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Technology Spontaneously Combusts In Sicily 1010

Posted by simoniker
from the skeptics-skeptical dept.
Zacronos writes "According to MSNBC, ever since mid-January, various electronic devices have been spontaneously combusting in the now evacuated town of Canneto di Caronia, Sicily; at this point, the fires are almost daily. The town has been disconnected from the larger electrical grid and was hooked to a generator, but that, too, caught fire. Even unplugged items have succumbed. Nothing seems to have burst into flame except where there is someone present to witness it, but the police no longer suspect a prankster -- after witnessing wires catch fire without cause. Scientists have yet to explain the phenomenon (although unproven theories abound), leading many people to look to supernatural causes."
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Technology Spontaneously Combusts In Sicily

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  • Virgin Mary (Score:5, Funny)

    by UID1000000 (768677) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:47AM (#8801926) Homepage Journal
    Many many people will soon flock to Sicily to see the virgin Mary.

    Sadly, in the news, a number of faithful Catholics have suddenly burst into flames today.
  • Confirmation? (Score:4, Informative)

    by CdBee (742846) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:48AM (#8801935)
    Can any Sicilian slashdotter confirm this seemingly unlikely story?
  • well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by snub (140826) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:49AM (#8801940)
    Obviously, if they were running Linux this wouldn't be happening now would it?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:49AM (#8801944)
    From the article: "We're working in the dark. We don't have a single lead so far," said Pedro Spinnato, mayor of the trio of Caronia towns.
  • by Vandil X (636030) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:50AM (#8801949)
    "Jesus!"

    I feel sorry for any IT professionals walking around with a pager, NEXtel, and a PDA in their pockets/belts. Ouch!
  • by richie2000 (159732) <rickard.olsson@gmail.com> on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:50AM (#8801950) Homepage Journal
    In unrelated news, media reports that many websites carrying "news for nerds, stuff that matters" spontaneously combust, especially when lots of people are witnessing it. Apparently, a Sicilian hosting company has been hit particularly hard.
  • by davidoff404 (764733) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:51AM (#8801955)
    I knew they'd struggle to come up with a script for the new Godfather movie, but Sicilian electrical appliances killing each other in a fiery vendetta is surely stretching credibility?
  • by imag0 (605684) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:52AM (#8801971) Homepage
    ...Colored markings on the street indicate the presence of volcano experts...

    Sweet jumpin' Jesus! The volcano 'experts' must have burned up and left little *poof* marks where they stood.
  • The Score (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CGP314 (672613) <CGP@ColinGregory ... t ['Pal' in gap]> on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:52AM (#8801972) Homepage
    Scientists have yet to explain the phenomenon ... leading many people to look to supernatural causes

    It really makes me sad when, if people don't understand something they assume it's magic. Why is it that so many people refuse to take 'we don't know yet' as an acceptable answer?

    Science: 0
    Magic: 1

    :/


    -Colin [colingregorypalmer.net]
    • Re:The Score (Score:5, Insightful)

      by slackerboy (73121) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:57AM (#8802009)
      "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."--Arthur C. Clarke
    • Re:The Score (Score:5, Insightful)

      by finkployd (12902) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:02AM (#8802039) Homepage
      What is magic, if not simply something we do not (yet) understand?

      Finkployd
      • Re:The Score (Score:4, Interesting)

        by madprof (4723) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:08AM (#8802067)
        Magic is a trick. This is the point. Magicians call themselves 'illusionists' - they can (very cleverly) fool you into believing all sorts of things.
        David Copperfield did not make the Statue of Liberty disappear but created the illusion that it had done so.
      • Re:The Score (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hast (24833) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:14AM (#8802102)
        It may be "magical" but it isn't "supernatural" or "paranormal". That is, just because you don't understand something should your first assumption be that "this can only be explained by rejecting all previous knowledge and making something up".

        And I find the lack of citations from any of the alleged scientist disturbing. The press is in a sad state indeed.
      • Re:The Score (Score:5, Insightful)

        by theLOUDroom (556455) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @09:04AM (#8802413)
        What is magic, if not simply something we do not (yet) understand?

        An excuse for not understanding something.

        Rather than being bothered to actually try and understand something you just shrug your shoulders and say "magic".

