Friday, August 9, 2013

Ghost Hunting with Smart Phones?

Could smart phones replace all that expensive equipment ghost hunters use while investigating?  There are countless apps out there claiming to be able to detect EMF levels, actual spirits and ghosts, and even turn your phone’s camera into a thermal imager and allow night vision capabilities.  We’ve put in some time checking an assortment of these apps out and present our findings here.

Since Appalachain Wireless finally decided to send my repaired cell phone back to me, I let in to replacing all the apps they wiped off of it. Naturally I checked to see if there were any new paranormal apps out.  I ended up putting five or six EMF detection apps and a dozen 'ghost detectors' on my phone. That evening I had a conversation with my brother and my not-a-brother about the apps.  My tech-savvy brother made the comment that "even for someone who believes in that stuff, do you really think those things work?"

After clarifying again that I was a hardened skeptic but sought the answers to spooky questions nonetheless, we discussed how a smart phone could detect EMF. Remembering having read about this before, and having my curiosity peaked, I began a monsterous research project.  Sure enough, smart phones actually have little magnetometers in them, presumably for GPS location and such.  The problem is that they aren't sensitive enough to detect much EMF.  If you were using a reliable EMF app and entered a Fear Cage or happened upon an entity that was using EMF to manifest, the app might work, but chances are you're gonna get a lot of false-positive hits in the meantime.

Then we put the apps to the test.  I used my actual EMF detector to take some readings around the house.  I got low level hits off a lamp, the computer monitor and a higher hit from a television.  I opened the EMF apps on the phone then and started repeating the process.  

The first app, fittingly named “EMF Meter”  showed the level of EMF actually dropping when I held it close to the monitor and television, but a large increase next to the lamp.  The readings were displayed in milliGauss units, but I had to throw this one out (and delete it from my phone) because of its seemingly inaccurate readings and the annoying beep it constantly emits while ‘scanning.’

The next app I tested changed the name slightly to “EMF Sensor.”  The readings were displayed in unknown units, with an average baseline reading of around 50.  The reading went up to the mid-80s next to the lamp, dropped to the mid-30s at the monitor, and went all the way down to the teens next to the television.  Again, disappointed, I trashed this one also.

Next the aptly named “EMF Sensor Free” showed baseline readings of just over 500 milliGauss.  When next to the computer monitor, the readings held steady.  The television test read in the low 300s, and the lamp shot the reading up to 900.  Another app for the garbage.

Another app switched it up just a tad, and purported to measure EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, which is a burst of electromagnetic energy, so I assumed they were attempting to measure EMF levels and somehow set themselves apart from the myriad other detection apps.  The sensitivity on this one can be adjusted from low to normal to high and again has that annoying clicking sound while its supposed to be scanning.  As a reassurance, the display tell you there’s “almost no EMP, do not worry” when the baseline reading remains constant.  When higher levels are supposedly detected, the readout changes to “Look behind you.” I started to throw it out right then, but in the name of science I checked it’s capabilities.  When next to the monitor, the readout told me “do not move” while the clicking quickened, but while I held it there, the reading returned to normal. Sitting it on a dresser, the same thing happened.  Pretty sure that the room I was in isn’t haunted, I had to make myself check the other two control tests.  Against both the television and the lamp, the reading fluctuated with no rhyme or reason.

The last EMF app I tested, EVP Voices of Ghosts, showed  no changes whatsoever.  The only saving grace was the audio recorder.  You can save audio files, and are promted to ask questions.  Playing along, I asked if anyone was with me and immediately got a robotic female voice responding with “hearth.” I asked another question with no response for a few seconds.  While sitting in silence the app's voice said sycamore, enchanting, walker, crust, rug, castle, and finally shuttlecock.  

Some ghost hunters use devices like the Mel Meter that Zak (douche)Bagans and the Ghost Adventures team employ.  These tools are programmed with random words the spirits are supposed to be able to pick out by manipulating the device.  I was initially hopeful that based on this theory there might be something to this.  However, when I get a boatload of responses from a location where nothing paranormal has ever been reported, I have my doubts.  

Disappointed in the EMF detection apps, I moved onto ‘ghost detection.’  The “Ghost Radar” app brought about a slew of imitators. The display is a sweeping radar that shows colored dots when spirits are supposedly nearby.  It also has random words programmed into it that ghosts are supposed to be able to access.  We turned this app on, and immediately started seeing bleeps on the radar.  After a few seconds a robotic voice said ‘earn’ and then nothing for the next few minutes.  Just as we were about to close it out it said ‘whether’ followed by ‘open’ and ‘mainly.’ None of these seemed relevant to the location or anyone around.

