyperbole laden tweets that there has been some great violation of the principles of free speech committed to this Austrailian Youtube content provider, instigated by malicious opponents to what he has to say.

Many of Bearing's fellow Youtube content providers produced videos in support of Bearing reflecting that idea, with Sargon of Akkad, in particular claiming that Bearing's termination was "politically motivated" and that the SJWs were likely responsible. A claim he ridiclously had to back track on in a caption added later. Unsuprisingly, a toothless and somewhat laughable change.org petition was soon established too. As an aside isn't it a bit ironic that those supporting an alt-right content producer took what has previously been dismissed by the right as the most wishy washy liberal avenue of action available? The tweets and youtube comments early on seemed to follow a general trend:
"They're trying to silence us! Our ideas are too dangerous! They can't disprove what we're saying so they're trying to shut us up..."
It's a cry most commonly heard amongst proponents of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and alternative medicine:Of course, such claims are never backed with evidence, and can often be demonstrably shown to be false. Governments suppress 9-11 truthers often by supposedly assassinating those with the most damning truth, natural cancer cure are held back by crooked "big pharma" they tell us. Medical journals refuse to publish the works of maverick doctors such as Andrew Wakefield.... A less general example would be Rupert Sheldrake's "banned" TEDx talk from a few years ago, which disappeared from the group's site soon after it was published. Sheldrake and his supporters claimed this was an attempt by the science mainstream to silence him. TED, according to some, had succumbed to the pressure of noted scientists and tried to hide Sheldrake's presentation. The truth is, unsurprisingly, quite different. TED had received a number of complaints from the scientific community, who were not trying to "silence" Sheldrake but were pointing out that much of his talk was patent nonsense. In particular, claims Sheldrake made about the constancy of the speed of light drew ire. In response to this criticism and subsequent review of Sheldrake's talk, TED moved the talk to a more suitable location of their website and fully acknowledged the video, criticism and the reasons for their action. They even published several of Sheldrake's responses to the incident.  If this were an attempt to silence Sheldrake, it was a woefully orchestrated one. Of course such logic didn't sate the outrage of Sheldrake supporters.

So is this suspicion and paranoia limited simply to the tin foil hat brigade or could Bearing's supporters be guilty of it too? Leninist firing squads anyone?

As any truly rational thinker knows, any cognitive bias that exists in proponents of such ideas lurks somewhere in all of us, the key is to recognise and overcome this flawed reasoning. Unfortunately, this recognition has been sadly lacking in the alt-right, anti-SJW youtube and twitter communities today as they rallied around the body of downed comrade Bearing.

A bit of background, many Youtube producers, especially those that produce controversial content are rather upset about the introduction of a self moderation program on the video sharing site, Youtube Heroes, which will allow regular users to flag offensive videos and even have them removed in extreme cases. I actually think this is a terrible idea, and open to individuals using their status to gain the upper hand in personal vendettas. Evidence of this can be seen in the way the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has been misused to take down videos channels deemed offensive or disagreeable to some. The misuse of the DMCA reporting system isn't without punishment, those that file false DMCAs face hefty fines or even prison time is extreme cases. Clearly, such measures having dissuaded everyone from filing malicious DMCAs and misuse of the Youtube Hero system will hold no such repercussions. I don't however, believe as some content producers clearly do, that this represents the ultimate threat to free speech. Nor do I even believe it represents the death knell of the same on Youtube. It may well make monetising videos with controversial content more difficult, which may not be such a bad thing. Many Youtube content producers clearly produce controversial and inflammatory videos because they know this will increase views and therefore swell their coffers. Also, your free speech isn't violated if you're free to take your ideas elsewhere and Youtube doesn't owe it's content providers a platform, It can choose what it does and doesn't want on its site.

Many have assumed that the termination of Bearing's youtube account is the first shot fired by the SJW infiltrated Youtube Heroes program. Here's EDL endorsed Youtube antagonist, Sargon of Akkad again to warn that the war has begun!

Fellow anti-SJW blogger, Undoomed was equally apocalyptic in tone beginning his video "Well it's started..." He goes on to ask "What is it about free speech that scares these people so much... we will not let this stand". Actually, the odds that this supension had anything to do with SJWs aren't great. Bearing's account was actually reported by the preexisting DMCA system and it wasn't so-called SJWs or feminists that dealt him this blow, actually Bearing isn't quite the victim many many assumed. In fact I'd say he's his own worst enemy. To unravel the mystery of who did in Bearing let's take a look at the most frequent image that appears in his video series, his cartoon avatar which features in every single video on his primary channel.

You may be not be surprised to learn this isn't an image produced by Bearing himself, although it seems like he's additionally animated it in some of his work. The character actually originated in a 2007 Canadian animated series called Total Drama Island which ran for 28 episodes and last aired in late 2008. The three DMCAs filed against Bearing have all come from Fresh TV and Elliot Entertainment the creators of Total Drama Island, whom Bearing, whilst he has acknowledged as the source of his image, never approached for permission to use. As you'll see from the image taken from series (left), there's no difference barring some very small superficial changes.

Now, it may seem like Fresh TV are being somewhat petty, after all this is a bit part character in an animated series that hasn't produced an original episode for eight years, but Bearing isn't just using this on his Youtube channel, he's also producing merchandise prominently featuring the TDI bear.

Not bad for an image that isn't yours. If I were Bearing I wouldn't be sweating the DMCA too much right now based on this. A few of Bearing's supporters have highlighted the DCMA's fair use clause, but personally, I fail to see it applying here. Bearing hasn't made significant changes to the character, it's not used as parody, criticism or review of the source material.So whilst this may be lumped into several Youtubers ongoing campaign against the misuse of DMCAs against content which clearly fulfils those criteria, it really shouldn't. This may anger Bearing supporters, and I don't support the gloating at his termination that is occurring in certain quarters, but I can't believe he's been this staggeringly thick. Whilst I take no satisfaction in a man losing his livelihood, Bearing has gotten away with using a copyrighted image since August 2015 and used it to generate revenue, did he think that could carry on for an indefinite length of time?

Clearly, the lesson to be learned here is we should all be slower to jump to conclusions about threats to our liberty before the evidence is collected.... and don't appropriate other people's cartoon bears for financial gain. I should start #freecartoonbears maybe? Or #don'tjumptoconclusions?