Ghost busters and UFO hunters tap top tools of the trade

ANDREW MASTERSON
Last updated 11:54 14/08/2014

Never assume: It is well known, of course, that spacecraft, even ones cunningly cloaked while parked in the front garden, play havoc with the electromagnetic field.

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It’s a familiar enough scenario. You’re sitting in your lounge room, not expecting guests, and the doorbell rings. You have no way of knowing at that moment whether your visitor is, say, a bike-borne evangelist eager to audition you for the tabernacle choir, or, to borrow from the late Douglas Adams, the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal looking for lunch.

The potentially fatal indecision thus engendered, you will be pleased to know, can be easily dismissed through the purchase via Amazon of a nifty device called a UFO-02 Detector, described as a ‘‘magnetometer interfaced with micro controller for detecting magnetic anomalies’’. 

It is well known, of course, that spacecraft, even ones cunningly cloaked while parked in the front garden, play havoc with the electromagnetic field in precisely the way that bicycles don’t. Thus, for a measly US$48.54 (NZ$57) you can henceforth be always forewarned of alien incursion, allowing a timely exit through the back door before the anal probing starts.

There’s an important point here. Technology is value-neutral. It can be designed by clever people for other clever people to use to do clever things. Or it can be designed by fruit-cakes for use by wing-nuts to track down their own imaginations.

For those with a desire to do so, the market is awash with devices dedicated to assisting the hunt for aliens and angels, ghosts and demons.

Ghost-hunting, in particular, has become a very high-tech business of late, with several specialist online stores eager to provide a range of gizmos to assist in tracking down the incorporeal undead.

Typical is the Ghost Hunter Store, in New Jersey. Many items on the shelves – just like UFO-hunting equipment – detect variations in the electromagnetic field, because apparently spirits from the hereafter really stuff up the telly reception.

Typical is a handheld grey plastic device called the V-Pod, ‘‘designed by Paranormal Investigators for Paranormal Investigators’’. It runs off a nine-volt battery and features little coloured lights that flash, presumably, just before Emily, the ragged ghost of the cruelly killed Edwardian beggar girl, starts to throttle you.

Not surprisingly, both the alien-hunting and ghost-hunting repertoires feature lots of cameras (all oddly reluctant to either focus or shoot at critical moments). Worth special mention, however, is the Ghost Hunter Store’s exclusive Panoptic Paranormal Digital Assistant Camera, which is an HTC EVO 4G smartphone turned ‘‘into a great tool for Paranormal Investigating’’. 

Only a killjoy, surely, would think that the result looks uncannily like a phone stuck inside a black plastic case that has been encrusted with LEDs.

The height of ghost-hunting technology, however, the envelope-pushing, boundary-busting, imagination-boggling pluperfection of digital dead-person detection is, without doubt, a device called the BooBuddy, available from a mob called GhostStop for about US$200 (NZ$236).

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Again, a killjoy might look at a photo of a BooBuddy and pronounce it merely a plush teddy bear – but that just goes to show how wrong you can be! It’s a talking plush teddy bear, fitted with a electromagnetic sensor that, once alerted by the presence of a ghost, prompts it to ask questions designed to elicit ‘‘electronic voice phenomena’’, or EVP.

EVP, in case you were wondering, are odd scratchy sounds that might come from a badly tuned radio, or might be the demon Abaddon asking from within the fires of hell if you know where Linda Blair lives. In the latter case, the BooBuddy functions as a ‘‘trigger object’’ because it seems that many a terrifying spawn of Satan feels much more like talking if there’s a teddy bear around to mediate the conversation.

Alien hunters, of course, have no use for talking toys. Indeed, most pieces of equipment used and recommended by fearless xenomorph investigators are no more than repurposed bits of hobby-tech. Alien-hunting stores carry lots of telescopes, binoculars, night-vision goggles, digital-video gear and ‘‘remote UFO monitoring systems’’, which look suspiciously like home security CCTV rigs.

As the UFO-02 Detector illustrates, however, there are also some fiendishly clever bits of specifically built gear available, too. Trawling eBay’s Japanese site, for instance, will uncover the remarkable ‘‘UFO Detector, Yutan, Compact UFO and Alien Search Cell Phone Strap Gadget’’, made by the Solid Alliance Company in partnership with ‘‘Mr UFO, Junichi Yaoi’’.

Yaoi’s invention looks rather like a horn for a child’s bicycle, with a strap attached. If you suspect there’s a UFO nearby, press the squishy bit. If it lights up, the Vogons are about to destroy the planet.

Or, as the advertising copy puts it: ‘‘It finds, UFO, Alien and unusual atomosphere if a place you stand includes each of the three. No gimmick but it beeps based on detections of the Yutan which is calculated by scientific formulas each time.’’ (Yutan, by the way, appears to be a type of sun-tan lotion, but something may have been lost in translation.)

Perhaps surprisingly, some alien-hunters are not convinced by the efficacy of Yaoi’s device and have opted to apply the principles of citizen science and crowd-sourcing to the problem. Fund-raising website Indiegogo currently features a campaign for a network called UFO-Track.

This new system, based in the US, will supply thousands of people with a UFO-spotting smartphone app. Data will be shared and plotted on a world map in real time. The tracker is already operating in beta form and can be found at ufo-track.com. At the time of writing, only one UFO was hanging about – oddly, right above the San Antonio Shopping Centre.

Which, in a way, defines the problem inherent in technology designed for the credulous. Users will see what they want to see, whether the device in question is an electromagnetic disturbance detector or a pair of dowsing rods.

There’s an Android app called Alien Radar. It’s a novelty thing that pretends to identify extra-terrestrials near your house.

‘‘It sucks,’’ wrote one user-reviewer in 2013, ‘‘This app says aliens don’t really exist ... but I know they do.’’

But if you have any doubts, just ask the teddy bear.

V-Pod

BooBuddy

UFO detector

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