Ghostbuster Tech: 5 Tools for the Paranormal Investigator

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Ghostbuster Tech: 5 Tools for the Paranormal Investigator
October 27, 2015

When I was a middle schooler, my entire career plan was to become a paranormal investigator. As a dedicated reader of spooky Time Life books, I was obsessed with arcane matters like telekinesis, remote viewing, and — especially — hauntings.

My ghostbusting career never did come to pass, but I still like to keep an eye on things — particularly in those areas where alleged paranormal phenomena bump up against real science and technology. In the spirit (heh) of Halloween, let’s take a look at five common technologies used by ghost hunters and paranormal investigators.

1. Digital audio recorders

EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, refers to spirit voices or other inexplicable sounds captured on audio recording devices. Ghost hunters typically use commercially available digital voice recorders to document this, although some teams use high-end ultrasound recording devices like this kit from Avisoft Bioacoustics. Ultrasound (and infrasound) recorders can pick up audio signals that the human ear can’t detect; the sounds are then converted into the audible range via computer software.

You can find plenty of EVP sound libraries online. They’re good for some fast chills, but it’s advisable to take most of this stuff with several dozen grains of salt.

2. Thermal imagers

Reports of hauntings often include details about radical changes in temperature or “cold spots” in a certain room or location. Thermal imagers, sometimes called thermographic cameras, can detect changes in temperature by way of infrared radiation.

Thermal imagers are used in lots of non-spooky professions — plumbing and firefighting, to name two. Dedicated thermal cameras are often designed for a particular function, but you can get general-purpose variants as well. In recent years, miniaturized cameras like the Seek Thermal have been developed to plug directly into your smartphone.

3. Motion and vibration detectors

When staking out a haunted house, ghost hunter teams often deploy motion detectors to keep a digital eye on happenings throughout the location. Commercially available detectors usually do the trick, and they’re often wired into a networked surveillance system of cameras and microphones. There are also a variety of less expensive, Wi-Fi-connected detectors that hook up right to your smartphone.

Fully outfitted paranormal investigators might even include vibration detectors. Commonly used in industry to monitor the performance of machines and engines, high-end vibration detectors use delicate crystals and ceramics to measure vibrations that are otherwise imperceptible.

4. EMF meters

We’ve seen this one in the movies a million times: The stalwart paranormal expert enters the haunted house with a handheld meter, gathering data and muttering darkly about electromagnetic fields.

EMF meters do just that, measuring ambient electromagnetic fields and fluctuations. Handheld detectors can measure AC electromagnetic fields — emitted by electrical wiring, for instance — as well as DC signals generated naturally by the Earth’s geomagnetic field. A quick search online shows that these gadgets come in a wide range of prices and capabilities — from kiddy spook detective to full-on professional ghost chaser, it seems.

5. Full-spectrum cameras

As with thermal imagers, ghost hunters use full-spectrum cameras to detect light emissions outside the range of human vision. In addition to capturing visible light, full-spectrum cameras range into near-infrared and near-ultraviolet wavelengths. You can find one on the consumer level forunder a couple hundred bucks, no problem.

If you click around online, you can find collections of ghostly images captured using full-spectrum photography. Ghosts may or may not be real, but if we’re ever going to get solid evidence, it’s probably a good idea to keep throwing technology at the problem.

Glenn McDonald writes about the intersections of technology and culture at and via Twitter @glennmcdonald1.


‘X-Ray Vision’ Tech Uses Radio Waves to ‘See’ Through Walls

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‘X-Ray Vision’ Tech Uses Radio Waves to ‘See’ Through Walls

November 19, 2015
'X-Ray Vision' Tech Uses Radio Waves to 'See' Through Walls
The RF-Capture device can track people’s movements through walls.

“X-ray vision” that can track people’s movements through walls using radio signals could be the future of smart homes, gaming and health care, researchers say.

A new system built by computer scientists at MIT can beam out radio waves that bounce off the human body. Receivers then pick up the reflections, which are processed by computer algorithms to map people’s movements in real time, they added.

Unlike other motion-tracking devices, however, the new system takes advantage of the fact that radio signals with short wavelengths can travel through walls. This allowed the system, dubbed RF-Capture, to identify 15 different people through a wall with nearly 90 percent accuracy, the researchers said. The RF-Capture system could even track their movements to within 0.8 inches (2 centimeters). [10 Technologies That Will Transform Your Life]

Researchers say this technology could have applications as varied asgesture-controlled gaming devices that rival Microsoft’s Kinect system, motion capture for special effects in movies, or even the monitoring of hospital patients’ vital signs.

“It basically lets you see through walls,” said Fadel Adib, a Ph.D. student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and lead author of a new paper describing the system. “Our revolution is still nowhere near what optical systems can give you, but over the last three years, we have moved from being able to detect someone behind a wall and sense coarse movement, to today, where you can see roughly what a person looks like and even get a person’s breathing and heart rate.”

