Saturday, June 04, 2005

Tools of the trade - Software

I find it useful to split up the various
types of software/databases that ufologists use. In this email,
I'll divide my comments into the following categories:

A. Databases of UFO reports;

B. Databases of other information;

C. Expert systems to assist in identifying possible stimuli for
a report;

D. Other software to assist in investigations and research.

At the very minimum, I consider this exercise to be worthwhile
because it may assist some of the various individuals that
appear to be putting considerable time and effort into
developing their own databases/software. Also, the usefulness of
databases and other software merely as bibliographical tools
should not be underestimated given the sheer mass of literature
and documentation relating to UFO reports. However, before
launching into these topics, I'll just note a few cautionary
remarks in relation to the use of computers within ufology:

(1) "Computers are a powerful tool which properly used will give
enormous assistance to ufologists the world over... but it
should be recognised from the outset that they alone will not
answer the questions. [T]he UFO enigma will not be answered by
computers but by the talented and intuitive thinking of human
minds" per Spencer, John and Vallee, Jacques and Verga, Maurizio
in "UFO: 1947-1987" (1987) (edited by Hilary Evans with John
Spencer) at page 245 of the Fortean Tomes softcover edition (in
Chapter 3.6, entitled "Computers in Ufology").

(2) "Poor data will merely produce the wrong answer more quickly
on a computer. No technology or technique will compensate for
deficient data." per Peter Hill, quoted in Phenomenon (1988)
(edited by John Spencer and Hilary Evans) at page 224.

(3) "The well-known phrase "garbage in, garbage out' applies
equally well to ufology." per Gamble, Stephen and Wootten,
Michael and Danby, J and Smith, Willy and Kuhlemann, Bertil in
"Phenomenon" (1988) (edited by John Spencer and Hilary Evans) at
pages 224-237 of the MacDonald hardback edition (in Part 3, in
the unnumbered chapter entitled "Harnessing the Computer").

(4) See also the remarks by Brad Sparks on UpDates at the
following link:

http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/jan/m09-010.shtml

With these caveats firmly in mind, I turn to the categories I
outlined above.

A. Databases of UFO reports

Given that many ufologists (and non-ufologists) in modern
society appear to be almost compulsive list-makers, it is not
surprising that there are already a wide variety of dabases of
UFO Reports.

Heck, there are already a considerable number of lists of
databases (in effect, databases of databases - or "databases
squared").

What is more surprising is that these databases rarely seem to
be referred to by other individuals that are considering
developing their own databases.

If I were to attempt to prepare a comprehensive list of
databases from scratch, I would attempt to divide existing
databases into various categories (e.g. according to the method
of storage or access (such as online, computerised and paper
based), or according to the type of data stored (e.g. worldwide
reports, regional reports, or specialised (e.g. pilot sightings,
EM reports) and gradually build up a comprehensive list of
databases within each catagory.

However, given the existence of some attempts to list databases
already, I think a more efficient and systematic approach would
be to begin by starting by producing a list of references to
lists of databases (in effect, a database of databases of
databases, or a list of databases squared, or a "database
cubed").

I'll begin with a list of online lists of databases (most of
which are useful as guides to databases available online, but
are rather weak in relation to databases supplied on CD or on
paper):

(a) Mark Cashman's list of catalogues at the following link,
which is clearly presented and useful (but rather limited):

http://www.temporaldoorway.com/ufo/catalog/index.htm

(b) Potentially more comprehensive, but a bit hit and miss in
its coverage, is the following page on Francis Ridge's "NICAP"
website. That page refers to various categories or "groups" of
sightings. Clicking on a "group" displays a page relating to
that category of sighting that generally begins with a list of
databases or analyses relevant to that category.

