The Hill Case — Part 2

What We Know and How We Know It, Part 2

What we know: Betty and Barney misidentified the aircraft warning light on the top of Cannon Mountain as a flying saucer.

How we know it:

When Betty and Barney arrived in Franconia Notch, with Cannon Mountain on the west and Mount Layfayette on the east, they had been watching what they supposed was a UFO ahead of them for over an hour.  They stopped in Franconia Notch and this is what they observed:

Cannon Mountain, Franconia NH, as Betty and Barney Hill would have seen it.

The top of Cannon Mountain from US 3.  Photo taken September 19th, 2007.

They saw the lights on the upper station of the Cannon Mountain Tramway, and, above  those lights, the UFO.  What you or I would have seen, standing at that same location on that same date at that same time, would have been the lights at the upper station of the tramway, and the aircraft warning beacon on Cannon Mountain.  The beacon, then and now, appears above and to the left of the tramway station.   So:  in physical reality there are two lights visible on Cannon Mountain at this point, the light on the tramway station and the beacon.  What Betty and Barney saw, however, was the light on the tramway station and the UFO.  They are looking at the aircraft warning beacon, they are pointing at the aircraft warning beacon, and they’re saying, in effect, That’s it!  That’s the UFO!

This is sufficient in and of itself to prove that they had mistaken the aircraft warning beacon on Cannon Mountain for a flying saucer.

But … this is not everything we have.

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The Hill Case — Part 1

What We Know and How We Know It, Part 1:

What We Know: Betty and Barney were sleep deprived on the night of 19/20 September 1961

How We Know It: They were on the back side of a twelve-hundred mile road trip on two-lane blacktop.  It is possible, though I sincerely doubt it, that they were well-rested at 10:00 am on the morning of September 19, but their event didn’t happen on the morning of September 19th.  Twelve hours later, and three-hundred-plus miles farther down the road, at 10:00 pm, they were just leaving Colebrook, NH, for what would turn out to be another seven hours on the road.

They should have stopped for the night two hours earlier, but they didn’t.  Fuller (in his book Interrupted Journey) makes it clear that the reason they didn’t stop was because they had run out of money and couldn’t afford a motel, so they decided to pull an all-nighter.

If they were tired by 10:00 pm, which common human experience suggests they must have been, by five the next morning they would have been reeling.

How else do we know that they were sleep deprived?  They were showing signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation.

One symptom of sleep deprivation is paranoia, the feeling that someone is watching or following you. Betty and Barney felt that someone was watching or following them.

Another symptom of sleep deprivation is not being able to remember the last several miles driven.  Betty and Barney were, during one part of their journey, unable to remember the last several miles driven.

A third symptom of sleep deprivation is a feeling of “missing time.”  Betty and Barney felt they had missing time.

A fourth symptom of sleep deprivation is irritability. During this part of the trip Betty and Barney were getting irritable with each other.

Fuller reports they felt an “odd tingling drowsiness” and a “haze.” This is consistent with sleep deprivation.


See:  See:

As to why I doubt that the Hills were “well-rested” when they started the morning of the 19th of September, 1961, we have the following facts:


First, Barney was a night-shift worker.  He worked nights and slept days.  Yet on this road trip he drove days and slept nights.  His sleep schedule was severely disrupted the moment he pulled out of his driveway on the morning of September 16th.

Common human experience tells us that road trips, with successive nights in unfamiliar beds in a series of motels, can result in less-than-restful sleep.

Further, I reference this:  “Nearly a Third of Americans are Sleep Deprived.”
While the study mentioned there, a 2012 study by the CDC, isn’t contemporaneous with 1961 (and there have been some significant changes in things affecting Americans’ sleep since 1961, including but not limited to the Internet, smart phones, DVD movies, 24-hour cable TV, and LED lights) and therefore I’m not hanging my hat on it, some of the findings are interesting and perhaps relevant:  For example, that around 30% of Americans are chronically sleep deprived.
Who are the folks most likely to be chronically sleep deprived?  People who work night shifts (Barney worked the night shift) and people in the age range 30-44 (Betty, age 42, and Barney, age 39, fall into that range).

Based on that alone, it is very likely that Betty and Barney were chronically sleep deprived.

Therefore, I consider it proved that, by the time they had their experience on the night of 19/20 September 1961, Betty and Barney were in fact fatigued and sleep deprived.

Please, friends, if you are driving and notice that you can’t remember the last few miles, or if you have a sense of missing time … pull off at the next motel, or at least pull over and take a nap.  Your night in a motel will cost far less than a day in a hospital, or a funeral.

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I For One Welcome Our Alien Overlords

Space alien from Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956)

Why are they grey?  Perhaps because Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) was in black-and-white….

Check out PodcastUFO, where I’ll be talking about my take on Betty and Barney Hill’s abduction, on Wednesday, 29 November.

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Nashua, This Weekend

The Nashua Holiday Stroll will take place this coming Saturday, 25 November 2017.

