COMPUTER APPLICATIONS IN UFO RESEARCH
– AN UPDATE –
[This article was written in 1993 as an update of a previous paper written in the second half of the ’80s, in the pre-Internet era, when computers and software were much less powerful than today. Anyway, it is pretty interesting to read what I thought decades ago and realize how most of those concepts are true nowadays]
Since the early seventies a few UFO researchers thought computers as a valuable tool to store available data for efficient (statistical) analyses. Projects were very ambitious, such as UFOCAT goal to file all worldwide sightings, yet resources were mainly limited by from time to time availability of large corporation mainframes where buffs were working.
Only in the second half of the eighties, when micro and personal computer technology emerged as a mass-market, conditions started being good for an actual use of computers in UFO research. First of such conditions is surely a nearly consumer-market level diffusion of hardware and software, so that a significant number of buffs could have access to them. As a consequence should follow the availability of a software standard in order to have the same procedures for data input and management. In reality, lack of coordination and differences existing among countries prevented the selection of an accepted standard. This is the reason of so many unrelated computer-based works and catalogues, each running through different application software. Sometimes, buffs having a programming skill produced their own database programs featuring custom data structure and formats. As a major result, data exchange (one of the primary goals of most UFO organizations) has always been difficult.
In order to get rid of this situation, adoption of a minimum level of standards should be suggested to the now several people using computers for UFO-related works. There are very few simple rules to follow so to ensure an efficient easy data exchange: see Table 1 for both Personal Computer and Apple Macintosh.
Examples and experiments of software used for UFO research, mainly devoted to storing of sighting data, have been several and mostly reported by this same Author3 -4 . As of the time lapse since the last estimation of the situation and remarkable technology development, an update is necessary.
Most of reported applications come from this Author’s direct experience and work within Centro Italiano Studi Ufologici (Italian Center for UFO Studies, Italy’s largest UFO association), as it is very difficult to have a clear comprehensive picture of computer applications all around the world. Add-ons and corrections are welcome, also in relation to possible international cooperation.
First of all it is necessary to remember computer technology offers only some powerful tools for manage efficiently and process quickly the data collected by researchers since 1947. Don’t expect astounding answers to be displayed on a monitor as a result of questions such as “What are UFOs ?” or “Where do they come from ?”: that’s science-fiction you are used to watch on television or cinema theatres. Even theoretically possible questions as “Could this report likely refer to a natural phenomenon or an aircraft ?” are still far from being actually satisfied: no special software package (based on artificial intelligence or similar concepts) able to suggest an interpretation automatically has been developed yet, even though something more than a discussion had been started on it5 . Software development requires skills and high investments in time and money which amateur UFO researchers or groups aren’t able to afford.
Present state-of-the-art of computer applications to ufology refers to storing – retrieving – presenting information, that is mainly data management procedures. It is hard to find really research-oriented works: their most popular example is image enhancement of alleged UFO pictures6 . What follows falls exactly in that scenario.
STORING UFO-RELATED ICONONOGRAPHY
Throughout the last 47 years the market has produced a large selection of iconography (mainly nice colour artworks and book/magazine illustrations) about the popular concept of flying saucers/UFOs and ETs. The visual impact of such a material is really remarkable under different viewpoints and surely able to catch everybody’s attention. It is worth to be collected and catalogued in order to have a documentation for an interesting survey about artists’ coverage of the UFO myth from the late 1940’s to nowadays. As a first goal, this amount of drawings could allow us to establish a comprehensive UFO-related image library, where pictures may be easily retrieved and accessed for any kind of possible use: hystorical researches, illustrations of magazines and books, commercial exploitment by journalists or publishing houses, production of multimedia computer products, etc ….
A great problem is to find such a documentation, currently dispersed in tens or hundreds of group or individual archives and often unknown to their same owners. A project on a worlwide basis would be very hard to carry out, as of the hobbly-like style of ufologists’ engagement (an interest from a trade company is even harder to believe in, without thinking to the fact that the resulting archive would be virtually inaccessible to most researchers, due to the related high costs). The best choice could be the collection of available iconography country by country, where an individual interested in the matter takes charge of such a task, involving contacts with UFO buffs/groups and reproduction of all pictures worth to be collected.