http://www.nicap.dabsol.co.uk/special.htm

(c) Project 1947 provides a list of catalogues (which appears to
be generally limited to those by contributors to the Project)
at:

http://www.project1947.com/47cats.htm

(d) A slightly bare list of databases (which includes several
regional databases rarely mentioned elsewhere) is provided by
SUFOI at the following link:

http://www.sufoi.dk/artik-sn/new12-08.htm

(e) Few of the many computer software projects currently in
development give any indication that existing databases/software
were reviewed before launching into the new project. One of the
few exceptions is the RR0 project being run by Jerome Beau,
which not only includes a limited list of "alternatives and
competition" but also (extremely briefly and not entirely
clearly (possibly because of the somewhat stilted
English/jargon)) attempts to define what is different about the
proposed project. See the "alternatives and competition" table
and the remarks below it at the following link:

https://sourceforge.net/docman/display_doc.php?docid=17408&group_id=70060#AlternativesAndCompetition

(f) A very brief list of databases is given by Terry Groff on his
UFO Tools website at the following link:

http://www.terrygroff.com/ufotools/statistics.html

The most striking thing about these lists, to me at least, is
that there is very limited overlap in the lists of databases. It
seems to me that merely combining these lists would generate a
more comprehensive list of UFO databases than is currently
available on the Internet.

Even more striking is the fact that the lists of databases and
catalogues that appear in print also have extremely limited
overlap with the above lists. For example, UFO databases are
listed and/or discussed in the following:

Evans, Hilary in "UFO: 1947-1987" (1987) (edited by Hilary Evans
with John Spencer) at page 46 of the Fortean Tomes softcover
edition (Chapter 2.3.1, entitled "UFOs as Global Phenomenon").

Hall, Richard in "The UFO Evidence: Volume 2 - A Thirty Year
Report" (2001) (edited by Richard Hall) at pages 646-647 (in
Section 16) of the Scarecrow Press hardback edition.

Hynek, J Allen and Vallee, Jacques in their "The Edge of
Reality" (1975) at pages 76, 78-82 (in Chapter 3) of the Henry
Regnery hardback edition.

Gamble, Stephen and Wootten, Michael and Danby, J and Smith,
Willy and Kuhlemann, Bertil in "Phenomenon" (1988) (edited by
John Spencer and Hilary Evans) at pages 224-237 of the MacDonald
hardback edition (Part 3, in the unnumbered chapter entitled
"Harnessing the Computer").

Randles, Jenny and Warrington, Peter in their "UFOs : A British
Viewpoint" (1979) at pages 180-181 (in Chapter 11) of the Book
Club Associates hardback edition.

Randles, Jenny and Warrington, Peter in their "Science and the
UFOs" (1985) at page 60 (in Chapter 4) of the Blackwell hardback
edition.

Spencer, John and Vallee, Jacques and Verga, Maurizio in "UFO:
1947-1987" (1987) (edited by Hilary Evans with John Spencer) at
pages 238-245 of the Fortean Tomes softcover edition (in Chapter
3.6, entitled "Computers in Ufology").

Sturrock, Peter in his "The UFO Enigma" (1999) at pages 166-167
(in Chapter 24) of the Warner Aspect hardback edition.

Westrum, Ronald M in "UFO Phenomena and the Behavioral
Scientist" (1979) (edited by Richard F Haines) at pages 104-106
(in Chapter 5) of the Scarebrow Press hardback edition.

The above lists are an attempt at a database cubed. I've started
to generate my own database squared (i.e. a list of computer
databases), by listing the databases listed in the
webpages/discussions and other databases I've read about
elsewhere (or have obtained).

Before I spend much more time on this project, I'd invite anyone
that knows of other lists of databases to add to the above
database cubed to do so.

Of the above list of existing lists of databases, I would
heavily highlight in particular the article by Spencer, John and
Vallee, Jacques and Verga, Maurizio in "UFO: 1947-1987" (1987)
(edited by Hilary Evans with John Spencer) at pages 238-245 of
the Fortean Tomes softcover edition (in Chapter 3.6, entitled
"Computers in Ufology").

That article discusses a considerable number of existing
databases. Interestingly, I don't think I've read about most of
those databases since that article was printed in 1987. It would
be interesting to follow up on the status and availability of
those databases. A few hours of effort in following up the
availability of programs or databases that took week or months
to produce could be very rewarding.

