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June 2005
I thought I had reached a point where I was almost done with the book and would have more time to focus on the site again. Sadly, I was mistaken. It turned out that there was still a LOT left to do (clearing permissions for images, finishing a few chapters, editing, etc.). So that's why I haven't been posting much stuff lately. And I might as well admit that until July, I may not be able to post anything more because I really need to focus totally on the book. But come July, I have to be done, because my wife and I are going on vacation then (a long-planned vacation), and she's told me that I WILL NOT still be working on the book then, so that's pretty much an absolute deadline. So I should be able to resume posting then.

My wife and I will be doing a driving tour of hoaxes and wineries in the Northeastern U.S. After spending July 4 with my parents, we'll be driving up to Grovers Mill in New Jersey (where the Martians landed in 1938), then on up to Cooperstown, NY where the Cardiff Giant is. We'll next spend some time in the Niagara Falls area (visit some wineries in that region), then head over to Detroit where the fake Cardiff giant is. Next we drive to the Forevertron antigravity machine in Wisconsin, and finish up in Minneapolis where we're visiting family. Hopefully we'll also find lots of other interesting stuff along the way. I'm bringing along my laptop, so I should be able to post pictures of the trip as I go along (if I can find wireless internet connection along the way).

On another topic, after much debate my publisher and I have finally settled on a title for the book. My original title was the FAKE REALITY FIELD GUIDE, but that got canned because it was deemed not fun/quirky enough. So instead we've settled on HIPPO EATS DWARF: A FIELD GUIDE TO HOAXES AND OTHER FORMS OF B.S.

Hippo Eats Dwarf refers to the media hoax of the same name. We chose it basically because it's such a strange phrase, so it provides some indication that the book is full of strange things. I was a little worried that the dwarf (or 'little people') community would take offense, but I hope not. 'A field guide to hoaxes' is obvious. 'And other forms of b.s.' was settled on after a lot of discussion. The book is full of things that are kind of hoaxy, but not quite hoaxes: botox masks, Michael Jackson's nose, imaginary girlfriends, bizarre reality tv concepts, staged political events, etc. I was referring to all of this as 'fake reality', but my publisher convinced me that most people browsing books in a bookstore wouldn't know what that meant. So we settled on 'b.s.' instead because there seems to be a surge of interest in studies about b.s. (such as Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit, and Laura Penny's Your Call is Important To Us: The Truth About Bullshit). The marketing people at my publisher figured that 'b.s.' would better convey what I was talking about. Plus, it's funnier.

I'm still kind of fond of 'The Fake Reality Field Guide', but my publisher is probably right that not enough people would understand what I was referring to.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 21, 2005
Comments (33)
First there was Save Toby, a site on which some guy (whose name apparently is Bion) threatened to eat his pet rabbit if he hasn't received $50,000 by June 30 (apparently he's already raised almost $30,000, which is pretty amazing, if true). Now there's Where Is Toby, on which one of Bion's friends offers to expose Bion's full contact information... for $5,000. I guess this will appeal to rabbit rights activists who want to send Bion hate mail. A while back someone also had a Cook Toby site up, but that now appears to be gone. However, Screw Toby is still up. (Thanks to David Emery for giving me a heads up about this).
Categories: Animals, Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 16, 2005
Comments (15)
image If you have an SUV, then you're probably going to want to use it off-road sometime. After all, that's what it's designed for. But if you have no time to get out of the city, then no problem. Just use Sprayonmud to make it look like you've had a wild time driving around the country:

Sprayonmud is a specially formulated spray-on product for anyone that wants to give friends, neighbours, colleagues or just anyone at all, the impression that they have been off-road or, at the very least, out in the country for the weekend...
Sprayonmud comes in an easy-to-use plastic bottle which is just the right size for hiding in a green Wellington boot.  Keep it in your garage, in the boot, or anywhere you like.  Sprayonmud can be applied to your vehicle in seconds, but just be careful the neighbours don’t catch you using it!  And remember, you’ve been visiting friends in the country!

Mud in a bottle. What will they think of next?
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 16, 2005
Comments (33)
I've heard in the past that shoes hanging from a powerline means that you can buy drugs in the area. But according to this article, in which a utility worker is interviewed, there are even more secret codes:

"The tennis shoes hanging up there mark drug areas," the worker says. "It's a sign to those who are 'in the know' that drugs are available for sale in that neighborhood." He goes on to explain the alleged meaning of yoyos and deflated helium balloons. "That meaning is a lot darker," he says. "Yoyos mean that sex is for sale in the area, and if a balloon is tangled in with the yoyos, that means both sex and drugs are for sale." He explains that the color of the yoyo indicates the ethnicity of the person offering sex.