Reproduction and storing of this iconography must be carried out by computer technologies just in order to keep costs and times as low as possible. Photographs or colour photocopies aren’t enough flexible cheap media for our prospective users. It shouldn’t be too much difficult to find an enthusiast UFO buff featuring the necessary skills and basic knowledges for starting such a project in most countries. He should be supported by a national group at least, in order to receive enough support from several people and have access to an already established archive. Funding of the project is always a problem, yet the limited required investment could be well supported by the coordinator himself, who could later ask for a fee in relation to any document reproduced for others within the project.
Required computer equipment may be summarized as follow: a fast personal computer (or Macintosh) with a quite large hard disk, a flat bed A4 format colour scanner, a good colour monitor, one or more efficient software packages devoted to image scanning (and eventual enhancement) and a simple image database software able to manage pictures in standar formats (ie.: TIFF and JPEG).
Something very similar has been already started in 1993 by this Author, under the name of “UFO IMAGE BANK”. Checking different sources, at the moment mainly from his private and CISU archives, a first lot in excess of 250 artworks has been stored. Image mainly refers to artistic scenes portraing UFO sightings of any kind, from any country: the project has just started and the amount of catalogued pictures is still limited (an evaluation of several hundreds of illustrations is a quite prudent estimation). A personal computer has been used and image files have been stored and managed by a quite good program named “IMAGE PALS” produced by the software house U-Lead: it allows view of images under the form of “thumbnails”, each of which carry some information (including a free text label), so that simple queries may be easily accomplished anytime (for example: find all pictures originated from the U.S.A.).
One very simple application of personal computers is the management of the library of each UFO buff or group. That’s something quite far from any possible real research activity but always handy in having a direct access to the tens of books or magazines you have. It is often hard to remember exactly which titles are available in the personal library or which are their main themes. A quite simple database manager software can help a lot in such a task. Yet today’s affordable technology offers further possibilities in managing such an archive efficiently, adding more information as free text and images.
Many database software are now available on the market at affordable prices for MS-DOS personal computer and Macintosh: most of them may handle full-color images as well. They allow to create a record (the metaphor of the old card of a traditional file cabinet) with all basic data of the books, including a special field where a text file related to an abstract or additional information may be associated to the record itself.
Such a text is generally always visible on the computer monitor just to have a direct idea about the book: in case of a magazine, such summary could refer to a short list of the most interesting articles. If a color scanner is available, the title’s cover may be scanned in and associated to the item’s record, so to recognize it immediately. In such a way you could have a real great impact in managing your book library.
An example of such application has been carried out by this same Author: using the database package “SUPERBASE”, running under Microsoft Windows, all UFO books present in his library have been archived together with text abstracts and cover’s images. Data may be exported in the standard dBase III format for merging with items of other researchers’ libraries (goal: to know exactly which titles are available within an association through its members).
PRESENTATION SHOWS AND SLIDES
A lot of powerful software packages devoted to the production of sophisticated presentation shows are currently available on the market: they allow you to merge text (in different styles, fonts and colors) with graphics and images, as well as even sound and video clips if your hardware is good enough. This could be an interesting opportunity to produce a very attractive presentation, to be played automatically in an endless loop at conferences or expo events. A first long example, running on a PC featuring a good color monitor, has been shown at CISU booth during a series of exibithions held in Italy: it has been able to catch public’s attention efficiently, supplying detailed information and pictures about the Center itself, UFO phenomenon, ufology and other topics. Nothing but a divulgation tool, yet worthwhile of attention also for supplying innovative information services to the same UFO buffs through floppy disk distribution.