I note in particular the following from that article (at the top
of page 242): " This is the only publication in the world
exclusively devoted to the use and application of computers in
ufology. A lot of international researchers contribute to the
[Computer UFO Newsletter] edited by Maurizio Verga. with
articles on research projects, ready programs, proposals of
common works and new software. There is a column, 'Offers of
software', where there is an offer at cost price of all UFO
programs available at the moment (about 30) for different kinds
of computers.".

Presumably, if the authors of the relevant programs were
prepared to make the programs available at cost price, some or
all of them would be prepared to make them available on a
website (such as Terry's "UFO Tools" website).

I note that the Newsletter is referred to on Maurizio Verga's
website at the following link, but I don't know whether the
newsletters that were produced (or the relevant programs) are
already available online or how useful they would be.

http://www.ufo.it/verga.htm

Another previous effort that I would be interested in knowing
more about (and may be worth noting by those that are working
on, or thinking about, generating their own database) is the
International Committee for UFO Research ("ICUR"). That
organisation made an effort to consider how more comprehensive
international databases of UFO reports could be generated and
how (if at all) the data in various databases could be
standardised. See the links below:

http://members.rogers.com/vlourenco/mufon/hais02.htm

http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/square/el82/icur.htm

That Committee boasted an impressive list of members, including
BUFORA, CUFOS, Project UNICAT, Project URD, SUFOI and others.
I'm aware of some background on the Committee (see the short
list of references below), but am quite out of date. I'd like to
know far more about this interesting endeavour. Can anyone point
me to more up to date information? Are any of the members of the
executive of that Committee on this List? How active was/is the
Committee? Did it issue any reports or substantial minutes of
its deliberations?

Some references for the International Committee for UFO Research
(in addition to the 2 hyperlinks given above):

Blevins, Dave in his "UFO Directory International" (2003) at
pages 89-90 (in Part 2) of the McF softcover edition.

Gamble, Stephen and Wootten, Michael and Danby, J. and Smith,
Willy and Kuhlemann, Bertil in "Phenomenon" (1988) (edited by
John Spencer and Hilary Evans) at page 224 of the MacDonald
hardback edition (Part 3, in the unnumbered chapter entitled
"Harnessing the Computer").

Randles, Jenny in her "UFO Reality" (1983) at page 52 (in
Chapter 3) of the Hale hardback edition.

West, Arnold in "Phenomenon" (1988) (edited by John Spencer and
Hilary Evans) at page 12 of the MacDonald hardback edition (in
the unnumbered chapter entitled "About BUFORA and ICUR").


In this part of this email I'm merely seeking to outline how a
comprehensive list of existing computer databases could be
produced, not to give a list of them. (A draft list I'm working
on is probably too long to include in this email). However, it
would be remiss of me to fail to give a couple of comments on
the two offline giants of the UFO database world: UFOCAT and
Larry Hatch's *U* database.

UFOCAT: I don't think that there's any real doubt that UFOCAT is
the most famous and largest offline UFO database.

I gave a list of references to discussion of UFOCAT cut and
paste from an incomplete draft of my Chronology in my email at
the following link:

http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/jan/m10-017.shtml

See also the CUFOS and UFOCAT webpages:

http://www.cufos.org/UFOCAT.html
http://www.ufocat.com/

As I remarked in that email, I think it would be in the
interests of ufology and CUFOS for the manual for UFOCAT to be
made available on the internet. The manual hints at the wealth
of data and bibliographical references on various topics that
can be extracted from UFOCAT. Also, the UFOCAT database (which
runs on Microsoft's Access) comes with various pre-prepared
lists relating to particularly types of sightings etc. I would
have thought it would be good advertising for UFOCAT for one or
more of those lists to be made freely available on the CUFOS
website.