So what are you supposed to do if you see one of these codes? Go up to the nearest person and say, 'Hey, I saw the yoyo, if you know what I mean?' Maybe objects hanging from power lines simply mean that kids have thrown things up there to be obnoxious.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 08, 2005
Comments (59)
image David Emery gave me a heads up about this soviet-style poster that has supposedly been sighted on the MARC trains that go between Baltimore and Washington DC. It urges passengers to: "Report any unusual activities or packages to the nearest conductor. WATCH, RIDE, AND REPORT."

The poster seems so Big-Brother-like that a lot of people suspect it must be a hoax. David Emery comments: "the logo on the poster reads "MARC Marshals" which, as far as I can tell, don't exist. MARC trains are patrolled by MARC Police. Folks are speculating it's probably some sort of guerrilla art project."

The photo caught the attention of bloggers when it appeared on the Articulatory Loop blog. However, I think it appeared earlier on MDRails, which is a website of photos taken by Maryland train enthusiasts (although when I checked the Wayback Machine, I could see that the poster wasn't on there as of October 2004).

It actually wouldn't surprise me if the poster was real, but the only way to confirm this is if (1) other MARC riders report seeing this poster, and (2) MARC confirms that they put this poster up.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 08, 2005
Comments (10)
image Apparently the latest fashion with kids is fake bullet-proof vests. They're called 'Raid Vests'. According to the Boston Globe, "Some parents are even buying the $50 faux vests for their toddlers and their dogs." The vests come in suede, nylon, and denim. Personally it wouldn't make me feel very safe to wear one, because I would worry that someone would think they could take a shot at me.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 08, 2005
Comments (32)
image Here's a link to some video footage of an accident with a photocopier. I don't have any details about where this footage was taken, or if it's real. Although it looks staged to me.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 06, 2005
Comments (36)
image There's already quite a lengthy thread about the Loch Ness Monster Tooth in the forum, but I don't think anyone has yet linked to this recent press release in which radio host Rob McConnell exposes the 'tooth' as "nothing more than an antler from a roe muntjac deer". The story was that two American college students supposedly found the tooth lodged in the carcass of a deer while they were visiting Loch Ness. A Scottish warden subsequently took the tooth from them. In reality, the entire story was part of a publicity stunt to promote Steve Alten's new book, The Loch (as most people in the forum had already figured out).
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 06, 2005
Comments (15)
This is pretty cool. Instead of doing a typical obnoxious prank, a senior class in Vermont painted a celestial mural on the ceiling of the main lobby of the school. Normally the rule with pranks is that, to be judged successful, they should annoy, shock, irritate, or poke fun at someone. But I think that surprising people is just as valid a reaction. And what's more surprising than a random act of art?

The class of 2005 painted a large celestial mural on a ceiling in the main lobby of the school during the holiday weekend, Principal Peter Evans said.
Evans said when he returned to school on Tuesday, he looked up at the mural and thought it was an art class project. He soon learned that it was the senior prank, a tradition that usually has a more troublesome impact on the school. About 170 ceiling tiles were painted, he said.
"It's beautiful, I think everyone agrees that it's beautiful. We're enjoying it right now, and we don't plan on removing it or eliminating it," Evans said.
Categories: Art, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 06, 2005
Comments (28)
This is an Ananova story. Which means that it's not very likely to be true:

Bit of a fix for bride and best man...
Doctors had to be called to separate the bride and best man after they were caught in the act during a wedding in Croatia.
The couple were trapped together by a muscle spasm after a friend of the groom walked in on them as they had sex in the toilets.
Unable to be pulled apart, the couple had to endure a procession of wedding guests who came to see what they had been doing before doctors could turn up.
Unable to help, they had to transport the pair on a stretcher to the local hospital where she was given an injection to relax her muscles, allowing the best man to get free.
The wedding party in Varazdin, Croatia, continued after the groom announced the celebrations were to mark his divorce rather than his wedding, reported daily Slobodna Dalmacija.

Tales of 'muscle spasms' locking couples together have been circulating for centuries. I think they're an urban legend, although vaginismus itself is a real enough disorder.

A similar tale appeared in an 1884 issue of Medical News, penned by a Dr. Egerton Yorrick Davis, who was the pseudonym of Dr. William Osler, a famous Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Osler liked inventing strange stories like this and submitting them to medical journals using his Yorrick Davis alias. He did it throughout his entire career. If anyone has evidence of a real documented case of vaginismus locking a couple together, I'd like to hear about it.
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 06, 2005
Comments (20)
image I've posted before about dogs who commit suicide, so when I saw this story about a chicken who committed suicide I thought I better add it to the site:

The man's son said that the chicken probably decided to kill itself being unable to lead the horrible life in the provincial village. The chicken is a vulnerable and sensitive bird that might not have the energy to handle stressful situations. Most likely, the Russian suicidal chicken has lost the will to live. The poor bird was not left hanging on the fence: it was cooked and eaten.