Such presentation software may be well exploited to produce colorful slides, featuring attractive computer-generated graphics and live images. These slides have a great impact on the public of conferences, workshops and meetings, making a speech much more interesting: experience from this Author has been very positive in several occasions. Slides may be cheaply shot at the computer screen by a good 35 mm. tripod-mounted camera or directly produced through suitable equipment at service bureaus (resulting costs will be slightly higher but quality is really excellent).
A further use of such material has been found in the production of a VHS videotape based on a sophisticated show – including music and voice comment – of the above mentioned slides plus other still UFO-related images (alleged photographs, pictures of landing traces, sketches, nice artworks, images of newsclippings, etc ….). Such an operation may be accomplished directly at your home through a 200 US $ board installed in your PC, able to convert the video signal to the computer monitor into a TV-compatible one, recordable on any VHS VCR. Better overall quality may be reached through more professional equipment and skills. In early 1994 a 15-minute long videotape has been released by CISU and offered to all Italian UFO buffs, meeting a remarkable success. An English edition could be possible if interest will be evident.
Thanks to the quick development of computer technology and the establishment of a related popular mass market, cheap and effective distribution of large quantities of information is now possible. Many software titles dealing with different topics (astronomy, anatomy, mechanics, cars, airplanes, wars, space conquest, etc …) have been released by some companies, mostly based in US. In late 1993, a title entirely devoted to UFOs has been produced by an Arizona company named Software Publishing Inc. List priced at $ 49.95 (but street prices are sometimes as low as $ 35.95), “UFO” offers a four-disk set and a tiny installation-reference manual. The software runs under Microsoft Windows and after the installation it takes about 7 MegaBytes of disk space. Four main windows are displayed on the monitor: a world map with red points related to UFO sighting places, a short list of basic data (date, location, type, duration, etc …), a short text description of the displayed case, a photograph (if any). 500 worlwide cases, yet mainly from the US, are stored together with about 100 photographs. It is possible to filter the database by some built-in parameters, including “photo evidence”, “death and injury”, “abduction”, “environmental impact”, “animal mutilation”, “antiquity”, “close encounters of the third kind”, so that only entries matching with such features are displayed. The program is quite easy to use, but it lacks some more advanced features and stored data are really few. Scanning resolution of pictures (many seemingly taken directly from magazines and books) is low: if you want to increase the original software resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, display quality drops dramatically. No UFO researcher has been seemingly involved into the project and this is quite clear when having a closer look at the product: the main theme is an extraterrestrial visit to Earth. A CD-ROM version is also available (street price: $ 39.95), offering 3,000 stored sightings and a higher number of pictures.
A non-commercial multimedia product like “UFO” will be released by Centro Italiano Studi Ufologici at the time when you read this article. Available on floppy disk (limited edition) or CD-ROM, it delivers a professionally developed software running under Microsoft Windows, featuring a very attractive efficient user interface especially designed for such a task. Three main catalogs of UFO sightings are made available through the product: ITACAT (close encounters), TRACAT (landing trace cases) and PHOTOCAT (photo cases). Each of them comes with an extensive set of highly defined pictures and sketches, besides all the main data and full abstracts with comments for most events. More, a general catalogue of Italian sightings (about 10,000) is included in the disk together with suitable software for browsing and queries. A “bonus” is included as well: a wide selection of nice colorful photo-quality artworks devoted to UFOs from different international sources.Visual impact of such pictures is great: it may offers a first appreciation of artists’ coverage about the theme of “flying saucers” throughout the years.
Something similar in concept, yet limited to text, has been produced in Australia in 1992. “UFO Research in Australia and New Zealand” has been a significant interesting attempt of a “digital book” where information are available directly through a computer screen, under the form of 804 different “pages” you can scroll at your will. Cases start from folklore to modern times, with chapters devoted to special matters. The product comes as a floppy disk with compressed files (about 600 Kbytes when decompressed) and a 12 page booklet featuring color photographs and black & white drawings. Strangely, such an iconography isn’t available on computer: several shareware or public domain image file viewers could have been used for such a task and easily integrated within the package. Even though “UFO Research in Australia and New Zealand” suffers for a poor management program and an old style user-interface, as well as a not-cheap cost, it is a very first interesting example of distributing information by a flexible and handy medium. Hopefully other works like that will follow in the future.