I'd also note the following comment from page 5 of the UFOCAT
2002 Manual: "We would first caution potential users not to
expect to be able to begin and end their research using only
UFOCAT 2002-there are too many gaps in the data and, just like
the Internet, not every source of information is as reliable and
accurate as the next. The results obtained from UFOCAT 2002 are
best thought of as a reference guide to the original sources for
the crucial details. Otherwise, the distinction between poorly
investigated reports and exhaustively studied sightings will be
lost. However, you will substantially improve your search for
information by accessing UFOCAT 2002. What was true when Allan
Hendry wrote his critique of UFOCAT in 1979 is even truer today:
UFOCAT 2002 is without peer as a reference source. Thousands of
hours went into creating it, and months have gone into revising
it to improve its ease of use. It exists today as the most
comprehensive reference tool and bibliographic source on UFO
reports in existence."


Larry Hatch's *U* Database - Given Larry's frequent posts to
Updates, his database probably does not require any introduction
or any reference to his website at the following link:
http://www.larryhatch.net/

As far as I've seen, this database has not discussed in many
books so far. However, Larry's objective appears to be very
similar to that of Dr Willy Smith's Project UNICAT (i.e. a
filtered catalogue of higher quality UFO reports). Project
UNICAT's database has been discussed in several of the
references given above, and elsewhere (e.g. in the entry
entitled "UNICAT Project" at pages 943-944 of Jerome Clark's
"UFO Encylopedia 2nd Edition : Volume 2 L-Z:" (1998).

Larry's database is currently only available as a Microsoft DOS
program and its appearance is a rather basic. The sound effects
may have been cutting edge for DOS software but are now simply a
bit irritating. However, these rather superficial issues should
not cause the database itself to be underestimated. The database
is a useful tool and I look forward to seeing Larry release a
new version of his database once its been given a new, glossy,
Windows user interface. (Again, I find it interesting that the
references given by Larry's database rarely seem to overlap with
the references given for the same sightings by UFOCAT).


B. Databases of other information

Ah, well, this is a rather wide category of a mass of
(generally) smaller databases.....

For example, there are lists/databases of different types of IFOs
(e.g. Menzel's list, which is now online at:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/ifo_list.htm

or lists relating to a particular type of IFO (e.g. the list of
clouds (with photos) for which a link is given on Terry's UFO
Tools website).

More significant are the various bibliographies (by Catoe etc).
I won't attempt to list the existing bibliographies in this
email, but will simply note that several of the existing
bibliographies contain sections which are devoted to listing
bibliographies - see, in particular, the following:

(1) Codes LB and LBA in the excellent online database produced
by the AFU, at the following link:

http://www.afu.info/booksbycodeL.htm

(2) US Library of Congress, Tracer Bullet 91-1 "Unidentified
Flying Objects (UFOs)" containing section entitled
"Bibliographies", available online at:

http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/tracer-bullets/ufostb.html

Surprising limited, unless I'm missing something, are existing
indexes/databases of government documents. Of course, there are
some lists (e.g. Brad Sparks' list of Project Blue Book
"Unknowns"), but I've seen far fewer such indexes than would be
useful. If someone has already compiled a list of such
indexes/databases, I'd be grateful if they could let me know as
it would produce a short cut for the database squared I'm
producing.

The range of other existing lists/databases that might be of
interest to ufologists is almost unlimited, for example:

(1) lists of SETI projects (such as those presented by Darling,
David in his "The Extraterrestrial Encyclopedia" (2000) at pages
378-383 (in the table entitled "SETI Observing Programs: 1960 to
the Present") of the Three Rivers softcover edition and Jill
Tarter's list in "Extraterrestrials: Science and alien
intelligence" (1985) (edited by Edward Regis) as her tabular
Appendix entitled "Archive of SETI observing programs 1959-84"
at page 192 of the Cambridge University Press softcover edition.

(2) various lists of movies involving UFOS/aliens, including:

a. The list entitled "A Checklist of ETs in the Cinema"
presented by Chris Boyce in in his "Extraterrestrial Encounter"
(1979) at page 164 (in Appendix 1) of the David & Charles
hardback edition, at page 152 of the 1980 revised NEL paperback
edition.

b. The list of science fiction films with themes of either
visitors from space, or travelling to space or both presented by
Armando Simon in "UFO Phenomena and the Behavioral Scientist"
(1979) (edited by Richard F Haines) at page 53 (in Chapter 3) of
the Scarebrow Press hardback edition.

c. The list entitled "Alien Inspired Movies" presented by
Kurland, Michael in his "The Complete Idiot's Guide to
Extraterrestrial Intelligence" (1999) at page 290 (in Chapter
28) of the Alpha Books softcover edition, and included in
Appendix E at pages 315-316.