The team, led by Dina Katabi, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, has been developing wireless tracking technologies for a number of years. In 2013, the researchers used Wi-Fi signals to detect humans through walls and track the direction of their movement.

The new system, unveiled at the SIGGRAPH Asia conference held from Nov. 2 to Nov. 5 in Japan, uses radio waves that are 1,000 times less powerful than Wi-Fi signals. Adib said improved hardware and software make RF-Capture a far more powerful tool overall.

“These [radio waves used by RF-Capture] produce a much weaker signal, but we can extract far more information from them because they are structured specifically to make this possible,” Adib told Live Science.

The system uses a T-shaped antenna array the size of a laptop that features four transmitters along the vertical section and 16 receivers along the horizontal section. The array is controlled from a standard computer with a powerful graphics card, which is used to analyze data, the researchers said.

Because inanimate objects also reflect signals, the system starts by scanning for static features and removes them from its analysis. Then, it takes a series of snapshots, looking for reflections that vary over time, which represent moving human body parts.

However, unless a person’s body parts are at just the right angle in relation to the antenna array they will not redirect the transmitted beams back to the sensors. This means each snapshot captures only some of their body parts, and which ones are captured varies from frame to frame. “In comparison with light, every part of the body reflects the signal back, and that’s why you can recover exactly what the person looks like using a camera,” Adib said. “But with [radio waves], only a subset of body parts reflect the signal back, and you don’t even know which ones.”

The solution is an intelligent algorithm that can identify body parts across snapshots and use a simple model of the human skeleton to stich them together to create a silhouette, the researchers said. But scanning the entire 3D space around the antenna array uses a lot of computer power, so to simplify things, the researchers borrowed concepts from military radar systems that can lock onto and track targets. [6 Incredible Spy Technologies That Are Real]

Using a so-called “coarse-to-fine” algorithm, the system starts by using a small number of antennas to scan broad areas and then gradually increases the number of antennas in order to zero in on areas of strong reflection that represent body parts, while ignoring the rest of the room.

This approach allows the system to identify which body part a person moved, with 99 percent accuracy, from about 10 feet (3 meters) away and through a wall. It could also trace letters that individuals wrote in the air by tracking the movement of their palms to within fractions of an inch (just a couple of centimeters).

Currently, RF-Capture can only track people who are directly facing the sensors, and it can’t perform full skeletal tracking as traditional motion-capture solutions can. But Adib said that introducing a more complex model of the human body, or increasing the number of arrays, could help overcome these limitations.

The system costs just $200 to $300 to build, and the MIT team is already in the process of applying the technology to its first commercial application — a product called Emerald that is designed to detect, predict and prevent falls among the elderly.

“This is the first application that’s going to hit the market,” Adib said. “But once you have a device and lots of people are using it, the cost of producing such a device immediately gets reduced, and once it’s reduced, you can use it for even more applications.”

The initial applications of the technology are likely to be in health care, and the team will soon be deploying the technology in a hospital ward to monitor the breathing patterns of patients suffering from sleep apnea. But as the resolution of the technology increases, Adib said, it could open up a host of applications in gesture control and motion capture.

“We still have a long path to go before we can get to that kind of level of fidelity,” he added. “There are a lot of technical challenges that still need to be overcome. But I think over the next few years, these systems are going to significantly evolve to do that.”

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Goodbye Wi-Fi, Hello Li-Fi: New Wireless Technology Is 100 Times Faster

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Goodbye Wi-Fi, Hello Li-Fi: New Wireless Technology Is 100 Times Faster

New wireless technology has been tested that is 100 times stronger than Wi-Fi.

It is called Li-Fi and it could revolutionise the way we interact online.

The technology, which transmits information using visible light communication, is being tested in offices and other workplaces in Tallinn in Estonia.

Tests in the lab have revealed that Li-Fi can be up to 100 times quicker than Wi-Fi – it uses visible light and transmits messages through binary code.

Because visible light cannot pass through walls, it is thought the system will be more secure.

But there are no plans to replace the Wi-Fi we know and love and sometimes hate just yet – researchers want to combine the two technologies together.

Li-Fi was invented in 2011 by Professor Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh; he showed that more data could be transmitted than a cellular tower by flickering light through a singled LED.

Researchers have reported that, in recent tests, Li-Fi has achieved data transmission of 1GB per second, making it 100 times faster than Wi-Fi.

Its lab record of 224 gigabits per second mean it could download 18 movies of 1.5GB each every second.

“We are doing a few pilot projects within different industries where we can utilise the VLC (visible light communication) technology,” Deepak Solanki, chief executive of Estonian tech company, Velmenni, told theInternational Business Times.

“Currently we have designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communications is done through light.

