Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Introspective Approach to Understanding Memory Recall

This is a follow on to my last post concerning the issues with witness recall.  I've a big interest in the thoughts of the great 19th century American psychologist William James.  James believed that the best way to understand human consciousness and thought was through the use of personal introspection, or the awareness of self.

It's with this approach that I wanted to provide a personal story concerning my own recall of my last Minuteman alert back in February of 1985...28 years ago.  I use my self as an example of the issues of recall.

In February of 1985, I pulled my last nuclear alert at Malmstrom AFB.  This was to be alert 295. Our scheduling office had asked if I wanted to extend my tour for at least two more weeks to obtain the magical 300.  I politely declined as by this time I had fulfilled my obligation for the 4 year controlled tour and was ready to do something else with my AF career which was to be a follow-on assignment to Grand Forks AFB, the 321 Strategic Missile Wing, as a staff officer. For the past 4 years I was assigned to the 490 Strategic Missile Squadron and for most of a year and a half assigned to Kilo Flight, the squadron's command post and the wing's alternate wing command post.

I believe that my last alert was at Kilo based on the recall of a specific incident that occurred the next following morning while awaiting my relief.  For this last alert, my deputy was a young officer, whose name escapes me at this time, but also a member of the 490th.  I can mentally picture him, but his name evades me.  This was the first time that I had pulled an alert with this individual.

The alert progressed without anything unusual.  One of my LFs had a cycling Outer Zone security alarm that had a Camper Alert Team on site.  I do not recall the exact affected LF.  I do not recall anything of significance on the rest of the LFs.  As far as I can remember, there were no maintenance teams in the flight area.  This had all the makings of a normal quiet alert (except for that damn cycling OZ).

Back then it was customary for the deputy to take the first sleep shift with the commander usually awakening the deputy around 2 or 3 am.  Barring any issues that cropped up, the commander would sleep until 7 or 8 am.  I decided to do the opposite.  I took the first sleep shift and asked that I be awaken around 2 am.  This was in deference to my deputy and I personally wanted to enjoy the quiet solitude of of the humming of the capsule equipment and the monitoring lights.  This also afforded me the opportunity to chat with the some of the other crews on HVC.  All was quiet, except for that damned cycling OZ.

Some time during the early morning hours, I received an alarm and a printout from the Command Message Process Group (CMPG).  To my shock and horror there was a 2 Minute ALCS Hold Off Alarm.  How in the hell did that happen?  Where was the obligatory 10 minute warning?  Before I could answer that question, I had to get all of the squadron crews up on HVC coordinating a round robin or "all call" hold off command input.  This effectively reset the timer back to 60 minutes.

Let me explain the significance of the ALCS hold off timer.  This effectively blocked any UHF frequency commands issued from the Airborne Launch Command Systems aircraft and any other potential clandestine source of UHF signals from affecting ALL of the squadron's missiles.  If the timer had counted down to "zero" then all of the squadron's LFs would have dropped in "radio mode" meaning total UHF frequency access.  I can't describe adequately what the ramifications and aftermath would have been like.

What had happened?  After ensuring that the timers had been properly reset, I went back to the CMPG tapes and saw that I had indeed received a 10 minute warning...back to back of that damn cycling OZ!  The OZ alarm had effectively masked the 10 minute warning.  But that was why the system was designed, a back up notification should the crew get distracted with other things.  The system performed as it was supposed to.  BTW, it's the squadron command post's responsibility to coordinate the reset of the timer.

At approximately 8 am, I received a call from the squadron's duty officer informing me that the SAC IG had landed back at the base...I'd almost wager that the OZ cycled at this time.  I notified the rest of the squadron LCCs of this good news.  I can't remember the reactions verbatim but obscenities probably ruled the conversation.  Soon after, I received a PAS message from the wing command post which when decoded formally implemented a wing-wide Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI).  By this time my deputy was fully awake.

Thirty or so minutes after the first phone call, I receive a second call from the squadron's duty officer informing me that the IG had selected me to be evaluated in the simulator for an IG check ride...and I would be crewed with a deputy from another squadron, the 12th SMS.  SAC wanted to evaluate a non-integrated crew and I was chosen at random...great (I did throw out obscenities at the duty officer).  The IG evaluation check would happen the next day.