Jim Macdonald at the Nashua Holiday Stroll, 2016

Jim Macdonald at the Nashua Holiday Stroll, 2016

So why do I care?  I live at the entire other end of the state from Nashua.  Well, because Granite State Magicians will appear (poof!) at 30 Temple Street, Main Level, Nashua, from 7:10 to 8:10 pm (1910-2010).  And I will be among them.

(Immediately following Granite State Magicians there will be a fellow doing a Harry Potter magic show, so plan to stay late.)


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Nanowrimo’s Almost Over

Dr. Doyle's Blog

And so is my Thanksgiving/Winter Heating Season quickie sale, which ends at midnight on Sunday the 26th of November.

As always, you can make the purchase for yourself or as a gift for a friend, and can collect on it either right away or at a future date.

Meanwhile, I have to trundle out and purchase this year’s turkey and all the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving oddments.

And in honor of the season, a reprise of my 2012 posting of The World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce recipe:

1 bag fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Put cranberries into a small-to-medium-sized saucepan. Take a moment to make certain there isn’t a twig or a pebble in there by mistake. (I’ve never encountered one, but everybody says to check, so somebody must have, at least once.)

Add the water and the sugar. Stir to combine. It’s probably a good…

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Mental Health

Mental illness.  It happens, just like physical illness.  If you had the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, you’d get help.  If you had the signs and symptoms of diabetes, you’d get help.  We’ve gone to a lot of time and trouble to make sure everyone knows the signs and symptoms of an awful lot of common diseases (and some not-so-common ones).  Mental illness is pretty darned common.   But tons of people don’t even know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, so they don’t get help.  We’re trying to get the word on the signs and symptoms of mental illness out there.  Tell all your friends.


Here are the signs and symptoms:

Five signs for mental illness

Know the five signs

    Know the five signs:

  • not feeling like yourself?
  • feeling agitated?
  • are you withdrawn?
  • not caring for yourself?
  • feeling hopeless?



  • Recognize the signs of emotional suffering
  • Express concern and offer support
  • Act now and talk to someone you trust — parent, teacher, coach, relative, friend, doctor
  • Care enough to follow through and follow-up.
  • Text SIGNS to 741-741 or call 603-448-4400 (24/7)


Take care of yourself.  Take care of others.  It matters.

(For substance abuse concerns, call 844-711-HELP or visit


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Uncle Tom’s SERE

Was Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by a feminine hand?

No, it was written by Harriet Beecher’s toe.

For years, pretty much all I knew about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel, was that it existed.  Important in the social history of the United States, sure.  Important in American literature, sure.  But the plot?  Nope. All I knew of the plot was what I’d gleaned from watching The King and I.  So, recently, I decided to correct that lack.

(BTW: Spoilers)


Over the course of a couple of trips to Boston and to Burlington I listened to an audio recording of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The first surprising thing (to me, anyway) was that the scene of Eliza crossing the Ohio on the ice floes wasn’t the climax of the book.  It was an incident in Chapter Seven (out of forty-five chapters).

I hadn’t looked at Uncle Tom criticism beforehand (I don’t read reviews of anything I plan to read or watch, to avoid spoilers), so I was surprised afterward to find that the character Sam on the Shelby farm, early on, was supposed to be a stereotype of the Happy, Lazy Darkie.  I’d taken him to be engaged in a long-running campaign of passive resistance.  But never mind that.  The main thing that caught my attention was the theme of escape, literal escape, and that I haven’t seen commented on in any of the sources I’ve looked at.

When one is engaged in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, there are two main strategies for the Evasion and Escape part of the mix.  Either get ahead of pursuit and stay ahead of it, or hole up somewhere in the search area until the searchers get tired of looking for you (or assume that you’ve already gotten out of the area, see strategy one above).  We see examples of both of those strategies in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

First, we have Eliza.  She uses the first strategy.  Having learned that her master intends to sell her young son down the river (he’s chosen to sell because as a Pretty Young Boy he’ll get a good price; Stowe several times hints as strongly as you can in a 19th century novel that the Basest and Vilest of Men will buy Pretty Young Boys and Girls in order to do Unspeakable Things with them), she puts together a few things and does a midnight flit.  She grabs some clothes, some food, and her child and scrams out of there.  She does pause along the way to tell Uncle Tom what she’s doing, partly to see if he’ll come along (since he too is scheduled to be sold).  He declines, both for thematic reasons and because if he’d gone this would have been a pretty short novel.  It also serves the purpose of letting Stowe clue in the readers about things both Eliza and Tom know perfectly well. [NOTE: One of the things that got Representative Preston Brooks to cane Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of Congress in 1856 was Sumner’s claim that the South would never give up slavery since (among other things) slavery provided an unending supply of pussy for ol’ Massa.]

So far, so good: Eliza’s got an escape kit, even if it’s a hasty one.  She has a plan: head for Canada.  She does make some mistakes along the way, starting with telling anyone what she’s doing.  Nobody who isn’t traveling with her has a need to know her plans.  (What folks don’t know they can’t betray due to malice, accident, threat, or entreaty.) She also sticks to the road, and she heads for an easily-guessed primary destination: the closest crossing of the Ohio River.