Thousands of pictures of alleged UFO phenomena have been offered to the general public and UFO buffs as a proof of the physical reality of what have been for a long time called “flying saucer”. Photographs emerged in the early days of the UFO era, in the United States of July 1947, producing a lot of debate at once. Faking a picture, especially in a situation where more blurred details in the image oddly mean more mystery, has been a quite simple art. It was a good way to foul friends or journalists, as well as an interesting business for those “skilled” guys who have been selling hoaxed UFO pictures to newspapers or magazines or gullible guys eager to see a “real spaceship”.
Most UFO researchers consider photographic evidence nothing but a very suspicious aspect of UFO related stories, something like a side-effect of the deeply rooted myth associated to them. Pictures are too easy to be faked to be considered a valuable “proof”. All of us have experienced terrible situations, where pictures have been declared “genuine” and “really portraiting a puzzling unknown object” and later found more or less complex hoaxes. Some UFO buffs tried to defend clearly faked pictures just in order to have something concrete in their hands able to demonstrate the physical reality of “flying saucer”, so to show that they were not nuts. This attitude has been common throughout the whole history of the UFO movement (suffice to think to the highly controversial Gulf Breeze saga), involving also other individuals. The famous Italian case of Mr. Giampiero Monguzzi (a man willing to become a journalist who presented a series of astonishing photos portraing a classic domed saucer landed on a mountain landscape, with a strange astronaut-like figure next to it) is a clear example: the photographer confessed the hoax to a magazine, also showing the original models, yet somebody argued he had been forced to deny the reality of his encounter with an “alien spacecraft”.
Many contactees, since the pioneer G.Adamski, showed several photos as “proof” of their wonderful experience with outer space beings: visual evidence has always been one of the most convincing easy-to-be-made tools to make people believed about the reality of their contacts. Unfortunately, nearly all of the pictures supplied by these folkloristic people have turned into hoaxes or look highly suspicious. Other people and journalists have been responsible for photographic tricks produced in order to get publicity, sell the photos or get a “scoop” useful to increase newspapers or magazines run.
As far as this author knows no project devoted to a comprehensive collection of photographic evidence cases has never been accomplished, even on national scale. Something seems to have changed during the very last two years, but no real work has been produced yet. It is highly recommended to national UFO associations or active researchers to start a well-organized project aimed to the comprehensive collection of the valuable video-photographic evidence of their own country, possibly making use of computer technology. International catalogues7 or books devoted to alleged UFO pictures 8 -9 have been produced in the past yet they have been works far from being complete and, anyway, never updated. Thousands of pictures should be available all around the world. Archiving of such evidence would be very interesting for two reasons at least:
a visual collection of directly UFO-related imagery
an in-depth analisys of the features of such documents, the “message” behind them and the reciprocal influence with the UFO myth.
In 1991 this Author started a new project within the Centro Italiano Studi Ufologici (Italian Center for UFO Studies), country’s largest UFO association, fully devoted to the collection of all Italian photo and video material portraiting alleged unusual aerial phenomena. All available documents were randomly distributed among private archives, magazines, newsclippings and often still in the hands of the authors themselves. Besides collecting such a material, the problem about how to manage such a mass of documents emerged. Main goal of the project was and still is the establishment of a comprehensive catalogue of photos/video including their descriptive data: this is a very first step of a more ambitious work about an in-depth survey of the collected evidence under different points of view (image patterns, “mythological” patterns, computer image analyses, comparison between faked pictures and “genuine” ones, etc ….). To carry out project’s first goal the use of a computer technology has been taken into consideration in order to reduce times and allow a more flexible access and distribution of available data.
