Archive for the Non-Fiction Category

How to Hack Your Brain

Posted in General, Non-Fiction with tags , , , , on November 4, 2009 by smilingjacks

Ever wanted to trick your brain? Want to hallucinate without the use of drugs, dull pain, cause yourself pain without actually hurting yourself, or fool your senses in other fun ways? Well, here are some activities which are meant to induce or simulate certain sensations in a safe, relatively controlled manner:


I haven’t tried any of these methods, so I can’t say exactly how well they work. If you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and test them out, and feel free to share your experience with the rest of us here. However, if you want to try any of the hallucination-inducing exercises, I would advise against doing so in a state of fear or anxiety, or your brain might have the final word on your trickery.


Moreschi the Castrato

Posted in General, Non-Fiction with tags , , , on October 30, 2009 by smilingjacks

In the 19th century and earlier, boys with beautiful singing voices sometimes had their voices preserved through extreme methods. The castrati were boy soprano singers who were forcibly castrated with the purpose of halting the natural voice changes that come as a boy matures into a man. These poor boys never had the chance to develop as ordinary people do. As a result of their lack of testosterone from an early age–in addition to their trademark, prepubescent voices–their joints retained childlike softness and their limbs often grew to unnatural lengths. Their appearance was sometimes described as “elf-like.”


Alessandro Moreschi (aged 55 at the time this picture was taken) was the last of the castrati.

But make no mistake. There was nothing magical about the castrati. They were the victims of some of the worst exploitation of child performers in history, and for a long time the cruelty they suffered was considered normal. Eventually, however, the Italian government and the Roman Catholic Church issued official bans on castrating for musical purposes.

But that wasn’t the end of the castrati’s pain. Castrati were banned from marrying, due to their inability to produce children (which was viewed as a social requirement for marriage in those times), and their abnormal and often startling appearances made it difficult for them to carry out normal lives and made them the subject of grievous public ridicule.

The last surviving castrato was Alessandro Moreschi. Once called “The Angel of Rome,” he is the only castrato ever to have produced solo recordings. What you’re about to hear is very eerie, I will warn you. What sounds like a young boy is, in fact, a middle aged man who lived a life partly trapped in boyhood. The weakness in his voice is partly the result of his age and waning health at the time of the recording and partly the result of a displaced vocal technique which was meant to cater specifically to the acoustics of the Sistine Chapel.

There’s a definite passion in Moreschi’s singing. It’s almost like a constant sobbing.

As you listen to the recording, keep in mind that the singer was a person who had no place in the world outside of music. Throughout his life, Moreschi was used as a tool–a living instrument. You can understand then, why he might sob; why his voice might waver as he sings.

This is a one-hundred year old recording of Alessandro Moreschi, the last living castrato:

The Legend of the Jack-o-Lantern

Posted in General, Non-Fiction, Urban Legends with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2009 by smilingjacks

Jack-o-Lanterns are an absolute staple of Halloween customs in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many places in the world. Each year, children and adults alike are delighted to paint and carve the faces of pumpkins in unique designs. There are even contests centered around the practice and a number of people who actually make a profit from carving Jack-o-Lanterns.

We’re all familiar with pumpkin carving, but have you ever wondered where the practice came from? Like many Halloween customs, the Jack-o-Lantern originated in Ireland.

There’s an old Irish legend about a delinquent trickster by the name of (you guessed it) Jack. He was a debouched man who liked to engage in sins of the flesh, loved to drink, and made all sorts of mischief. His neighbors considered him an impossible nuisance, but no one could capture him because his lucky turnip always kept fortune on his side. It’s said that he even managed to play a mean trick on the Devil himself.


Jack met the Devil one dark Halloween night on the Irish countryside. The Devil had heard that Jack’s slyness rivaled his own, and he was determined to show the mischievous mortal who the one true hell raiser was.

After they made their introductions, they both went about getting chummy with one another. They bantered and drank and laughed together, both sizing each other up until an opportunity could present itself.

It was Jack who made the first move. Seeing some fruit in a nearby tree, he asked the Devil to climb the tree and fetch some fruit for the two of them. Despite his reluctance to respond to the request of a mortal, the Devil was happy to oblige. After all, there were a lot of cruel things that could be done with fruit. He could poison the fruit, or convince Jack that the fruit could give him magical powers and then challenge him to a flying contest off the roof of a barn, or a whole score of other things. The possibilities were vast.

The Devil made his way up the tree, smirking at all of the treacherous thoughts he was having. He didn’t notice soon enough that he was in fact the victim of Jack’s treachery. While the Devil was up in the tree, Jack took a cross out of his pocket and placed it on the tree’s trunk. When the Devil tried to climb down with the fruit, the cross repelled him. He was trapped in the tree and at Jack’s mercy.

“You wretched mortal,” the Devil said. “Just as soon as I get down, I’m going to make sure you never forget this!”

“I’ll let you down,” replied Jack. “As long as you swear never to take my soul into Hell.”

Jack knew he wasn’t righteous enough to make it into heaven, and he had no plans to change his ways. By forcing the Devil to submit, he figured he could come away with the certainty that he would never be made to suffer for his deeds. The Devil was beyond annoyed, as he would have loved to see Jack face damnation, but he was quite literally stuck, so he agreed.

The Devil didn’t get his revenge that evening. Midnight came too soon, and he had to yield with the coming of All Saint’s Day. Jack had won.

Then, years later, Jack fell ill and died. When he faced Judgment, to no one’s surprise, he was rejected from entering Heaven. Unfortunately, this meant he was forced to go to Hell.

The Devil laughed gleefully at the sight of the dejected Jack.

“I have no place to go but here,” Jack admitted upon seeing the Devil.

