High Strangeness: UFO Hiatus

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

UFO Hiatus

Something had to give...

Over the past couple months, life has gotten surprisingly busy, and I find I haven't been able to keep up with my responsibilities as a Certified MUFON Field Investigator. Between selling my Hynek book (which means I have to write the damn thing by next summer!), prepping to start a new gig teaching screenwriting at DePaul University and gearing up for a 16-day Antarctic cruise over the holidays, I have been spread out pretty thin and letting my caseload slip as a result.

So I wrote to my state director and told him that I may have to take a leave of absence from MUFON for the first 6 months of 2016. By then I'll have the book done, school will be on summer break, and things will settle down greatly. I told him I would let him know after the 1st of the year, once I'm back from the South Pole. He was very cool about it, and appreciated the heads up.

To be completely honest, though, I've been ready for a break from MUFON for a while. My motivation has been seriously lacking since last summer, and once it starts to slip away it's hard to get it back.

Thank God I can get away from UFOs in the Antarctic... or can I?
There are two big issues. First of all, there have been too many cases over the past few months that are either obvious pranks, obvious mistakes, or just flat out unimportant. It's hard to enthusiastically dedicate even one night a week to this when so many of my recent cases are exactly alike: "I saw a light in the sky. I watched for a while, trying to figure out what it was. Then it disappeared." Well, ok. Maybe that's something, maybe it's not, but if that's all there is to the report then what, exactly, am I "investigating?" I spend 30 minutes on the phone with the witness, who repeats what he/she said in the initial report, and then I file it with MUFON as an "Identified Flying Object-Man Made" or "Insufficient Data," or some such thing. Which does absolutely nothing to help us understand the UFO phenomenon, and feels like a big waste of my time. Much better, I would think, if the simple Category 1 cases were just filed away and the investigators only had to look into the truly strange and interesting cases. But who's going to make that call?

The second issue is that the MUFON Case Management System where I file my reports is so clunky, slow, cumbersome, counterintuitive, and nonsensical that I dread having to go into the system to file a report. It always takes twice as long as it needs to, because the reporting requirements are so inane. We basically have to fill in everything twice, which usually means cutting and pasting into the wee hours of the night, and then we need to type the report into a text box so tiny it can barely hold one letter, much less a report. It's sheer torture, I'm telling you. I have hated the CMS since day one.

Then in October, they changed the CMS reporting procedures, for no apparent reason. The email MUFON sent me about the changes is completely incomprehensible to me:
For Cat 1 cases. Copy and paste the elements of the Short Form (see bottom of page 8) into the text box for Field Investigators Report located at the bottom of CMS. Complete the report.

For Cat 2 and higher cases. You will complete only Form 30. Upon completing the report as a Word document, do the following:
Highlight the all of the information from the Investigation Section (see top of Page 4). Click copy and then move your mouse to the Field Investigators Report box and then click on paste. Next, attach the Word document as a file to CMS and close the case.
Uhhh... What?

The last straw came the other day when MUFON changed the log-in procedures. All of a sudden, with no warning and no explanation, they require me to choose a new password and then keep changing it every 45 days...

I've been using the same password for 4 1/2 years without any problem. I remember that password. It's easy and it's secure. Why do I need to change it, and then keep changing it? Well, I knew there was no getting out of it, so I put in the new password and wrote it down, and guess what? The next time I tried to log in, I couldn't remember the new password--of course--and I couldn't find where I had written it down. So I had to ask MUFON to help me reset the password, and I was told to check my email for the reset code. That was a week ago, and I'm still waiting for the flipping email. (and before you write to tell me to check my bulk folder, I have, and it's not there)

The thing is, even if I get the email and I get the password reset properly, I'm going to have to go through this stupidity every 45 days from now until forever, and I can pretty much guarantee that I will promptly forget every new password every 45 days, the minute I create it. And for what? Do we really have security problems?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not leaving MUFON. I just need a break, and I need to concentrate on the book and blog and the class for the time being. Even if I decide to take the leave of absence, I'll still be keeping up with the blog, although maybe less frequently than in the past.