First of all, a study has been carried out about what kind of information had to be taken into consideration. Only basic data and a few comments have been recognized as important information for matching the project’s goals. No coding has been used. A real catalogue including abstracts of each case and printing of one or more pictures could be possible in a not too far future, maybe under the form of a real book. As a second step there has been an evaluation of hardware and software suitable to the features of the project and prospective users’ computer availability. Final choice involved the personal computer with a minimum configuration to support graphics and a database package offering both compatibility with industry-standard dBase III file format and capacity of displaying images. Ease of use of the application software was a necessary feature as well: most UFO buffs have few or very limited knowledges about how using a computer. This lead the choice to “SUPERBASE IV” a database manager running under Microsoft Windows, powerful and with a good user interface.
All images have been acquired via a color scanner at quite low resolutions (ranging from 75 to 150 dots per inch), so to match the project’s goal to be a quick reference catalogue and keep memory usage within manageable limits. All of them have been acquired in 256 gray levels and their dynamic range has been later optimized in order to get an excellent display quality. Each image has been stored in TIFF format, labeled with a ordering number and its reference included in the database on the related case record.
At time of this writing about 500 cases have been filed in the database and near the same number of images has been acquired. About 70% of the cases has one image at least, even though sometimes coming from low-quality sources as magazines or newspapers. It is expected to increase such a figure to 75-80% at most when the collection project will be over: it is practically impossible to have access to some original sources, while others don’t carry the related pictures at all. The amassed photographic evidence now counts for about 65 Megabytes of TIFF images, also available in a highly compressed JPEG format.
Besides collecting pictures of alleged UFO sightings, PHOTOCAT features a sub-catalogue where fakes, conventional phenomena and strange-looking photographic effects produced by camera (ie.: lens flares) or development defects have been stored as well. This is an interesting collection of items to be used as a reference sample against the “real” PHOTOCAT catalogue, in order to compare the two sets for eventual different patterns. At first glance, alleged photos and recognized fakes or defects don’t show any evident difference, yet such a matter should be approached by a suitable quite complex research activity.
PHOTOCAT may well be considered the starting point of future more interesting research projects, including photo analysis. Of course such a task requires first generation pictures at least and high or very high scanning resolutions: this means that pictures originally stored into the database have to be scanned again. Suitable image processing software is required, as well as a quite powerful hardware configuration: what is even more important is a good knowledge of photographic parameters/rules and optics. Without experience in such fields, evaluation and interpretation of results from a computer-based image analysis would be really limited. It is not enough to carry out seemingly attractive image enhancements or filtering, supplying a different, much more “technological” view of the original picture able to wonder enthusiast people. Computer aided image processing must be coupled with rigorous interpretation of the results, otherwise the whole work could be practically valueless. A thorough investigation about a single photographic case takes a lot of time and money, also due to the many different information to be collected and evaluated. Anyway, Italian photo evidence is available to anybody interested in developing analysis about the best pictures10 . PHOTOCAT has already carried out a quite extensive survey about a two-photo set taken at Battipaglia (Salerno, South Italy) on April 9, 199211 , also producing a 20 color slides collection showing different steps of the analysis, together with related pictures and detailed comments. Results pointed out several doubts about the reliability of the sighting’s tale and the real features of the portraited object: final conclusions, also supported by indipendent analysis carried out by American researcher Jeff Sainio, refer to the possibility of a model shot next to the camera. This may be well defined the very first in-depth analysis of an alleged UFO picture carried out in Italy by local researchers.
This author highly recommend international researchers the start up of the comprehensive collection of their country’s alleged UFO photographs and videos. That’s a valuable sample of UFO hystory which features a lot of now neglected information, as well as an exceptional gallery of visual wonders. Preservation of such an evidence, beyond its possible real value as “proof” of an original objective phenomenon, is a real must for any study group or single researcher12 .
Even though newsclippings are one of the lowest quality information source we have, undeniably they are a large majority of available documentation about the UFO phenomenon. Their importance doesn’t come much from the kind of data they bring to us, as everybody know that information quality of press sources is very far from being trustable nearly all the times . Newsclippings are a real evidence of the media coverage about the matter along the years and a direct clue of what this can have produced over the people. The process of information about UFOs in the press might be a quite interesting topic to study: some attempts have been already made in the past years by some researchers.