(3) List of names of supposed extraterrestrials relating to UFO
sightings/contactees presented by Paul Christopher in his "Alien
Intervention" (1998) at pages 81-82 (in Chapter 5) of the
Huntington House softcover edition.

etc., etc., etc.


C. Expert systems to assist in identifying possible stimuli for
a report

Jacques Vallee has written about an expert system called
OVNIBASE that he developed using NEXPERT SYSTEM (developed by
Neuron Data, Inc) to implement a screening system which could be
operated by clerical personnel with the objective of eliminating
most misidentifications and to enable a skilled scientific
analyst to spend his or her time on those few cases genuinely
worthy of full investigation.

This system was discussed by Jacques Vallee in his
"Confrontations" (1990) at pages 212-213 (in the Appendix) of
the Ballantine Books paperback edition. It is also discussed in
the article by Spencer, Vallee and Verga highlighted above.

I've heard very little about this system in recent years. I
understand that it was being developed further by a French
group, but am not sure of its current status or availability.

D. Other software to assist in investigations and research.

This appears to be the primary focus of Terry Groff's "UFO
Tools" website at:

http://www.terrygroff.com/ufotools/

Again, I won't attempt to list specific examples in this email
(given its already considerable length), but will merely note
some categories for which lists could be developed:

1. Software for checking specific IFOs, the most obvious example
being astronomical sources;

2. Software relevant to particular types of evidence, e.g.
Photographic evidence : image analysis software; Witness
evidence: software/databases to assist in locating witnesses and
calculation tools to assist in evaluating witness evidence. (In
relation to calculation tools, in addition to noting the tools
on Terry Groff's UFO website referred to above, I note that the
article by Spencer, Vallee, and Verga highlighted above appears
to briefly refer to other such calculation tools, including an
Italian program called "Elaborazione Dati Avvistamento"
("Sighting Data Processing"), which, at least according to that
article, "allows the processing of many different parameters
coming from the witness' tale. Probable sizes, altitude,
distance and speed are some of the parameters you can
obtain...".

3. Software for digitising information, e.g. Documents: Scanning
software, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software; Sound
(e.g. lectures, radio interviews) : software such as Magix's
Audio Cleaning Lab.

Also, it is important not to forget the full range of activities
that may be encompassed by the term ufology, including political
lobbying FOIA requests. There are various interactive tools
online (and other software) that can be useful in relation to
these areas. For example, there are websites that allow the user
to send a fax elected representatives in a particular country,
or to help generate the text of a FOIA request letter.

Furthermore, there are of course the fundamental software
program (word processors, spreadsheets, databases, desktop
publishing software, virus software, zipping software etc etc).

Perhaps the most obvious observations from reviewing the
discussions referred to above are that many, many
catalogues/databases have (a) been planned but not finished, or
(b) finished but are not readily available. I dread to think how
much time and effort has been wasted on such projects. I urge
the various individuals on Updates that are involved in the
development of further databases to:

(1) consider what, if anything, their project adds to existing
databases;

(2) adopt realistic goals; and

(3) consider how their project can be designed in stages or
modules,

so that others can build upon your work if you decide to
abandon it.

To help me (or anyone else) track down databases that have been
developed but almost forgotten about, I repeat the invitation
given above to let me (or Updates generally) know of references
to lists of databases (other than those given in Section A of
this email) so that a comprehensive list of databases can be
generated and then followed up.


Kind Regards,

Isaac Koi

1 Comments:

Blogger susanne-louise said...

Good article with much information!

I read last year that longtime New England MUFON investigator and author Raymond Fowler had retired his data base to whoever wanted to keep it archived.

I don't know who has it now, but considering Fowler's pedigree and his meticulous research I think that would be a worthwhile data base to rely on when needed.

4:36 AM, January 22, 2006  

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