“That’s right,” said the Devil. “You have nowhere to go. After all, you won fair and square, and a promise is a promise. I will never take you into Hell”

Jack’s dead heart sank as even Hell wouldn’t have him. He was an orphaned soul with no home.

“Then where will I go?” asked Jack.

“Nowhere,” the Devil replied. “You were hated in life, you’re too wicked for Heaven, and you have no home here. No one wants you, Jack. You’re all alone.”

In a moment of genuine sorrow, the pitiful Jack muttered, “But how will I find my way?”

Just to mock the poor mortal, the Devil grabbed a single ember of hellfire and threw it at Jack. Then, he returned to his pit, leaving Jack all alone.

Jack sat by the light of the ember, wondering where he would go and how he would find his way in the darkness. Then, seeing the glow of the ember, he got an idea for how to light the way on his travels: with his lucky turnip. He took the turnip out of his pocket, hollowed it out, and placed the ember inside to make a lantern that he could use as he wandered about in search of a home.

Out of sympathy for the wandering ghost of Jack, his old neighbors put out lights to guide him on his endless travels. As the story spread, so did the tradition of placing out lanterns for Jack.

Even today, the people of the world carve Jack-o-Lanterns and light them on Halloween. Most of us think of it as just a fun pastime–a way of being festive, but these fun little decorations were originally meant to light the way for Jack and other wandering spirits.

Don’t let the lore deter you, however. In fact, I encourage you to all to set a Jack-o-Lantern out on Halloween. The drifting spirits will appreciate it, I’m sure. Who knows? The home they decide to settle down in might even be yours.

Happy Halloween.


Ghost Video Captured in Cemetery

Posted in General, Internet Legends, Non-Fiction with tags , , , , on October 28, 2009 by smilingjacks

This is another old favorite that’s been on the Internet for years. Longtime paranormal fans will probably recognize it. If you haven’t seen it before, then be sure and dim the lights, turn up the volume (it’s not a screamer, don’t worry) and be creeped out.

Ah, the paranormal. A strange and sometimes terrifying subject.

Disturbing Pro-Gun Campaign

Posted in Horror, Non-Fiction, Urban Legends, Weird News with tags , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by smilingjacks

A hotly debated 911 call has been circulating around Youtube and other places on the Internet for at least two years now. The audio recording–apparently featuring the violent death of an elderly woman named Ruth Price as she sits on the phone with a 911 operator–has been debated on snopes, Yahoo, and several urban legends sites. It’s not certain whether the call was staged for instructional or educational purposes of if it is indeed the now public domain death of a human being. If the latter is true, then it’s a tragedy. I’m including a link to the file here, but I warn you it is disturbing:

In addition to the disgust and controversy sparked from the Ruth Price 911 call, there has also emerged a “What would Ruth have done?” pro-gun campaign. Basically, websites such as are arguing that, if Ruth had only owned a gun, then things would have turned out differently. The merit of their argument is up for debate, but the real horror here is that a person’s terrifying last moments are being transformed into an infomerical.

When apparently normal people do things like this, who needs to be afraid of the supernatural?

The Flying Dutchman

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Non-Fiction, Urban Legends with tags , , , , , , , on October 26, 2009 by smilingjacks

In 1641, a captain and his crew set sail on the their ship–The Flying Dutchman–on a voyage of exploration. Whatever their actual destination was, it’s now lost to history, but it’s well known and documented that they met their end in the ironically named Cape of Good Hope off of South Africa.

It was due largely to the error of the captain that they met their fate. While out on the sea, he failed to notice the dark clouds looming overhead, until he heard the screams of his lookout. By that point, they had already sailed straight into a terrible storm.

Hours went by as the captain and crew fought for their lives. If they could just make it out of the cape, they could escape the storm and make it back to shore.

Soon, they heard a crunch as their ship slammed into the rocks and then a terrible roar as their ship bowed from the pressure of rushing water. Just as the ship was sinking, the captain shouted one final declaration: “I will round this cape if I have to sail ’til the end of time!”

That statement of hubris also served as his eternal curse.

The Flying Dutchman was destroyed. For at time, it was also forgotten.

Then, in 1881, the Bacchante, a ship of the Royal Navy, was rounding the tip of South Africa when the lookout noticed something strange out in the distance. He recorded his sighting in his diary: “A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the mast, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief.”

It’s too bad for that lookout that he spotted The Flying Dutchman. In their eternal voyage around the cape, the ghostly crew is jealous of living, and those who see them always suffer a terrible end. The lookout was no exception. Later on in the voyage, he lost his balance on the mast and fell to his death.

To this day, people still see the doomed ship, and each of them have died shortly after.

Whenever there’s a storm near the Cape of Good Hope, be sure and look out onto the sea, and you may catch the site of The Flying Dutchman, with its red glow and ghostly stillness, as the ship of the damned still tries to round the cape. Be careful while observing this remarkable sight, however, or you may end up joining the captain and crew in their endless voyage until the end of time.

POTC dutchman

One of the Creepiest Robotics Experiments Ever

Posted in General, Non-Fiction with tags , , on October 25, 2009 by smilingjacks

A robot operated by the brain of a living thing…sounds like science fiction, right? In Surrey, England, they’ve actually done just that. What looks like a some kind of toy car is actually the first robot capable of learning (a skill that always plays out well in fiction). Using bluetooth technology, the sensors and motor functions of the robot are controlled by the neurons of a living rat’s brain, which is contained in a jar.

What these roboticists have created is a cyborg. It’s controlled entirely by the living tissue of the (former) rat, is capable of learning, and each particular cyborg has its own unique personality. See for yourself at this video courtesy of Diagnal View UK:

Curious little thing, isn’t it? Did you see how scurried around checking things out? Just like a real rat.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you the possibilities presented by future advances with this technology. I wonder how much bigger the human model is going to be…