After stewing about the "unfairness" of my predicament I called back to the squadron's duty officer spewing the same obscenities...I was venting my frustrations.  I found out first hand that my squadron commander's voice was very similar to that of the duty officer's when on the phone!  That did not go very well...threats of charges of insubordination  conduct unbecoming of an officer, ect.  After quickly and convincingly apologizing and explaining my new found discovery that he sounded remarkably like the duty officer on the phone, my squadron commander understood, but reminded me of my obligations to perform to the utmost during the next day ORI check ride.  In other words, perform well or...

In the end, I completed my check ride, even though crewed with a foreign deputy from the 12th. Eventually, I would head out to Grand Forks for the next 3 years.

Now here is the issues with long term memory recall:

1.  I don't remember the exact date of my last alert.
2.  I don't remember who I was crewed with, but I'd probably recognize his name if I had a crew roster.
3.  Was I really at Kilo?  For awhile, I had my doubts, but the ALC hold of timer issue confirms that I was at the squadron command post, plus my coordinating the initial prep for the ORI with the rest of the squadron's flights.
4.  I do not recall what LF had the cycling OZ, but remember that I had a camper team on site.
5.  No recall who was topside:  FSCs, ART/SRT, facility manager, or cook.
6.  I do not recall who was crewed at the other squadron LCCs.
7.  No recall of the 12th deputy who took the IG check ride with me.

These are the areas that I have a good degree of mental clarity:

1.  The ALC hold off timer event and coordinating with the rest of the squadron to ensure proper reset.
2.  The cycling OZ.
3.  The calls notifying that the SAC IG had landed and that I had been selected for a next day check ride.
4.  I had passed the check ride but cannot recall my passing category:  HQ or Q.
5.  I remember the names of my squadron commander, operations officer, and the duty officer names.
6.  Montana is damnably cold in February. 

Just a personal example with the issues of memory recall.  The story itself is true, but some of the details are sketchy...even for me.  Ah, those were the days.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Usefulness (or not) of UFO Witness Interviews

The 24 October 1968 Minot case has a dearth of information that one can sift through.  If we access the Blue Book case files on Fold 3.com, we have 90-plus pages of documentation. This documentation gives us quite a bit of information that attempts to describe what occurred on the night/morning in question.  It's as close to real time that we can get, or that we may ever get. Of course this could change should new revelations appear in the form of new documentation that were not part of the original release.

Yet despite the above hope for future document releases, we are faced with the fact that at this late point in time, 45 years, such discoveries will probably not be forth coming.  So the extant copies of the BB investigation documents are all that is provided for the researcher's attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Some months ago, I had tossed some ideas around with two friends concerning an approach to the Minot case.  It was the consensus from the two that I should only focus on the BB documents alone, that is, let the AF-117s speak for themselves, but there are usually other bits of information, separate from the official line, that tend to tell a story within a story.

The Pros and Cons of Witness Interviews

To the main point of this post concerning interviews conducted 30 to 40 years after the fact.   Are they relevant?  Not surprisingly, the answer is yes and no, but for various reasons.  The Fold 3 site only provides the official investigation documentation, but Tom Tulien's site, minotb52ufo.com, has quite a few interviews that he and Jim Klotz had conducted over the past years with the principle players involved back in October 1968.  These have proven to be of interest in one fashion or another.

A sampling of the case interviews show predictable memory patterns.  
Specific details of thecase tend to be cloudy and vague with the conversations centering on generalities.  This is not to be construed as a negative take on my part, for it merely demonstrates the issues with long term memory recall.  Long term memory recall is often spotty for specific or precise details which the investigator anxiously seeks, yet the sought after detailed information remains allusive.

Despite the predictability of long term memory recall, there are some gems that I found interesting and germane to the case.  Lloyd Isley provides information about why he and Robert O'Connor where enroute to N-07...to work on the site's cooling system.  This information was not mentioned in any of the BB documentation.  What is also learned is that O'Connor was the team chief.  This may have some bearing on the AF-117s that both produced back on 28 October 1968.

