Back to previous post: American hero

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Live and on the ground

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

August 11, 2003

Cor chase my Aunt Fanny ‘round the psionics lab!
Posted by Teresa at 08:00 AM *

Do-it-yourself summer projects for the differently-illuminated:

1. This one’s a washout. The people at Time Travelers say they can teach you how to time travel, but if they can actually do the trick, how come they have such a sucky website? Can’t they run a quick errand to the future and pick up one of those cute little self-contained hand-held workstations they’re going to be selling for $35 at Staples? Those all come loaded with brill page-authoring software.

Okay, okay, so maybe they don’t travel physically. But if can do it mentally, why do they have to charge for their services? Any self-respecting time traveler ought to be able to make a few quick killings at the track or in the stock market, and thereby fund their enterprise for decades to come.

2. Plans for building an orgone-powered wishing box. I could use one of these. If yours needs extra power, you can build an additional orgone accumulator.

3. From the “Stop Alien Abductions” website come directions for making a thought screen helmet. This design was invented by a guy who read about thought screens in the Lensman novels, which as sources of loony ideas go is pretty benevolent—and by the standards of the Differently Illuminated genre, notably well-written. The guy is happy with his design:
Results of the thought screen helmet exceeded expectations. Since January 2000 aliens have not taken any abductees while they were wearing thought screen helmets using Velostat shielding. See Case Histories and Testimonials.
The testimonials are pretty good. So are the excerpts from the Lensman novels, which you should sample if you haven’t previously had direct personal knowledge of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s prose.

4. If you don’t fancy wearing a hood—and in this weather, who would?—here are simple directions for making the classic AFDB, the Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie. Warning: I don’t think this site is entirely serious.

5. If you’d like fashionably accessorize your helmet or beanie, here are diagrams for a pair of UFO-detecting binoculars.

6. At’s “Get Bent” site, you can teach yourself to bend flatware (remember Uri Geller?), using only the power of your mind! The site takes a fine practical tone, right from the start:
You’ll want to collect a lot of unwanted cutlery - otherwise, once it starts working, you’ll end up without a single functional fork in your house. Which is a little bit annoying once the euphoria of bending them wears off. The best ones are those chunky big old-fashioned ones, usually silver-plated brass. It will work with stainless steel ones just as well, but the core metal in a lot of stainless cutlery is really cruddy, and they snap much easier that old-fashioned ones. Whatever the mysterious process is, it certainly stresses the metal, and a snapped fork is very disappointing.

7. If you’re looking for something that has more practical use, here’s how to transmute carbon into iron, using either cold fusion or alchemy.

8. For the truly ambitious DIY enthusiast, this site has diagrams and descriptions of the Clem Engine, the classic perpetual-motion engine of urban legend:
Immediately after the inventor had the heart attack and the papers were removed, the son of the inventor took the only working model of the machine to a farm near Dallas. There it was buried under 10 feet of concrete and has been running at that depth for several years.

9. Finally, if you insist on a DIY project that has actually been demonstrated to work, the excellent Circlemakers website has a detailed and well-written three-page beginner’s guide to making crop circles. The results are beautiful.

And to clear your palate, a collection of quotes compiled by the Errors and “Science Myths” in K-6 Textbooks and Popular Culture webpage:
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow; He who would search for pearls must dive below.
—John Dryden

Truth comes out of error more readily than out of confusion.
—Francis Bacon

It is one Thing, to show a Man that he is in an Error, and another, to put him in possession of Truth.
—John Locke

The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding.
—Francis Bacon

It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink facts because they are not to our taste.

Many errors, of a truth, consist merely in the application of the wrong names of things.

When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
—Mark Twain

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.
—Richard Feynman

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best—and therefore never scrutinize or question.
—Stephen Jay Gould

There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right.
—Carl Sagan

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.
—Albert Einstein

An easily understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex incomprehensible truth.—Thumb’s Postulates
Comments on Cor chase my Aunt Fanny 'round the psionics lab!:
#1 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:12 AM:

My response to the "Time Travelers" is much the same as with those TV ads for clairvoyants. If they really can foresee the future, why bother with advertizing? Why don't they access their future corporate records, and call up those who, according to the future records, purchased their services?

#2 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:23 AM:

It's like those signboards advertising a Psychic Fair that pop up in downtown Berkeley every week: Why do the psychics need material signs to tell them where the fair is?

#3 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:39 AM:

The comments about the Time Travellers make me want to re-read Kage Baker's Company series, which is an attempt to extrapolate just what you could do with time travel (backwards only, though) plus immortality. (This excerpt from her first novel explains the setup quite nicely.)

