Probably the most frequently reported equipment problem reported on vigils is battery 'draining'. There are two types of battery to consider; rechargeable and non-rechargeable.
The technology of rechargeable batteries is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, the demands made on it are moving quickly too. Digital cameras are notorious for running down rechargeable batteries very quickly. However, this isn't the main source of problems. Rechargeable batteries need to be charged according to very specific manufacturer instructions. Some users abuse rechargeable batteries by ignoring such instructions and warnings. It is difficult to be specific about problems (such as overcharging) as different batteries require different handling. The best recommendation is to follow manufacturer instructions and warnings carefully because rechargeable batteries are unusual among consumer products in being fairly intolerant to abuse.
Life should be easier with non-rechargeable batteries (which you should always take on vigils as a backup) but they have their own issues. You should always test how long such batteries last with your chosen equipment beforehand so you know what to expect. Also, batteries do deteriorate over time, even if unused - check the 'use by' date.
You can buy cheap battery checkers to see if they are still good before packing them for the vigil. They show the remaining life within the battery. It might be interesting to use them to see if batteries 'drain' on arrival at the vigil!
One problem that all batteries suffer from is that they drain more quickly when they are cold. Obviously, cold conditions are quite common on vigils usually held un unheated premises overnight.
There can hardly be an experienced paranormal field worker who hasn't experienced equipment malfunction. Cameras suddenly record nothing after working perfectly for months. Batteries are mysteriously drained despite being recently recharged. It is often said that the equipment these failures only occur on vigils. After the vigil the equipment is usually said to work perfectly once again.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have done a study of this phenomenon (unless someone out there knows better - please get in touch). What evidence there is for the phenomenon is anecdotal. People don't usually make written records to verify their accounts. A proper study would entail equipment testing before, during and after vigils. Tales of the equipment malfunction phenomenon remain remarkably persistent. So could there be anything in it, either as a paranormal or natural phenomenon?
Whether or not there is a paranormal element to equipment failure on vigils, there is definitely a normal element.
With any electrical equipment there are certain factors that reduce reliability. These include vibration (particularly sudden shocks), high humidity, airborne dust, high temperature, low temperature (for batteries - see left), rapid changes in temperature, high electromagnetic fields.
Some of these factors (cold, humid, dusty) are often typical of places where vigils might take place. Also, vibration (including mechanical shocks) may be produced by transporting equipment to the vigil and deploying it.
All these factors place environmental stress on equipment. Though modern electronic equipment is generally reliable, the units typically bought by paranormal researchers are often at the economy end of the market. They cannot be expected to be as resistant to stress as more expensive units. So the lesson is, try to protect your equipment as much as possible.
Wiring and computers
Some equipment used by paranormal researchers can be wired directly to a laptop computer. This, obviously, offers huge advantages. In the old days, someone would be asked to check the reading on an instrument at regular intervals. This could be both tiresome and error-prone, particularly if the person was not familiar with the instrument. In addition, such a procedure missed brief changes that might occur between readings. Some people set up an alarm for such an event but even then they couldn't guarantee to get an accurate reading of the peak.
Nowadays, we can get a complete stream of accurate data passed straight onto a computer. Nothing need be missed with sample rates often several times a second. However, such improvements inevitably bring their own new problems.
Wiring is main source of problems with computer monitoring on vigils. Wires can be damaged when moved. They can also be subject to electromagnetic interference from ambient fields, though that is less of a problem if the sensor is digital. That's because the signal passing down the wire (RS232, USB, etc) will be checked for errors by the computer.
However, the biggest problem with wiring is plugging it in! You should always make sure that there is good, firm contact when connecting wires. Dust and moisture can degrade contacts.
Always check that the values emerging at the computer end make sense. That's because some wires can appear to be working properly even if some of the connections are degraded or absent. For instance, RS232 only requires three connections to produce readings, though more may be needed to use flow control. If there is an error-checking option (such as checksum) in your monitoring software, always make sure you use it.
© Maurice Townsend 2006