        It all reminds me of one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips:
        Calvin: Dad, what makes the wind? Dad: Trees sneezing. Calvin: Really? Dad: No, but the real answer is a lot more complex.

        Magic/Myth/Religion are all ways to explain the world to those who can't bother to be interested in the actual truth.
    • by October_30th (531777) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:13AM (#8802091) Homepage Journal
      if people don't understand something they assume it's magic.

      Or some evil, sinister military/CIA project. Do a quick Google seach on HAARP and/or weather control and you'll see.

    • Re:The Score (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sjames (1099) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @09:45AM (#8802725) Homepage

      There's a few reasons. Firstly, there people are sitting in a hotel and tired of it, hoping daily that this isn't the day their family home (or entire town) burns to the ground. They're desperate for an answer and not in the mood to spend a few years investigating this interesting phenomenon.

      Next there's the fact that to most people, technology itself IS a sort of magic. Just press that button and invisible forces spring into being to make the cup of water boil. Even if they take the nuker apart it still looks like magic. Just one moving part, and even that doesn't have to be there (but the heating will be less even without it).

      If you look at the way many people without technical knowledge interact with technology, it's just a bunch of 'invocations' that they have learned will do something useful (usually they learned it from a book of a techie). For all the meaning it has to them, they might as well be burning incense and shouting arcane latin phrases. They know that when the incantations don't work, there's this 'reboot' that can restore order. That's why you see business DSL customers rebooting the router when the email doesn't work (but the web does) and rebooting their PC didn't fix it.

      Sometimes, when there's no harm in it, I find it better to let people do those things while I figure out what the problem is. It lets them feel less helpless and occasionally, they stumble over the solution.

      You'll also note that the local priest along with the residents did decide to let the scientists have the first crack at the problem.

      'We don't know yet' is a perfectly valid answer right now, but it doesn't get them back into their homes. It doesn't help that things bursting into flames for no discernable reason is a recurring theme in movies about the supernatural.

      It doesn't help that scientists aren't always all that scientific when presented with observations thay cannot explain. Too often, important phrases like "this is just a guess, but" get replaced with "I'm absolutely certain that" whenever coincidence is about to be invoked. The correct pronouncement would be "I have no idea whatsoever", but scientists don't like to say that either.

      Add on top of that all of the 'scientific' pronouncements like 'eggs are bad for you', 'any wine is bad for you', 'oops, no, some wine is good for you, and so are eggs, but avoid fat at all costs', 'oops, people are getting fatter on low fat diets', etc, etc, and people start to think that the 'scientists' are just making things up too. They make the mistake of confusing various pseudoscientific nonsense from the FDA, NIH, and the AMA (or their own regional equivilants) for science. I call it pseudoscience because collectively they have a habit of stating working theory (complete with conflicting evidence) as if it were fact and flatly denying the existance of plainly observable phenomena when the correct answer is clearly "We don't know".

      If we can't get scientists to abandon dogma and various forms of mysticism, how can we expect it from laymen?

      • by The-Dalai-LLama (755919) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @01:40PM (#8805512) Homepage Journal

        At this point in the discussion I doubt this will be read by anyone, but I'm going to tell the story anyway.

        At the tail end of a stint in the Marines (too short to deploy) I got shipped to a headquarters unit personnel office that had a bunch of computers networked to a couple of shared printers. Since I knew the most about computers (which isn't saying much) people often asked me to help them with small problems.

        One of the corporals came to me once and said that her computer wouldn't print. I walked over, fiddled with everything I knew to fiddle with, and when that didn't help I turned to religion.

        "Corporal," I said, "Papa Legba is the voodoo god of the crossroads; all communication falls into his domain and he is displeased. We must make a sacrifice. Do you have a floppy disk that you are not using?" She gave me a 3.5" disk, which I held in the air and then tore open. I used a ballpoint pen to mark some arcane-looking but utterly meaningless symbols on the disk's medium, then had her tape it to the side of her monitor. I told her to try it again.

        Of course, when she tried again it printed with no problem. I have no idea what changed, but as I walked back to my desk she told me that I was the weirdest man she had ever met.

        The "sacrifice" was still taped to the monitor when I rotated out three months later.