James Bond's interview (he being the November Flight FSC) makes it clear that the November Flight launch crew notified him of Isley and O'Connor's sightings, which means that the maintenance team initially by-passed contacting Bond via VHF radio...I found this odd from a protocol standpoint, but it does put the reporting timelines into prospective and provides some credence that O'Connor's listing of his seeing the object at 0230 (per his AF-117) may be somewhat accurate.  

Bond further states that the object did not fly around or near the Launch Control Center's hardened HF antenna as was reported in the Wing Security Controller log (he never stated this in his AF-117).  This confirmed my suspicions that portions of WSC log are suspect in it's narrative accuracy and has to be taken with a grain of salt. 

Bond gives the impression that the SAT was already dispatched to the flight area to investigate the sighted object at his direction, but the AF-117s for the security team does not support this.  I suspect that the reason for the SAT being sent to N-07 was at the direction of the launch crew. The crew had the ultimate authority to dispatch the SAT by declaring  a security situation.  It is possible that the crew called a low grade security situation thinking that the team may have been under duress.

Bond's interview, in total, shows normal recall issues that we would expect over the passage of time.  Despite some short comings, Bond does provide information that clarifies some of my questions. Overall, this was a credible interview with decent information.

This brings up William Smith, the Oscar Flight FSC, who provided information that was both good and suspect.  Smith's recall, from a long term memory construct, was appropriate as he detailed his career in the Air Force.  He provided excellent rote recall regarding the procedures for entering the LCF and a LF as far as the authentication process and the access to the A-circuit.  As to be expected, details were sometimes spotty concerning 24 Oct 1968.  Again, I view this as a normal consequence based on the passages of time.

Smith brings up that the FSC's office had a flight security status panel that monitored each LF's security.  I immediately took notice as I know from personal experience that such a system was never in place topside, but was monitored solely in the launch control center.  Yet, despite my belief that no such monitoring system existed, I had contacted an acquaintance of mine who was a Minuteman I crew member assigned to Minot from 1969 to 1973 and queried about Smith's claim.  My contact had happened to still have his Minuteman I dash-1 Technical Order (TO-1). The TO-1 confirmed my suspicion,  the FSC's office only had a circuit panel box, fire alarm panel, telephone/VHF radio...no flight security monitoring panel.  

Does this mean that Smith made things up?  Not necessarily, for it's possible that Smith may have mistaken a "panel" for a map of the flight area which the FSC would have marked, with grease pencil, showing who was on a given LF(s) at a given time ie, maintenance/security teams allowing the FSC to keep track on what was occurring in his flight area.  This map usually was hanging on the wall adjacent to the FSC's desk.

Smith further demonstrated recall issues concerning the status of O-6 and O-7.  Per the WSC log, O-6 had a Camper Alert Team on site.  O-7 had the issue of the site intrusion.  Smith appears to say that a Combat Targeting Team may have been on O-6 who may have also observed an object in the nights's sky.  None of the documents that I've read confirms, or even hints, that a Combat Targeting Team was on site.  I can't help but to believe that this would have been highlighted in the investigation documents and message traffic up channeled to SAC and 15th Air Force. The same can be said of his claim that low level radiation readings were measured by an officer investigating O-7's break in.

These are but a few of the examples I use to show that witness accounts some decades after the fact provide both credible and equally questionable information. Yet despite the passage of time, they all consistently hold to the fact that they saw something in the night's sky 45 years ago. There are other interviews that I've not commented on, but will do so with a future post. 

Addendum:  Tom Tulien, in the comment section, corrected me concerning Smith's statement that an officer went out to O-7 with a geiger counter.  It is indeed mentioned in one of the BBs Memo for Record that LtCol Werlich had planned to go out to the site with a geiger counter to take readings. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Autokinesis and UFOs

The autokinetic effect has been well-known for at least two centuries, that being documented during this period of time.  I suspect the effect has generated interest, if not completely baffling observers for a couple of thousands of years.  This visual perception effect has been linked to quiet a few UFO reports.  The autokinetic effect has been used as a way of explaining visual mis-identifications of lighted objects in the night sky. 