“Ghost Communicator 2013” is one such app, which displays a radar-like sweep and what I assume to be a supposed EMF meter in the corner.  The needle on this meter bounced back and forth like basketball in the hands of a point guard, so I dismissed it right out of the gate.  This app also displays words that are supposed to come from the spirits manipulating the device.  It said to listen to my left, and displayed the name Rachel.  No one with that name has ever had anything to do with this location, and listening to my left all I heard were the crickets outside.  Soon after “burning” was displayed, quickly followed by videotape and human.  The radar then showed a hit directly in front of me.  I moved towards it, only to have it disappear.  During the next five minutes several red bleeps on the radar appeared and disappeared and the readout showed the words electric, aqua, Jennifer, death, Barbara (snickered to myself…”They’re coming to get you Barbara," Night of the Living Dead), woman, and spiritus.  The whole time it was running the app was directing me to ‘move up,’ ‘listen left,’ or ‘look down.’

“Ghost Detector” also has a radar display, but also comes with an EMF detection and EVP function. Using the radar I watched for nearly five minutes with nothing and thought this was promising, as I was sure this location had no prior paranormal activity. Then white bleeps started showing up. Assuming the phone is in the center of the radar, they appeared right over me, then randomly appeared in different places.  Boo!  The EMF fluctuated slightly near the lamp and didn’t move on the other tests.  The EVP function isn’t quite ”EVP” as you are prompted to ask a question.  Before I could speak the word ‘third’ was displayed.  I asked if any spooks were around and several seconds later the word ‘radiation’ appeared.  Friend, continue, and refuse followed before I deleted this app as well. 

The Ghost Meter app displayed readings of ‘psychokinetic energy.’  Having read up on EMF and smart phones, I had my doubts, but I was pretty sure there was no sensor in my phone that could detect any psychokinetic energy. The reading ranged from -15% to 88%, although I’m not sure what 0 or 100% psychokinetic energy would mean, unless 0 was spook free and 100 meant that you were being attacked by a malevolent spirit. 

The Ghost Sensor app said it worked by checking for cold spots while you moved around the room. Although I was pretty sure there wasn’t an internal thermometer in my phone, I tried it anyway.  The readout remained at ‘nothing unusual’ for the duration of the test.  The only thing that happened was some interference with the speakers when I got close to a computer, but this happens all the time when phones and computers are near one another.

Now sorely disappointed we held out hope that the thermal and nitevision camera apps would work.  We read online that the camera can see infrared light (IR) that the naked eye can’t.  Your television remote uses IR light to communicate with the tv, and when we pointed it at the camera and pressed buttons, sure enough, you could see the little bulb on the end light up through the camera while seeing nothing with our naked eye.

We tested three nitevision apps, and while you got that cool greenish tint in all the pics, there had to be some level of light for anything to show up.  A photo taken in total darkness just gave you a pic of total darkness.  

With a little light in the room

In total darkness

The thermal imaging apps seemed more promising at first…

But then I took one of my hand, hoping to see a difference in my body temperature 
and the environment around me:

Not so much.  Then I noticed through the screen that the computer monitor was lit up like the lamp was, so I held my hand up next to it, and found that the app doesn't actually detect temperature, but light sources:

The thermal and nitevision camera apps are useful if you want to produce faux-effects but otherwise are worthless.

When searching the app store for ghost hunting aids we came across several apps that allow you to insert ghostly images into photos.  This makes it easier for folks to confuse and trick others with paranormal fakery.  Some of these are quite convincing, but only make it harder for serious paranormal researchers to present actual evidence.  Web surfers have to wade through endless hoaxes and silliness to find actual possible evidence, and apps such as these only add to the mess.  Nonetheless, we’ve included some of the pics we took with such apps, to illustrate how good the fakes can be (they would be creepier if taken at night, but we did most of our testing and write up in the daytime):

This blog wouldn't be complete if we didn't throw in the Ouija board apps we came across.  Unfortunately they seemed to work much like a regular Ouija board.  If you moved the planchette manually it would move over letters, but we found no evidence that spirits could manipulate the pointer to spell out messages to you.

After testing several apps that were supposed to aid ghost hunters, the Lost Creek crew concluded that the only useful app to aid in investigating was a Flashlight app.  You could replace your traditional flashlight with an app that keeps your camera’s flash on to light your way, but they suck your battery dry.  We’re gonna stick to our Maglite and bring our phones along, but only in case our car breaks down or we get lost in the woods.

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