“We are also doing a pilot project with a private client where we are setting up a Li-fi network to access the internet in their office space.”

Other companies, including one created by Professor Haas and a French firm, are working to bring Li-Fi to the public.

(Picture: Boston University)

What the Hell Caused This California Road to Suddenly Rise Up and Crumble?

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George Dvorsky

What the Hell Caused This California Road to Suddenly Rise Up and Crumble?

What the Hell Caused This California Road to Suddenly Rise Up and Crumble?

A stretch of Vasquez Canyon Road in Santa Clarita has inexplicably lifted upwards over the course of just a few hours. Geologists are stumped.

As CBS Los Angeles reports, it all started last Thursday, November 19, when motorists starting calling the California Highway Patrol about the road lifting and warping. Over the course of the next three days, the road kept rising along a 200-foot (60 meter) stretch. In some places the road lifted as much as 15 feet (4.6 meters), and some sections were practically vertical.

As noted in the Santa Clarita Valley News, some people thought it was triggered by an earthquake, while others joked that it was caused by the worm-like creatures featured in the Tremors movies.

But what’s particularly strange about this event is that it wasn’t precipitated by any obvious geological phenomenon (or mythical subterranean creature, for that matter), be it an earthquake or rainstorm. Even weirder is the fact that it happened over the span of a few hours.

What the Hell Caused This California Road to Suddenly Rise Up and Crumble?

(Credit: CBS LA)

UCLA professor Jeremy Boyce recently visited the site with his students. Here’s what he told CBS News:

When we think about geology, we think about processes that happen over millions and billions of years, so the opportunity to bring students out and see something happening over a scale of hours gives them the idea that not only does geology take forever, it can also happen almost instantaneously.

Over at the AGU Landslide Blog, geologist Dave Petley makes the case that it was caused by a progressive landslide, though one without an obvious trigger. This photo, taken from the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, offers a revealing perspective:

What the Hell Caused This California Road to Suddenly Rise Up and Crumble?

(Credit: Santa Clarita Valley Signal)

Petley admits that media reports of the road rising up appear to be accurate.

A spokesperson for the LA County Department of Public Works described it as some “really extraordinary soil movement” that turned the road into “essentially catastrophic failure.” Indeed, it appears as though the soil moved underneath the road, and then lifted it up. Which is quite odd. Normally, a landslide would just wipe the road away.

Before-and-after pics of the site show that the road is situated on a box cut, and that the unloading of material from the slope likely contributed to the landslide.

What the Hell Caused This California Road to Suddenly Rise Up and Crumble?

(Credit: YouTube via AGU Landslide Blog)

Footage of the road from a few years back show signs of extensive cracking, though nothing quite on the current scale.

A geology professor at College of the Canyons referred to it as a “massive wasting event,” adding that “some sort of water event saturated the rock” causing it to act as a lubricant, thus facilitating the layers above it to move along a curved surface.

Here’s some drone footage of the site:

Needless to say, the stretch of Vasquez Canyon Road between Lost Creek Road and Vasquez Way is closed until further notice. Geologists will continue to investigate.

[CBS News | CBS Los Angeles | AGU Landslide Blog | Santa Clarita Valley Signal]

Email the author at and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by KTLA5

This Jaw-Dropping Visualization Shows the Extent to Which Diseases Spread Among Species

Post 7228

George Dvorsky

This Jaw-Dropping Visualization Shows the Extent to Which Diseases Spread Among Species

This Jaw-Dropping Visualization Shows the Extent to Which Diseases Spread Among Species

Around 60% of all human diseases and some 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they spread from species to species. This remarkable visualization shows how these problematic pathogens proliferate among the animals.

A research team from the UK collected data from 1950 to 2012 to create a database of host-pathogen and related species interactions, along with their global distribution. Their resulting visualization maps the overlapping relationships between infectious agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and the hosts they infect.

This Jaw-Dropping Visualization Shows the Extent to Which Diseases Spread Among Species

Each node, shown as a dot, represents a vertebrate species—such as chickens, rats, and rabbits—and the size of each node depends on the number of unique pathogens that tend to infect a particular species. So that big red dot labeled “human” means we’re the species cursed with the most unique pathogens. Dogs, pigs, and cattle aren’t too far behind.

All animals are color-coded into nine distinct groups, including humans, mammals, domestics, reptiles, fish, and so on. Interestingly, rodents, as a subset of mammals, get their own group.

Lines strewn between two nodes mean they both share at least one possible pathogen species. The thickness of each connection is proportional to the number of possible pathogen species shared between the species.

Clearly, humans and their mammalian domestics share diseases on the regular. We also seem to have some rather serious linkages to both the rodents group and lizards group, the latter probably indicating the spread of Salmonella and other related pathogens.

Read the entire study at Nature: “Database of host-pathogen and related species interactions, and their global distribution”.