        The Dalai Llama
        ...probably reading "Count Zero" at the time...

  • Human nature (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrXym (126579) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:52AM (#8801973)
    It will be fun watching people make asses out of themselves over this.


    You only have to look at all the loony beliefs in the world to know that people will leap to the most ridiculous conclusions at the drop of a hat.


    "We can identify that flying object so therefore it must be an advanced alien scout ship!" etc.


    It's sad really. No doubt when the mundane reason for this story becomes clear (e.g. hoax, sensational reporting or whatever), there will be another bunch of loons accusing the Italian government of a 'coverup'.

  • by N8F8 (4562) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:54AM (#8801982)
    Do there happen to be any radar installations nearby?
    • by Benm78 (646948) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:47AM (#8802288) Homepage
      Although radar installations can pack quite a punch as far as radio-frequency energy output is concerned, the power levels are usually not sufficient to set something ablaze at any significant distances.

      A high-power military radar installation does put out enough power to kill an unfortunate bird (or incompetent engineer) at short distance, but still wouldn't do much more than disrupt electronic equipment at greater distances.

      However, it is not unthinkable that a relatively small disruption in an eletronic device can lead to a bigger problem later on - a disrupted control circuit causing an overload that leads to a fire is well possible. This scenario is not very feasible after main power is cut though.

  • by syntap (242090) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:54AM (#8801988)
    if the RIAA and Microsoft get all of their DRM technology in order.

    Wow, the new Janet Jackson single... gimmee gimmee gimmee playing WOOOOOOOOOF! FLAMES!
  • Limits of Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fortress (763470) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:55AM (#8801994) Homepage
    I find this a good example of those phenomena that science can't yet explain. I'm often amused by science types that say something is impossible because it doesn't fit any current theory.

    Seems to me any true scientist should always be watching for observations that don't fit the known theory, as they are indicators of a nedd for further refinement.

    Sadly, scientists, like most people, are more interested in being right, and tend to look for confirming evidence, sometimes to the detriment of their conclusions.

    Before you flame me as an anti-science zealot, let me confess that I'm a science guy as much as your average geek, and I think science is responsible for most of the good changes of the last few centuries. I just think that when we hold too tight to our theories, we leave the realm of skeptical science and enter the world of blind faith.

    BTW, I have no plausible explanation for the spontaneous fires. But I am confident that someone will come up wih one that doesn't invole a tinfoil hat.
    • by Oligonicella (659917) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:17AM (#8802116)
      "science types that say something is impossible because it doesn't fit any current theory"

      They don't. Not the *real* ones anyway, only the quacks with books to sell. Science is all about finding evidence to *refute*, not support, a hypothesis.

      You need to read more.
      • by I Be Hatin' (718758) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @09:26AM (#8802598) Journal
        Science is all about finding evidence to *refute*, not support, a hypothesis.

        On the contrary, Popper's ideas about the nature of scientific inquiry have been proven incorrect for the simple reason that hypotheses are not tested in vacuums. If you disprove a conjunction, you only know that one of the components is false, but you don't know which one. In reality, science works both ways: finding evidence both for and against certain hypotheses and most importantly, independently validating them.

        You need to read more.

        I'd suggest you (re-)read Kuhn.

    • by Hast (24833) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:33AM (#8802199)
      Actually I would say that it's a good example of media presenting it as something science can't explain. If you read the article you may note that they have no citations from any of the billion of scientist who are apparently there. They do provide a lot of quotes from people who think it's related to electrical appliances possessed by the devil.

      For a more scientific approach to the problem you should check the site The Fires of Canneto di Caronia [ebicom.net] which at least attempt to provide an explaination.

      And furthermore, you may complain that scientist are sceptical to new ideas. This is natural because in science there is a clear distintion between an idea (hypothesis) and something which is "tried and true" (theory, law). What these enthusiasts are doing is to invent meaningless stuff about the "causes" and claiming that it's as good as a scientific idea. Now naturally if you can't use the hypothesis to actually predict anything then it's at best cute. Most likely it's a big fat waste of time.

      The scientific method is a systematic way of getting more and better knowledge. What these people do is a good way to sell more papers. I just feel that it's so extremely sad when I read about "science" or statistics in a paper that I want to go to that journal and smack him on the nose with a rolled up paper (perhaps a scientific journal would help) and say "Bad irresponsible crackpot journalist! Bad irresponsible crackpot journalist! Look at what you did!"