#4 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:55 AM:

Thanks for the orgone related links. I've been a big fan of Willhelm Reich for years; he's probably my favorite crackpot. They have a bunch of his books at Amazon and yhey're well worth reading, as they do contain some intriquing theories in the field of psychology, if they are a bit batty.

#5 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:58 AM:

I have seen a bumper sticker (which you can probably pick up at your friendly neighborhood hucksters' room) that reads TELEPATHS' CONFERENCE -- YOU KNOW WHERE, YOU KNOW WHEN.

#6 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:17 PM:

Oh. My. Goodness. Um.

You know, a guy Jordin used to work with at Livermore is now at Harvard and is actively pursuing research in cold fusion. He walked into Jordin's office one day during a visit and asked Jordin what he knew about alchemy. Jordin startled him considerably by know rather more than lead into gold! Much of it, of course, picked up from fantasy and especially Yarbro's St Germain novels! Anyhow, apparently there seems to be some real overlap between alchemy and cold fusion...


#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:39 PM:

This stuff goes from Funny to Sad when you run into college students who take it seriously.

I used to be an active alumni supporter of my undergrad-college SF library. A number of the current-student-members became enthused with alchemy, astrology, psychic powers and the like. They read big thick books about the stuff with an enthusiasm they didn't apply to their course material.

Alas, I made the mistake of razzing them about it. Bad mistake. Belief in this crap was part of their Religion-of-the-moment.

#8 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 01:29 PM:

Somewhere in all this unpacking I have a copy of William Shermer's "Why People Belive Wierd Things." It's a much better book than the recent release of "Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries?"

#9 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 04:18 PM:

I wonder if we can mix'n'match between these. For example, if the 3M Velostat from the thought screen helmet would be a good general replacement for aluminium (or more canonical tin) foil we could get AFDB's that wouldn't crease or tear as easily, with a lot less glare. I'm sure it is the glare that makes everybody look at me funny and back off muttering when I have my beanie on -- Velostat would fix all that and restore my social life . . .

#10 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 04:33 PM:

The crop circles qualify as great craft if not great art. Some would make great embroidery patterns!

And I will confess a weakness for the Lensman series...admittedly, mostly for the giggles...

#11 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 06:34 PM:

My mother got me hooked on the Lensman series when I was quite young. She'd even advance-ordered at least one of them, and got a numbered copy that was inscribed to her. She was as proud of her doctorate as Smith apparently was of his, and had asked for the book to be sent to Dr. Elizabeth Whitmore -- he inscribed it with something about her "prescribing for the world's ills", clearly implying he thought she was a medical doctor.

It's clear, however, that he really did individually inscribe the advance-ordered copies for individuals -- not common these days!


#12 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 12:16 AM:

Obviously, the Time Trevelers have to be the way they are because only thus will a certain skeptical young man show up, who will be transported back to the past, and alter it ever so slightly so that a certain person doesn't get run over by a bus, and that person grows up to become...etc.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 08:27 AM:

Robert, who do you figure is writing that story--Kuttner, Brown, someone else--and for which magazine?

Tom, I'd sort of had in mind that if anyone here were likely to spot the provenance of the title of this post, it was you. And no, it's not Doc Smith, though your Doc Smith story is pretty cool.

#14 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Didn't spot the likely sources [which come up in a couple of the (10) Google hits for "chase my aunt fanny"] because, I blush to say, neither has yet caught my fancy. Plum probably will eventually; like Peter Dickinson and Dorothy Dunnett, I just need to hit the right time in my life. And when I do, I have a large box of them from my mother (a big Plum fan).


#15 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 11:20 AM:

PNH had previously referred to "As James White said, 'Cor chase my Aunt Fanny...'". So, unless White was referring to some previous piece of art, he coined it, and I'm sure his estate will be suing you for violating his trademark. (Whoops, crossed the threads.)

#16 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 12:18 PM:

There are at least two kinds of people in the world. The first kind is the sort who, on recognizing an obscure ingroupish reference, jump up and down and yell, "Hey, I got it! I got it! That's what Burbee said to Al Ashley when Ashley called him a bastard! I'm so smart!" The other kind comprises the people who nod, smile, and say nothing.

(Tell all the truth, but tell it ... hyphen???)

#17 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 12:29 PM:

What I believe Alan is hinting, rather hermetically, is that Kevin has confused James White with Walter A. Willis.

#18 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 01:14 PM:

I remember once seeing the beginning of some cheezy 80s movie about a psychic detective agency that began with this answering machine message:

"Hello, you've reached the Psychic Detective Agency. We already know who you are, and why you're calling, so at the sound of the tone, please hang up."

#19 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 11:34 AM:

Next you're going to tell me that it wasn't Art Widner who overheard the gravediggers saying "But of course that was before the War of Pangalactic Intercession."