From Wikipedia:  The autokinetic effect (also referred to as autokinesis) is a phenomenon of visual perception in which a stationary, small point of light in an otherwise dark or featureless environment appears to move...Alexander von Humbolt observed the phenomenon in 1799 while looking at stars with the naked eye, but thought it was a real movement of the stars. Thus he named them "Sternschwanken" i.e. "Swinging Stars". It was not until 1857 that G. Schweitzer (Schweitzer, 1857), an early German psychologist, discovered that is was a subjective phenomenon. The US Navy started studying this in 1945 in order to explain vertigo experiences related by pilots...

To simplify things, let's take the UFO component out of the story for the time being and look closely at the phenomena from a physiological stand point.

Gregory and Zangwell, 1963:  "The effects of unbalanced fatigue of the ocular and neck musculature on the auto- kinetic effect are described. It is shown that after deviation of the eyes to an extreme position, fixation of a small light source with the eye in the central position gives rise to an immediate and pronounced autokinetic effect. This apparent movement is typically in the same meridian as that of the ocular deviation and is often, at all events at first, in the opposite direction. Similar, though less clear-cut, results are obtained after induction of unbalanced fatigue in the neck musculature. It is argued that the autokinetic effect observed under these conditions warrants treatment as a primary illusion of movement and does not involve a “framework” or standard of reference. In an appendix, a speculative model of the ocular control system and some preliminary observations are presented. It is concluded that the autokinetic effect is principally due to spontaneous minor fluctuations in the neural system which monitors the outward signals controlling eye movement."

Since the 1940s, research has shown that the physiological origins and effects have been linked to the vestibular system of the inner ear.  The three semi-circular canals play an important part in our sense of balance and spatial orientation.  So we can deduce that the autokinetic effect is a physiological visual illusion generated by our semi-circular canals.

Upon doing an online meta search I found research papers describing autokinesis going to the early 1900s.  Most of the studies occurred during the 1940s and 1950s.  Surprisingly, not much has been published in the latter half of the last century.

But I did come across this interesting paper.  A study conducted by Eva Riedel, et al, published in 2005, "Imaging the visual autokinetic illusion with fMRI"

"During fixation of a stationary, dim light-emitting diode (LED) in complete darkness, a subtle, apparent motion is perceived which is called autokinesis. This autokinetic illusion increases with increasing fixation time. Eleven healthy subjects were examined by fMRI while fixating an LED in darkness for 35 s. BOLD signal changes of the first and the second half of the fixation period were compared. While the stimulus was the same for both periods, perception differed in that autokinesis was more pronounced in the second half. This second half of the period was associated with bilateral activations in the motion-sensitive middle occipito-temporal area known as MT/V5. Our finding suggests that area MT/V5 is involved in the mediation of autokinesis."

OK, the fact that the middle occipito-temoporal area is neurally suggested for autokinesis is interesting to me, but I suspect that most others could care less.  But, the true gem of this study lies with the suggestion that prolong fixation (staring) at a lighted object increases the autokinetic illusion.

Last week, I conducted a self-experiment while out scanning the night's sky with my telescope.  I used to stars (Deneb and Altair) as my target subjects.  Both stars are prominent in the southern sky based on my location in Southern California.

Without aid of telescope, but naked eye observation only, I fixed my gaze on Deneb.  After only a short time, the autokinetic effect became evident as the star appeared to move from right to left. The same effect was observed using Altair as my stellar prop.  I can confirm Riedel's findings that prolong fixation on both Altair and Deneb did increase the effect.

I also confirmed that willfully attempting to mitigate the effect was impossible on my part.  This confirms that it autokinesis is purely a involuntary physiological effect that the subject (me, in this case) has no control over.

How does this effect come into play with UFO sightings?  I conducted a new meta search using "autokinesis" and "UFOs" as my keywords and found a large search return describing the two as linked in UFO encounters.  