Yet we are referring to newsclippings about UFO sighting reports, not to general comments about UFOs as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of newsclippings of such a kind are now stored in the dusty archives of international UFO buffs. A part of them has already gone lost, another one will go soon due to environment and storing conditions, as well as to normal aging. How to protect this real estate ? Think how many buffs may be scared in thinking to loose their own beloved collection of newsclippings !
Today’s computer technology (ie. affordable PCs) may help us in managing and protecting this huge amount of information. Of course we don’t refer to custom applications for document archiving, even though some quite cheap software products have been presented in the PC market. We are spare time “researchers”, so we generally need cheap and easy-to-learn solutions. The main goal is to digitize actual paper newsclippings and to store them on magnetic or optical media (rewritable optical disk drivers are becomig more and more cheaper. Nowadays we have about a 5.00 US $/Megabyte cost, really a good figure), allowing the user to have some sort of management control over them.
This means, for example, the definition of a very simple short record for each (group of) newsclippings, so that later retrieval and query operations could be quicker. Let’s suppose to have a newspaper article dealing with a presumed UFO sighting. We could put it inside a database record together with basic information like :
Newspaper Name (also using a coding in order to save typing time) Newspaper Date Article Title Subject (sighting report; general comment about UFOs; miscellania; etc ….) Comment (eg. report classification; warning about investigations; etc …) Code (of eventual case(s) linked to the newsclipping and currently stored in another database or catalogue)
In such a way any researcher could have an easy access to a really huge documentation in short times and through low charges. More complex record layouts could be created in order to match a larger set of requirements for different applications13 , but even a very simple one could be useful. Think to those private projects aimed at the complete collection of the UFO-related newsclippings published yearly in a whole country (like the C.I.S.U. subscription to a national newsclipping service or the same action made by the French researcher Gilles Durand). To manage all that huge amount of paper in a really efficient way isn’t an easy task: even the simple handling of each document will take a lot of time when compared to what you could get from an electronic management. The main problem to be thouroughly discussed is just the structure of the database: should the record refer to a single case (maybe having multiple sources) when actually related to a UFO sighting or to one single source ? The perspective of a huge database counting as many entries as the number of available newsclippings isn’t much appealing at all.
Even much though what we are saying may appear too far in the future, there is already an actual possibility to digitize all the newsclippings from those collections and associate them to a descriptive record. Later searches, for example to locate all clippings about close encounters or alleged UFO photographs, could take place in seconds and results (including the digitized newsclippings printout) could be reproduced on paper.
Thanks to OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology newclipping contents could be even changed into real text able to be used directly by computer programs and possibly associated to the same database record for immediate viewing into a separate window and easier reading.
Some remarks about the management of this “electronic” newsclippings:
They may be scanned even by very low cost black-white hand-held scanners (available for less than 150 US $). These handy devices may read originals up to 4.5″ (11.5 centimeters) or so in width: lenght may be beyond 20 cms, according to computer free memory. Generally they connect the computer via a supplied special board, which reduced size may well fits the expansion slots of many laptop and portable computers (think to the possibility to scan-in newsclippings from the old collections of libraries, where photocopying isn’t allowed !). Reading these documents at 100 dots per inch (dpi) is generally enough. Software bundled with the scanner provides some basic graphic functions (including pixel correction) and storing of the image in different file formats, like PCX and TIFF. The latter is nearly a standard widely supported by most graphic packages. Flatbed scanners in A4 size may also work very fine for such a task, but a better flexibility (a full A4 size may be easily and quickly scanned in) is counterbalanced by a higher price, generally over 800 US $ .
Newsclippings usually feature text only, so they can be read in black/white (1 bit per pixel). The related files are very small in size and they can be compressed by special programs (such as the popular PKZIP) to use even lower space. This means that tens of medium-size newsclippings could be recorded into a single floppy disk, enabling a safe and cheap storage, besides a very handy way to exchange documentation among researchers.
