Mysteries, Second Set: Views of the Philbrook Villa

Here is my second set of Mysteries, this time featuring the architecture and gardens of the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa.

The Philbrook Museum is a fascinating collection of art housed in a modified1920s villa, surrounded by formal and informal gardens. The house once belonged to oil pioneer Waite Phillips and his wife Genevieve and was designed by Kansas city architect Edward Beuhler Delk.

When we visited it was the end of winter, and the gardens looked remarkably good. I would love to go back when they are at the height of their beauty. Winter does lend itself to a certain kind of wistful mystery however. This particular day the sun lingered behind thick clouds, making for some fantastic effects.

I hope you enjoy these photos! Please let me know if you have favorites.

Mysteries, Second Set: Views of the Philbrook Villa


Mysteries, First Set: Views of Seminary Hall, Northeastern State University

Architecture can create layers of mystery and depth in human life by recalling the past. Photography enhances that romance beautifully.

This group of photos feature Seminary Hall at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Tahlequah is located in the western foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and is the capital of both the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians. The city gained that distinction after the Cherokee were forced from their homelands to the east onto Indian Territory in Oklahoma during the infamous Trail of Tears, so the place has a bittersweet quality. I have Cherokee ancestors on my father’s side of the family.

I thought these particular photos captured a delightful ghostly mood and that they make an interesting set. I hope you enjoy them!

 Mysteries, First Set: Seminary Hall, Northeastern State University


hhh © Katherine McDaniel


A Ghost Lives Upstairs: The Haunting of the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library, Pittsburgh

Between the book stacks, where visibility is low and silence the rule, things can get creepy.

I worked in libraries for most of my college years, and I can tell you that shutting down for the night is an eerie experience: checking the library for patrons, either clueless, playful, desperate, or malicious, that remain, making sure sound equipment and other machines are off, flipping off the lights and turning the key in the door to secure the collection. This is the time when weird experiences happen. Most library ghosts are not reported by patrons during the day, but by the staff at night. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, and a library benefits immensely from a lively ghost story or two inside its walls. Here is one such story.

© alekjds with CCLicense

The Andrew Bayne Memorial Library © alekjds with CCLicense

The Andrew Bayne Memorial Library, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, was once the home of Amanda Bayne Balph, the daughter of Andrew Bayne, a former County Sheriff. Her husband, James Madison Balph, was an architect and designed and built the three story Victorian home in 1875, installing an expensive marble fireplace in each room and mahogany paneling. After he  died in 1899, Amanda lived there until her death in 1912, at which time the house became the property of the borough, since neither Amanda nor her sister Jane Teece had children. In 1914 two rooms were converted into the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library.

There were four stipulations which the family insisted upon when they left their home to the borough of Bellevue: the surrounding streets must be named “Balph” and “Teece,” the mansion must be used as a library, the 4-acre estate was not to be developed, and the estate’s elm trees were not to be removed. This included the largest elm east of the Mississippi, a 400 year old tree known as the “Lone Sentinel”. Over the course of the 20th century every elm on the property died of Dutch Elm Disease, culminating in the removal of the Lone Sentinel in 1998. A large branch was taken off by a windstorm and there was a fear that it might fall on nearby buildings.

For decades, patrons have reported seeing a strange woman in a bonnet. On days when the library is closed, she has been seen looking out the second story window from what was Amanda’s bedroom. Her reflection appears in windows, looking exactly like the picture of Amanda Bayne Balph which hangs on the wall of the library. Her appearances in general are friendly rather than fiendish, as if she is reassuring everyone that her agreement with the city is still in effect. During the death and removal of the Lone Sentinel she was sighted frequently, ostensibly distressed at the sight and no doubt desiring that it be taken care of properly.

Like many ghosts, Amanda is a bit of a prankster, turning lights off and on, punching numbers into the library computers and once turning on the ceiling fan when a group of children were in the library for a reading. Perhaps she thought it was too hot for the kids and decided to make them more comfortable? Librarians there alone at night hear footsteps in Amanda’s bedroom when no one is there. It is also reported that missing books reappear on the shelves, but a ghost that reshelves books seems a bit too good to be true!

This library is featured in Jeff Belanger’s book, The World’s Most Haunted Places. Happy Halloween from Synkroniciti!

Into the Uncanny Valley: Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Geminoids and Telenoids

Why do we possess an instinctive fear of androids? Are we prepared for the questions and issues these robots inspire?

You may or may not be familiar with the uncanny valley. It is the theory that robots and animated figures produce strong discomfort in people when they fall slightly short of passing for human. Figures that do not have human attributes do not produce this discomfort. Adding human attributes at first increases empathy in the observer, until at some point a line is crossed, rendering the figure too human for comfort. The lifeless face of the mannequin is rendered more terrifying by putting it in motion. No one completely understands what disturbs us so. Is it the facial expression, the coordination or something in the eyes? Is it possible to make a robot or an image on the other side of the valley, one which is so like us that we would consider befriending it?

Scientists, engineers and animators have been working to resolve this issue. Our generation is able to conceive of a character in an animated film or game that looks completely human, of a robot that looks and feels exactly like us, and yet the valley is getting deeper and darker. Recent experiments with androids that have faces and skin have produced creepier and creepier robots. The most marketable humanoid robots today are either mechanized creations that perform specific tasks but have little personality or those that seem to be patterned after children’s toys, with non threatening faces and no skin.

CCLI by vanillase on wikimedia commons

© vanillase with CCLicense

Hiroshi Ishiguro is the Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan. He has been making humanoid robots for years, including the female looking Geminoid™ F and the male looking Geminoid™ HI-1, patterned after himself. Both of these robots are at the cutting edge of the uncanny valley.

Video via jennymanda on YouTube.

Ishiguro’s latest model might be considered a sidestep. It is less human, but I’ll let you decide if you think it is less creepy. Meet the Telenoid R1, a portable android that can “transfer” a person’s presence. That person can transmit their own movements and words into the robot via laptop. The Telenoid is described as “a minimalistic human” and consists of a torso with a neck, head and face. If you feel inclined, it is quite huggable, the size of a child with soft and pleasant skin. In order to be better able to picture the essence of the person using it, it is designed to look both old and young and both male and female. The hope is that the Telenoid will become a comforting extension of that person. Perhaps a mother would be able to soothe her children from a distance using a Telenoid. Would you feel soothed?

Video via fhSPACEtv on YouTube.

Ishiguro’s Telenoid may help us understand what it is about androids that gets under our skin. Maybe our understanding of the valley is imprecise. What if what waits on the other side isn’t a more human robot, but something else?

Want to see the latest sales strategy for the Telenoid? Look here.