H/t Wired!

Email the author at and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by Cynthia Goldsmith, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

1,700-Year-Old Ring Depicts Nude Cupid, the Homewrecking God

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1,700-Year-Old Ring Depicts Nude Cupid, the Homewrecking God

Concussions: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

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Concussions: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

  • Being involved in a motor vehicle collision
  • Being involved in a pedestrian or bicycle accident
  • Being a soldier involved in combat
  • Being a victim of physical abuse
  • Falling, especially in young children and older adults
  • Participating in a high-risk sport, such as football, hockey, soccer, rugby, boxing or other contact sport; the risk is further increased if there’s a lack of proper safety equipment and supervision
  • Having had a previous concussion


Many of the symptoms of a concussion are hard to notice. Common symptoms are headache, loss of memory (the person may not remember recent events or what caused the injury) and confusion. According to the Mayo Clinic symptoms of a concussion may also include:

  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Appearing dazed
  • Fatigue
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Ringing in the ears

Symptoms may be apparent immediately or they may be delayed by hours or days after injury. Some symptoms that may take time to appear, according to the Mayo Clinic, are irritability or other personality changes, problems with concentration and memory, sensitivity to light and noise, problems sleeping, depression and sensory problems such as the inability to taste or smell.

Symptoms in children can be different than in adults and even harder to diagnose since it is difficult for young children to express how they feel. Parents and caretakers should look for strange behavior like listlessness, appearing dazed, easily becoming tired, crankiness, unusual clumsiness or unsteady walking, excessive crying or changes in eating or sleeping.

Contrary to popular belief, most concussions do not cause a person to pass out. Many do not seek medical help because of this.


In the United States, 1.6 to 3.8 million sports and recreation-related TBIs occur each year, according to the CDC. A TBI kills brain cells and creates chemical changes in the brain.

Dr. Kory Gill, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and team physician for Texas A&M University Athletics, told Live Science that the most important thing people should know about concussions is that they are not like other sports injuries where it is okay to “play hurt” or “play through the pain.”

“Playing when you have not completely recovered from a concussion is dangerous and could be deadly,” said Gill. “Become familiar with the signs/symptoms of concussions and if you think you or a teammate has a concussion speak up. It’s actually a law (Zackery Lystedt Law) now that players, coaches, staff and parents be educated on concussions pre-participation.”

Zackery Lystedt was a 13-year-old football player in the Seattle, Washington, area who was permanently disabled after sustaining a concussion in 2006. He was prematurely returned to the game, according to the CDC. After the game, Lystedt collapsed on the field. He underwent emergency surgery to remove the left and right sides of his skull to relieve the pressure from his swelling brain. He experienced numerous strokes, seven days on a ventilator and three months in a coma.

After he awoke, Lystedt spent four weeks in a nursing home and two months in a children’s hospital for rehabilitation. It was nine months before he spoke his first word, 13 months before he moved a leg or an arm, and 20 months on a feeding tube, according to the CDC. It would be nearly three years before he would stand, with assistance, on his own two feet. The Washington legislature passed the Lystedt Law in 2009, and other states have passed similar laws to help protect young athletes.

Older athletes need protection too. A recent study found thatprofessional football players who have lost consciousness due to a concussion may have an increased risk of changes in the brain and decline in their memory later in life.


CT scans and blood tests can be used to diagnose concussions. Rest is usually the most common treatment for concussions. The brain shouldn’t be idle for too long, though. “While a short period of rest is important to allow the brain some time to heal, extended rest and sensory reduction (no TV or electronics) actually prolongs symptoms rather than helping,” said Dr. Kenneth Podell, a neuropsychologist at Houston Methodist Hospital. When in doubt, consult with a medical professional.

A single concussion usually recovers well and the person affected usually isn’t bothered with long-term problems. Rarely, if a second concussion occurs before the brain has healed from the first concussion, it can lead to rapid and severe brain swelling and even death. This condition is also called the second impact syndrome and occurs in people under the age of 21.

“It’s critical to protect children from head injuries because their brains are still developing and the tissue isn’t fully formed,” Dr. Joseph Rempson, co-director of the Center for Concussion Care and Physical Rehabilitation at Overlook Medical Center’s Neuroscience Institute in Summit, New Jersey, told Live Science. “According to research, the brain continues to evolve until an individual is 20 to 25 years old. If a childinjures his or her brain, they may not reach their full developmental potential from a memory or cognitive standpoint.”

Dr. Vani Rao, a neuropsychiatrist and co-author of “The Traumatized Brain: A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory, and Behavior After Brain Injury” (Johns Hopkins Press, 2015), noted that the majority of people who sustain a single concussion recover without any long-lasting consequences. However, multiple concussions can increase risk for developing chronic neuropsychiatric problems such as depression, aggression and cognitive problems.

Additional resources