If necessary, newsclippings with halftoned pictures could be read in gray shades in order to get a good quality for the pictures themselves. More memory, that is space on the disk, will be necessary, as the images will be stored by more bits per pixel.
When verbatim transcription of a newsclipping contents is required, Optical Character Recognition technology (OCR) may help us. Powerful programs with error probability of around 0,1% are available on the market at affordable prices. It is enough to scan in the newsclipping and then load the resulting image within the OCR software: in seconds, the newsclipping will be turned into a plain text file which can be used by any word processor program. That could be of interest not only in relation to the production of books or magazine: for example, imagine the possibility to do a quick semantic analysis of articles devoted to UFO sightings during a wave.
Minimal requirements for newsclipping archiving are really affordable to anybody: a AT or 386 personal computer with 2 MB RAM, 40 MBytes hard disk (higher capacity recommended), a black/white or gray shade hand-held or flatbed scanner and related scanning software. To run a graphical database package able to manage images amd import/export data in dBase III format (like SUPERBASE 4, PARADOX for Windows, etc …) a more powerful machine is necessary, in order to run efficiently Microsoft Windows.
Special catalogues of UFO events, such as ITACAT (Italian Catalogue of Italian close encounters) and TRACAT (Italian Catalogue of trace cases), take a lot of physical space as paper documents and related iconography. Handling of such a huge mass of information is far from being easy and efficient. More, data exchange among researchers is always difficult, time-consuming and costly. Nowadays computer technologies may offer interesting solutions through an affordable investment. As told about PHOTOCAT, some database programs may handle different kind of information: data, text, images, graphics and even sound and video. That is just the same kind of stuff researchers have to manage in their nuts and bolts archives.
The idea is to make all of this documentation directly available on a computer screen, where the user may decide what to see. Imagine to have a card (called “record” in computer jargon) on the monitor: all main data about a given case are displayed, including original sources. More, you have references about different documents you have linked to that case: newsclippings, witness’ sketches of the reported phenomenon, an abstract of the report, photographs of the sighting environment or possible ground traces, etc … To display these information on the screen is very simple: it is enough to point the mouse cursor on a suitable control button and click. You may imagine the noteworthy advantages coming from this computer application: to have an on-line comprehensive documentation of each stored case on a cheap support, able to deliver great flexibility in data management.
Of course a (color) scanner is a must-to-have piece of hardware just to scan all available iconography (including newsclippings) to be later linked with cases. Other side benefits are preservation and easy duplication of the amassed documentation, which computer version may be used also for other projects (see CD-ROM multimedia applications, elsewhere in this same article). Two examples of this innovative catalogs have been developed by this Author throughout the last three years: ITACAT and TRACAT multimedia catalogs are now available on personal computer platform also in English version. Together, they offer more than 750 cases with a quantity of images (photos, skecthes, newsclippings, etc ….) in excess of 650.
Several Bulletin Board Systems (B.B.S.) all around the world now offer a wide selection of information about UFOs and related matters. First attempts in the ’80s were the US-based CUFON (Computer UFO Network) and the UFO BBS managed by this same Author. Both are now defuncted. By sure the most important BBS devoted to this arguments is now the MUFONET BBS, an official service of MUFON, which has a few tens of linked Systems all over the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It hosts a huge quantity of information, generally text files and images about different UFO-related topics (ie: abductions, Area 51, cattle mutilations, Roswell, historical sightings, MJ-12, US sightings, crop circles, etc ….). The message section is a handy way to exchange letters and communications of any kind among buffs, cheaply and quickly. This allows anyone to be updated about the latest sightings or news in ufology. MUFONET BBS reached an agreement with the Italian group C.I.S.U. in order to hold the whole mass of computer files (mainly sighting catalogs including ITACAT, TRACAT and PHOTOCAT, as well as a large selection of UFO-related images) produced by its own off-line Computer UFO Network. Several tens of Megabytes of information are now available to all US and international researchers having access to any of the systems linked with the MUFONET BBS. C.I.S.U. has its own BBS devoted to ufology (as well as a section on the Teletext-like service Videotel), based in Rome. As far as you know, this is the only Systems of such a kind currently active in Europe.
