Digital Evidence

First off, let me explain that I am not a skeptic. I have seen too much unexplainable stuff in my life to not be a believer. I just have a big problem with some things that are claimed to be evidence, but have perfectly reasonable scientific explanations.

I’m also not saying that NONE of it is evidence, I’m just saying, “Be extremely careful of calling something evidence”.

You should be skeptical of ANY digital evidence. The reason is that we live in an analog world. All digital devices convert analog images and sounds into digital formats that are not perfect representations of the original. They can introduce digital artifacts.

A digital artifact is any undesired alteration in data introduced in a digital process by an involved technique and/or technology.

Hardware malfunction: In computer graphics, visual artifacts may be generated whenever a hardware component (eg. processor, memory chip, cabling) malfunctions, causing data corruption. Malfunction may be caused by physical damage, overheating (sometimes due to GPU overclocking), etc. Common types of hardware artifacts are texture corruption and T-vertices in 3D graphics, and pixelization in MPEG compressed video.

Software malfunction: Similarly to hardware malfunction, artifacts may be caused by software issues such as bugs in the algorithms, such as decoding/encoding introducing artifacts into audio or video, or a poor pseudo-random number generator would introduce artifacts into statistical research models.

Compression: Controlled amounts of unwanted information may be generated as a result of the use of lossy compression techniques. One such case is the artifacts seen in JPEG and MPEG compression algorithms.

Aliasing: Digital imprecision generated in the process of converting analog information into digital space due to the limited granularity of digital numbering space. In computer graphics, aliasing is seen as pixelation.

The first thing that bothers me is “Orbs”.
Cameras work because light reflects off an object and back into the lens of the camera, where it hits either film or a CCD panel that records the light. That’s not so bad if you’re not using a flash (Ever notice there’s no orbs in daylight?) But when you use a flash, you’re focusing a high intensity beam of light directly in front of the camera. Anything, and I mean anything, in front of the camera is going to reflect that light back to the lens. A very small particle that is highly reflective is going to look huge and transparent, because the amount of light reflected back is higher than the size of the particle.

When using an IR video camera people will often say, “It’s not a bug or dust because it doesn’t move like dust or a bug, look it changed direction!” Any kid that has ever played with the dust in a bean of sunlight coming in a window will tell you that just moving slightly will change the direction the dust is moving. Moving your hand or blowing air through the beam makes the dust move in all directions and swirls around your hand.

Unless an orb flies up to my face and says “Hi!” it’s probably dust or a bug.

Again, this is something that drives me crazy. There are all kinds of things that can be captured on a digital audio recorder that you may not hear real time. Most digital recorders are VERY sensitive, far more sensitive than your own ears. It can pick up things that are outside the area that you may be in, people talking in another room, a car, or truck going by.

The second thing you may not know is that the Flash Memory that is in a digital recorder has a limited lifespan. The average is about 300,000 Read/Write cycles. That means, every time you record, listen, delete, re-record, listen . . . you are slowly killing the memory. But the memory doesn’t fail all at once, it fails in blocks, at different times, you may even have failed blocks on a brand new device. If you happen to have a failed block in the middle of a recording, you may hear part of a previous recording, a loud pop, or just some weird noise.

Another thing that digital recorders may have trouble with is “Noise” from other digital devices, like cell phones, cordless phones, wireless network devices and even microwave ovens. They can actually pickup sounds from those devices. Ever been near a speaker when you receive a cell phone call and hear the speaker make a “ch ch ch ch ch ch” sound? It was especially bad with Nextel phones, but all cell phones do it.

And last but not least is the “If you believe it, you will hear it” syndrome. I have had people bring me an EVP and say, “It very clearly is Abe Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg Address!” I listen and it sounds like the noise my dogs stomachs make when they get into my frozen Burrito stash. I’ll look at the person and see they are very proud of their find. I almost hate to tell them that I can’t make out a single coherent word.

Electro Magnetic Field . . . The name says it all. What gives off an Electro Magnetic Field? Damn near everything. The Earth itself has a MASSIVE EMF; it’s what protects us from Solar Radiation and being burned to a crisp by the Sun’s rays. The Sun also has an EMF that makes the Earth’s EMF seem like a little spark. Ferrous metals (Iron, Steel) can have an EMF, any type of electric motor (like the ones in video cameras), magnets obviously and even the Human body can give off a slight EMF.

I hate when I hear someone say, “There must be a ghost here, the EMF went up 0.3”. Really? 0.3? A lamp cord can give off 30-50 milligauss! Your cell phone while on a call can be in the 100 milligauss range. Radios, TVs and Walkie-Talkies can also give off pretty high EMF.

If you’re on a steel ship, like an old warship, the EMF readings can have wild swings from one room to the next. Part of the ship may have been magnetized by the motion of the water slapping against its sides.

That is just some of the things that can go wrong. I will add to this list and I’m always open to discuss.

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