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 02:21 PM:

Stop! You're both right. I think. The piece is by Willis, but the line occurs in a quoted dialogue between WAW and James White.

#21 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 04:48 PM:

based on, of course, "Cor chase my aunt Fanny round a gum tree" referenced in both PGWodehouse (the Plum of my earlier note) and a Biggles book; the question of whether Willis ran across the reference in either of those places or from an Unnamed Australian Correspondant will undoubtedly be one of the great mysteries of history.

Isn't amazing what shows up in Google?


#22 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 06:05 PM:

That movie was Second Sight, a film that asked the question, "Is America desperate for John Larroquette/Bronson Pinchot movies?

The answer seemed to be "no."

This is the trailer>.

The film opened with that answering machine message. Alas, that was the only joke in the show. It didn't stop them from repeating it, with variations, for the length of the movie. A comedy needs more than one joke. Honest. You could have walked out after the opening titles without missing a thing.

#23 ::: Jimbo2K3 ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2003, 09:53 AM:

Reminds me of a SNL sketch...

It may look like a bed, but it's really a time machine. You lay down, fall asleep, and when you wake up, BAM! You are in the future!

Of course it only works one way...

#24 ::: Michael Menkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 03:05 PM:

The thought screen helmet is a real device. The case histories are real. I still make helmets and send them to people who are abducted to test. Each helmet takes me 4 hours to make and costs about $35.

For more information on alien abductions, see my new website,

Also see Dave Jacob's website,

Thank you.

Michael Menkin

#25 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 05:23 PM:

Thank you, Mr. Menkin. I have no doubt that it's a virtuous action.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:07 PM:

Hey, I just saw a Discovery Channel thing about Crop Circles. Apparently there are some serious people doing research about them -- and yes, they scoff at the notion that they're made by UFOs. "Authentic" crop circles have some characteristics that two guys with a board couldn't do in a summer night, like expulsion cavities (exploded stems) and 30-50 micron iron spheres. The researchers are approaching it as a little-understood natural phenomenon, with lots and lots of hoaxers trying to get in on the game.

In the show I saw, the researchers hired a group of MIT students to do a crop circle, approaching it as a set of engineering parameters. They did a pretty good job (used a little portable microwave thingie to explode the stems, and resorted to explosives for the iron spheres). One parameter was that they had four hours to do the whole thing from start to finish. They barely made it.

They also showed some apparent film of a "natural" crop circle forming...there were some ball-lightning-like things over the crop, and the stalks fell down in mere seconds.

I remain skeptical, but unless the show was an elaborate hoax by or on Discovery Channel, there's stuff there way beyond two guys with a board.

#27 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:09 PM:

Oh, the alleged live film was infrared, so the bright spots might have just been very hot things.

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 01:40 AM:

Chris, the people who do the circles have not only confessed and described at length, they have now made available helpful software for designing your next crop circle. They've also done crop circles that were paid advertisements for well-known businesses.

Maybe some stems got exploded, maybe some iron spheres got scattered. Odd things can happen. But we know who made the circles.

#29 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 12:49 PM:

It bugs me when people who think crop circles and the like are made by extraterrestrials say "It couldn't possibly have been made by humans".

My response is, don't underestimate your fellow humans' creativity! Just because you can't figure out how to do it, doesn't mean someone else couldn't possibly have figured it out.

#30 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 02:47 PM:

Teresa, I read their description. Unless I missed something, it doesn't say anything about the microiron or stem explosion. And I know they made the commercial ones and the portrait ones and probably hundreds of others. I'm just saying their claims don't account for all the data observed. That's it.

They also admit on their website that they don't make ALL the crop circles in England. Others have gotten into the act, at least.

Jeremy, I definitely don't think any of the circles, even the ones with the cavities-and-iron, could not have been made by humans. If they were I'd like to find out WHY more than HOW (though that's interesting too).

We already know about the two guys with a board, just as we know about the cheeseball out west in this country who walked around with Bigfoot cutouts on his feet - no one but a very naive or unobservant person (i.e. most people) could mistake anything so made for a footprint; it doesn't explain the observations of acquaintances of mine. (Sure, they might have been lying to me. But WHY? I wasn't in a position to do anything, and I was and remain quite skeptical.)

We're talking about accounting for the data. The two hoaxers' explanation doesn't account for the expulsion cavs or the microiron (and the ones with those are the only interesting ones IMO). That's all. If they explain how they did those things too, and why, I'll believe them. Until then, I'll keep an open mind: not concluding they're a poorly understood natural phenomenon, but not rejecting the possibility either.

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 02:51 PM:

And let me say that I have no doubt that any of the ones on the Best of 2003 page were made by humans. They look too "designed."

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.