Maybe I'll have to start a new category for suicidal animals.
Categories: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 03, 2005
Comments (19)
image I have the good fortune of having a site that ranks relatively high in search engines. But this also means that I have the misfortune of easily attracting the attention of anyone out there who might object to something on my site, or who might want to claim that I'm infringing their copyright by my use of some material. So, in the past, I've had National Geographic threaten me, plus I've had complaints from the Time Travel Mutual Fund and the Human-Flavored Tofu Company (see below), among others.

Now the British Science and Society Picture Library has joined this list. They've sent me a cease-and-desist letter demanding that I either remove all images of the Cottingley Fairies from my site, or pay them a licensing fee for their use.

This raises an interesting legal question. The Cottingley Fairy images were taken in 1917 and published (in England) in 1920. They were also published in America. The earliest American publication of them that I'm aware of is the American edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies (George H. Doran Co., New York, 1922).

U.S. law states that everything published in America before 1923 is now in the public domain. Therefore, in America the Cottingley fairy images are in the public domain. But the law in the U.K. is that the images remain under copyright for 70 years after the death of the photographer. The two women who took the images died in the 1980s, so the images will remain copyrighted in Britain until around 2050.

So do the British copyrights have any legal status in America? I'm not sure. The closest parallel I can find is the case of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, which is copyrighted in the UK, but is in the public domain in the US. Efforts to enforce the UK copyrights in America have not been successful. When Project Gutenberg made the text of Peter Pan freely available on its site, it simply added a disclaimer noting that the text was public domain in the U.S., but not elsewhere.

So for now I'm telling the Science and Society Picture Library that the images are remaining exactly where they are. I've already traded five or six emails with them about this, and they don't seem willing to give up their claim. But I don't think they have a valid case, so I'm not budging.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 02, 2005
Comments (44)
Two weeks ago I linked to the website of a company with plans to sell human-flavored tofu. I thought it was kind of funny at the time, but after posting the link I didn't think much about it until a few days ago when I received an email from Mark Nuckols, CEO of HUFU (the human tofu company). Mark requested that I remove the post about Hufu from my site, because by mentioning his product on the Museum of Hoaxes, he was concerned that people might think that Hufu wasn't real, or that it was some kind of hoax. Specifically he wrote that, "having it even come up on "museum of hoaxes" implies something not true, and as a debunker of hoaxes I am sure you don't wish to inadvertently or carelessly libel people trying to undertake the difficult enough task of starting a business."

I told Mark that I thought his product was funny and I definitely supported it, but that I wasn't about to remove the post from my site. I have a real problem about removing things from my site unless they're shown to be false.

My response didn't satisfy Mark, who is now up to his third email to me. He seems like a nice guy, and I'm not certain that he isn't pulling my leg about this whole thing (although his emails sound very serious). But he really wants the post about his company removed. In fact, he's making me feel very guilty. In his last email he said that "being on your website is going to kill this undertaking in its crib... I am sure putting our business in jeopardy is not your intent." Ouch. But I'm not ready to accept that kind of blame. Sure, my site is called the Museum of Hoaxes, but that doesn't mean that everything on it is a hoax. Plus, the question I raised is a valid one: how would any customers know if this stuff really does taste like human flesh?

Anyway, my purpose in posting about this is so that if people google 'hufu' and find my site, they'll also see this post where I'm going to state that I don't want to be responsible for the death of Hufu. I genuinely think it's a funny marketing concept, and Mark Nuckols insists that it's real. However, I still don't understand how he can know that it really tastes like human flesh.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 02, 2005
Comments (79)
image The revelation that Mark Felt was Deep Throat has been the big news item this week. This eBay auction (Deep Throat Revealed on Toast) also managed to make it into the news, getting mentioned on CNN. However, it doesn't appear to have many bids yet.

It wasn’t Bob Woodward, CNN or Vanity Fair that broke the story to me… My toast revealed the truth of a 31 year political mystery. Watergate and the Secret Source will no longer be pondered.  The words “I'm Deep Throat!” appeared above the image of W. Mark Felt. I knew it had been a rumor over the years and he was President Nixon’s number one suspect but I never thought anything about it until this morning when the message came though clear as can be. I thought “No, the toast must be wrong!” I continued with my morning activities and got online to read the news at lunch. I was shocked to see the headline and quote “I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat” confessed W. Mark Felt.

(Thanks to Patricia Moscoso for the link)
Categories: eBay, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 02, 2005
Comments (14)
image Here's a service that allows brides to make sure their guests give gifts that are of a high enough value:

Answer a few simple questions and we'll analyze the assets of your guests, decide their appropriate level of giving, and provide you with invoices that you can include in your invitations. It's not rude, it's helpful!

Unfortunately it's one of those joke sites that feel compelled to print a disclaimer ("this site is a parody. if you actually think this a good idea, there is something wrong with your priorities.") I often wonder why sites do this. I guess enough people actually fail to recognize when things are a joke to make it necessary.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 01, 2005
Comments (10)
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