      BTW I recommend that you read eg "The deamon haunted world" by Carl Sagan. It's a pretty good introduction to critical thinking in a world of disinformation.
  • by Phoenix-kun (458418) * on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:56AM (#8801998) Homepage
    Here is an interesting and recent article [ebicom.net] that has some further details on the subject.

  • by re-Verse (121709) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:57AM (#8802015) Homepage Journal
    And strangely fitting:

    " "....My God! Is that your kitchen on fire?"
    "Err, no. It's Aurora Borealus."
    "An Aurora Borealus?"
    "Yes."
    "At this time of the day, at this time of year, in this part of the country, localized entirely in your kitchen?!"
    ".....Yes."
    "....Can I see it?"
    ".....No."
  • Yay! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Zebedeu (739988) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @07:59AM (#8802021)
    Spinnato, the mayor, sounds just as desperate.

    "Someone wrote to us saying the solution was to sacrifice a black goat and collect its blood. At some point, that's going to start looking like a good idea."

    Wohoo! They took my advice!

  • Not Unique (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:01AM (#8802027)
    Believe or not, similar incidents have occurred before.

    o 1945 - A village a short distance from Almera in Spain (New York Time 5th July 1945).

    o 1983 - A small coal town in West Virginia, Wharncliffe (Housten Post 16th June 1983 and Columbus Dispatch 24th July 1983)

    o 1990 - San Gottardo in the Berici Hills of Italy
    (UK Sunday Express 11th March 1990 and The Guardian 22nd March 1990)

    I've given you references so you can check them out for yourself.

    (posted anonymously to avoid Slashdotters you refuse to think about things which don't fit inside their predefined universe).
  • by VTdude (526304) <(mentz) (at) (vt.edu)> on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:07AM (#8802062) Homepage
    1. The anchient art of measuring EMI is not exactly lost. Italy is covered with individuals from test labs to HAM radio operators who can take a few spectrum analyzers with antennas and powerline couplers and measure EMI an conducted emissions and look for these surges.

    2. America is one of the few nations in the world where the power going out or setting firest makes the news, in most of the world it happens daily.

    3. About a decade ago Italy ruled their version of the FCC incompetent and disbanded them. Though there are EU rules to deal with, it is a wild west of wireless where you can send photon-torpedo strength EMI around with no-one to slap you until the mobs find you.

  • Obviously (Score:3, Funny)

    by eclectro (227083) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:10AM (#8802076)

    It's the result of scientists ignoring Zero Point Energy [calphysics.org] for so long. Now it is rearing it's ugly head.

  • by Luminous (192747) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @08:57AM (#8802348) Journal
    This has been reported on since February [stygianlabyrinth.net] at which time, Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican's chief expert on exorcism said demonic forces cannot be ruled out. Now, of course, he has a vested interest in maintaining job security, so his opinion needs to be taken with a half-a-grain of salt.

  • CICAP's take on this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pamar (538061) <marino@inr[ ].it ['ete' in gap]> on Thursday April 08, 2004 @09:02AM (#8802391) Homepage
    First of all, this is pretty old news in Italy.

    Here is CICAP entry [cicap.org] on this phenomenon (in Italian sorry).

    CICAP is a group of scientists who routinely investigate (and debunk) any so-called supernatural phenomenon in Italy (they cover anything: ESP, religious miracles, even omeopathy). Sort of a James Randi fan club.

    I suppose most of Slashdot's reader cannot read Italian: the gist of it is that they suspect a prank. According to similar phenomena they investigated in the past, the first accidents are caused by natural causes (short-circuits, overload).

    But then people start talking, and making hypotesis, and someone starts causing this as a prank or a way to get attention, media coverage etc. Then CICAP arrives, and start looking aroud, and everything goes back to normal.

    CICAP sums this as follows: 100% of phenomena happen when controls are at 0% 0% of phenomena happen when controls are at 100%
  • by Llywelyn (531070) on Thursday April 08, 2004 @09:46AM (#8802740) Homepage
    Advertising with the name "firewire," this seems to give a whole new meaning to that.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.

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