I may not get back here again before my trip, so Happy Holidays to all, and keep watching the skies!


purrlgurrl said...

I feel your pain. Dealing with an antiquated and cumbersome data entry system is one of life's more frustrating activities.

Your time is probably better spent on the book (still looking forward to it; Hynek seems to have been an interesting guy) and teaching and the blog. Unfortunately, MUFON seems embedded in another era in so many ways, unwilling to update its procedures and approach or expand its narrow vision of what UFOs might be.

Anyway, please have a wonderful holiday with your family in Antartica. It's the trip of a lifetime so make plenty of happy memories.

Oh, and try not to fall into a crevasse.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I don't understand how you deal with MUFON BS. Changing passwords frequently is what big corporations do to protect themselves. People still break in to the system. Enjoy the trip... be on the lookout for those Nazis!

Terry the Censor said...

> I may have to take a leave of absence from MUFON for the first 6 months of 2016

You shouldn't feel bad at all. Your non-MUFON activities sound far more interesting and productive than investigating crappy cases. (And much cooler than anything I'm doing. Antarctica! Wow.)

> Which does absolutely nothing to help us understand the UFO phenomenon.

It sounds like you are coming to understand the UFO phenomenon.

> The email MUFON sent me about the changes is completely incomprehensible to me

All written instructions should be tested before publication. They can be handed to a third party, who will try to execute the commands as written. Revise and repeat.

> they require me to choose a new password and then keep changing it every 45 days...

That is standard security for remote access to servers.

> I've been using the same password for 4 1/2 years without any problem.

That itself is the problem. It is a very unsafe practice.

> Do we really have security problems?

The day after MUFON is hacked, you might want to edit this post.

> keep watching the skies!

Which is weird, because, in that movie, the spacecraft was not in the sky but under the ice. (Am I remembering that correctly?)

(Mark, be sure to take lots of pictures of Antarctica and post the best when you get back.)

Curious Fellow said...

Sort of makes you wonder who's in charge of MUFON site IT security, don't it? And whether they're really competent to understand proper and user-friendly data input interfaces. Doesn't sound right to me.

But maybe it's just another refracted symptom and insight into what's been affecting MUFON for the last 20+ years -- closed board decision making, terrible financial decision making (the Bigelow deal that James Carrion wrote about), scandal (Carpenter), hype and myth-making (Hanger One), etcetera. The "leaders" of MUFON don't seem to show much respect or support for the various States leaders and members desires to improve and "fix" the organization, either.

Kind of a sad state of affairs, AFAIK, so maybe taking 6 months off from MUFON and crappy cases will be just what the doctor ordered, i.e., relief from relatively unimportant work.

Unfortunately, MUFON is one of the very few orgs which get reports regularly that local or regional/state parties who have a yen to investigate can get fresh cases from, but their database is pretty shabby and inadequate in terms of correlatable data points/factors, etc., from what I've looked at. MUFON just seems generally incompetent and unscientific. Which is messed up, as the kids rarely used to say once.

Mark UFO'Connell said...

Thanks for all the supportive comments, everyone! I haven't given up on MUFON yet, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how to fix it.

Anyway, we'll see what happens in Antarctica with that secret UFO base! I was looking forward to South Pole stargazing, but a friend reminded me that we will actually have 24-hour daylight at the Pole :(

Ushuaia will be a different story, though. We will have night skies there, and I'm excited about seeing the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds!

Be well, everyone! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tom said...

Congrats Mark on all your success. You've got my favorite ufo blog here. Have fun in Antarctica & I think that's a wonderful thing which you are doing for your Dad. My Mom passed this past August, so cherish this time.

Pertaining to MUFON; Not surprising they have a cumbersome system for their investigators. The MUFON investigator I spoke with about my particular case was rather user unfriendly also.

In any event - good luck on the book, the class and the Antarctic adventure!