Some of you know where I'm going with all of this as I've been researching the 1968 Minot UFO case.  Project Blue Book had used autokinesis as a factor in the ground sightings and focused on the star Sirius.  Obviously, there are other factors associated with the case but I wanted to look at the the autokinetic effect in more detail.  More at a later date...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tim Printy, SUNlite, Roswellian Crashology

Tim Printy, just recently, put out another edition of SUNlite...a good read as expected.  Tim touches on the Roswell crash issues, that is, saucer crash debris vs. that of a Project Mogul balloon.  Tim definitely goes into detail to support his thesis.

Before I get to the main thrust of Tim's Roswell piece,  I noticed his opening section of SUNlite, "Relaxing under the stars."

"August is always a fun month for me as an amateur astronomer. Nothing is more fun than putting away my telescope to stare at the sky and enjoy the annual Perseid meteor shower. As I watched the spectacle, I began to wonder about all the meteor observing hours I have logged over the years. They must number in the thousands by now. Despite all this time watching the sky, without any distractions, I have yet to see anything I could not identify. Over the period of the maximum, hundreds of amateur astronomers all over the world were watching the sky without any optical aid other than their eyes. Despite all these experts watching the night sky, I did not see any qualified amateur astronomers actually reporting that they saw a “true” UFO. Some saw unidentified satellites but that is not what UFOlogists would consider a “true” UFO. From what I have read, they consider a “true” UFO to be an actual craft of unknown design/origin."

I thought this to be most appropriate and corresponds well with my last blog post.  No, I guess I did not see a "true" UFO in the Ufology vernacular, but I did see an unidentified object that has all the markings of a prosaic origin.  Sooo much crap in orbit to choose from...

While I'm not into Roswell, I do follow the debates that have issued forth on Kevin Randle's site, as well as Rich Reynolds' site.  For me, getting involved with Roswell is like venturing into a dark forest at night...you simply disappear and you never seem to find your way back out.

Flying Saucer or Mogul balloon?  Sort of a Shakespearean question.  Despite all of the hoopla with the attempts to prove the UFO angle, no hard tangible evidence appears to have been forthcoming. Yet, as Tim has pointed out, there is a tangible piece of evidence that points the other way...Mogul.

The important points that have been raised by the skeptics is that there are multiple reasons to suspect that this “cluster of balloons” may have made it to the Foster ranch site. All one has to do is examine how the recovered “disc” was described and recorded in 1947: 
1. Mack Brazel (confirmed by his daughter Bessie in 1993) described finding large quantities of rubber and remains of, what appears to be, radar reflectors. 
2. Jesse Marcel is quoted in 1947 news papers as finding debris that matches what we see in the photographs. 
3. The photographs show balloon materials that had been left out in the sun for a long period of time (see SUNlite 4-4 and 4-5) as well as the types of radar reflectors known to be used by the NYU team.
 4. The news wires, which are the very first news reports regarding the story, mentioned that the disc was made of tin foil and was only a few feet across. 
5. The FBI teletype stated that the “disc” was supported by a very large balloon of twenty feet (this estimate may have been based on the amount of rubber found and not finding a single piece of rubber this size). 
 While the crashed space ship proponents consider all of these items part of the grand conspiracy to hide the truth, an equally compelling argument is that these were descriptions and photographs of the actual debris that was recovered. This argument does not have to assume a vast conspiracy for which there is no evidence. There is also no evidence, other than stories told decades later, that it is not the debris that was recovered.

The UFO proponents have bashed the Mogul theory to death with the lack of issued NOTAMs and supposedly accurate weather data that precludes a Mogul flight over the Roswell area (Foster Ranch).  Tim succinctly reinforces the notion that regardless of one's side of the issue there is still an "800 pound gorilla" in the room...Mogul. 

The ball remains in the dream team’s court to provide more conclusive evidence to falsify the project MOGUL scenario or support the crashed spaceship solution. Until that occurs, the best working hypothesis for the debris recovered at the Foster ranch remains to be project MOGUL.

An absolutely great article from Tim Printy.  I highly recommend that you take a look.