One of the rules of escape (or strong guidelines, anyway) is avoid tactically-significant terrain.  That’s roads, crossroads, bridges, hilltops, towns, houses, dams (I’m looking at you, Dr. Richard Kimble), peel towers (yeah, Flynn from Tangled, you should have paid attention in SERE school) and pretty much everything Owen Wilson does in Behind Enemy Lines).

More through good luck than good judgment she reaches the Ohio ahead of the pursuit launched by her buyer, and makes that famous (and thematically significant Leap of Faith) escape across the ice floes.

After that she falls into the hands of an escape organization that gets her to a steamer across Lake Erie to Canada.

The use of resistance organizations can be fraught.  Remember: their goals and your goals may not coincide.   A word of advice to you, Eliza if (once again due more to good luck than good judgment) you learn of the plans of the slave catcher (confusingly also named “Tom”) who is after you, to take you on a particular piece of road at a particular time on a particular day, make it your business to be elsewhere. This may save you from a desperate gunfight on a wild crag (although it will also prevent slave-catcher Tom’s Fall and ultimate Conversion and Redemption).  At this point in your career you’re interested in reaching friendly territory, not in redeeming the Cossacks who are after you.  Yes, I know that Harriet Beecher Stowe was interested in talking about the Fugitive Slave Act in this part, but hey, Eliza?  You aren’t interested in it, other than getting out from its jurisdiction as fast as you can.

Any contact with the bad guys will give them a definite time/place mark on you, and reset the pursuit to zero, only with you more worn down and with fewer resources than when you started.  (Yeah, Tears of the Sun, you got that wrong too.)

(Also, note for the guy who wrote The Pervading Influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Pop Culture, the minstrel show goes back way farther than the “Tom Shows.”  See half the songs in the 1844 Whig song book.)

At this point I’ll move to the other strategy: hold in place.  Cassie, the former sex-slave (literally) on Simon Legree’s plantation, carries this out when Simon brings home his newer, younger, prettier replacement and she can see how things are going to go for her from that point on.

She takes some time and expends quite a bit of ingenuity in creating a place that everyone knows she would never go, and makes it a place that Simon would never go either (a garret room in the big house that she convincingly makes haunted by ghosts).  She puts together escape kits (one for her, one for the new sex-slave, Emmeline) choses her time, makes it look like she’s gone off into the swamp and instead doubles back to the house, where she stays for months before finally just walking out the front door and down the road one night.

One essential part of her escape kit, and one that should be part of your escape kit, was cash money.  When the time came she  went down to the river, got on a steamer, and sailed to the Free States.  She got away a lot easier than almost anyone (aside from having a history full of horrors, that is). She can’t resist talking, though, before she gets to Canada, which is a mistake.  She should not assume that a white southern slave-owner is her friend.  Even if the author needs it in order to get to the climax (a series of coincidences that would make Charles Dickens blush).

There are a couple of other escapees: George Harris (Eliza’s husband), who finds that a) cash and b) boldness work (although he can’t resist talking and Telling All to a former employer of his along the way, which is a remarkably stupid idea, even if the author does need the dialog to make moral points and tell the reader what happened.  Stay quiet!  Oversharing can be fatal if the guy you told all to decides to repeat it as a funny story over brandy to his friends the next town over.   George (who is quite light-skinned)  is traveling disguised as a Spanish gentleman, accompanied by a darker “servant,” Jim.  The latter had made it to Canada once, and had returned to the south in order to find and rescue his mother.

They do well, and all get away.  Cash helps.






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An Early Opportunity

Dr. Doyle's Blog

In honor of Nanowrimo, and of the onset of the winter heating season,† I’ll be running a seasonal sale on editorial and critique services from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend. My usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel goes down to $1000 for the duration, and rates for epic-sized doorstops will be similarly discounted.

As always, you can purchase a gift certificate – as a gift for a friend, or for yourself – to be redeemed at a later date.

The snow that fell last Friday? Is still here.

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A Not Entirely Disinterested Public Service Announcement

Dr. Doyle's Blog

Fantasy writer Jo Walton is running a Kickstarter for Scintillation, a small convention to be held – provided the Kickstarter succeeds — in 2018 in Montreal.

Jo (who deservedly often has Homeric epithets like “acclaimed” and “award-winning” affixed to her name) ran the Farthingparty convention in Montreal from 2006 to 2014, before time-management issues and the stress of worrying every year whether or not the convention would draw enough members to break even brought the run to an end. She’s coming back now with the new Kickstarter model, which she explains in detail on the project page.

I really really want this Kickstarter to succeed. (Yes, I’ve already thrown in my mite, and will throw more as more becomes available.) Farthingparty was the closest convention to where we live,† and I think we made every single one of them, even the one which we had to do as a…

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Magic in Vermont

Where to find me this weekend:

James D. Macdonald, Steampunk Magician


Friday I’ll be in Bradford, Vermont, for the Midnight Madness.  I’ll be doing street magic from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm.  Saturday and Sunday I’ll be doing walk-around at the Vermont Steampunk Expo in South Burlington, VT.


Come find me, say “Amaze me!” and I shall.

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