BBS often offer text files related to old or not well known magazines and newsletters. Typing manually such texts into a word processor would take too much time. Modern OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology helps dramatically the operators of such systems. As previoulsy mentioned in relation to newsclippings, each page of text may be scanned in black and white and then automatically converted into plain text with an accuracy now next to 99,9%: the whole process for a single page (including a manual revision in search for possible mistakes) takes less than one minute. It would be interesting to think to such a technology also as a tool to preserve old documents and newsletters, making the resulting text files available to anybody at affordable costs.
A CONCLUSION ….
… may refers to a future scenery, when computer technologies will be so popular, easy to use and cheap to be virtually everywhere and affordable for everybody. Also UFO buffs will take advantage of such a situation as regards data exchange and management. Now, only a part of them have direct or indirect access even to a personal computer and they still have several difficulties in managing their archives. Maybe a dusty file is much more fascinating than a cold piece of hardware filled in with chips and wires: probably that’s true, but progress goes on quickly and all of us need new more efficient tools to devoted to UFO research. Ten years ago, most of the things reported in this article looked still somewhere in a distant future. now they aren’t. In ten years expect a new “Computer applications in UFO Research – An update”.
(c) 1993 Maurizio Verga
1 Writing of documents by suitable computer programs.
2 Creating the complete page layout of a complex project such as a brochure, magazine or book.
3 Verga M. (1986) “Computer e UFO” UFO – Rivista di Informazione Ufologica n° 2, 10-16
4 Verga M. (1990) “Computer technology: a new breakthrough in UFO research” The Computer UFO Newsletter Vol. 2, n° 2, 5-9, also in “Proceedings of First European Congress of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena: Physical and Psychosocial aspects”, 185-190
5 Vallée J. (1987) “Computers in Ufology” in “UFOs 1947-1987”, Fortean Tomes, London
6 A separate paper will be later devoted to such a complex topic. This Author and Centro Italiano Studi Ufologici (casella postale 82, 10100 Torino, ITALY) has started some preliminary applications in such a field. Results of in-depth analyses of some Italian alleged UFO photographs have been quite interesting under different viewpoints, arising several comments about previous works and the “myth” surrounding computer image enhancement technology as applied to UFO research.
7 Delair J.B., Cox E. & Twine R. (1975-1978) “A provisional catalogue of UFO photographs” UFO REGISTER Vol. 6, n° 2 + Vol. 7 n° 2 + Vol. 8 n° 2
8 Stevens W. & Roberts A. (1985-86) “UFO Photographs around the World” Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, UFO Photo Archives
9 Fusco S. & De Turris S. (1975) “Obbiettivo sugli UFO – Fotostoria dei dischi volanti”, Edizioni Mediterranee, Italy
10 International groups or researchers interested in knowing more about PHOTOCAT and exchanging photographs or videos may write to this author: Maurizio Verga, via Matteotti 85, 22072 Cermenate (Co), ITALY. Please state, if available, a fax number.
11 A metal-made looking object was seen to fly slowly over some buldings just in front of the witness’ house (the mother of him stated to have seen the object before the son). The young man took two pictures, eight seconds one from the other, by an old Russian camera he had on a table. Then the object took off vertically at high speed.
12 This author is available to anybody interested in such a project for consulting or delivering of suitable information/material.
13 Digitized newsclippings could be used within databases devoted to special kinds of cases, as a documentation support. For example, you may have a computer-based catalogue of close encounter events, where each case is linked with other kind of visual documents: photos, skecthes and newsclippings may be displayed on the screen next the record data. An example is described in the article in relation to Italian projects ITACAT and TRACAT.