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July 2005
Whenever I see the opinion of a 'man on the street' quoted in a newspaper, I always wonder if the quote is for real since it would be so easy for a reporter to simply make something up without interviewing anyone. Now here's a case, at the Reidsville Review, where that actually happened. The reporters invented quotations, but, strangely enough, attributed the quotations to real people. They should have just gone ahead and put the phony quotes in the mouths of phony people:

The newspaper's "Two Cents Worth" feature includes a small picture of a person, along with their name and response to a question. But on several days in May the item apparently featured people who do not live in Reidsville and did not speak the words attributed to them... One of the people quoted in "Two Cents Worth" was Emma Burgin, a Greensboro resident and senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her name and photo appeared with a quote naming the Dave Matthews Band as her favorite musical group. Burgin said she was shocked to learn recently of her appearance in the paper, given that she has never visited Reidsville or been interviewed by a reporter from the paper. "I honestly never heard of the Reidsville paper before," Burgin said Wednesday during a telephone interview from Washington.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 31, 2005
Comments (15)
image This seems kind of odd: a runway with a road going across it. And yet it's real. It's Gibraltar Airport, which is the only airport in the world that has a road crossing the runway. A view of the airport can also be seen via Google Maps (if you don't believe the picture is real). It reminds me of Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, in terms of being a very unusual airport. (via Outhouse Rag)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 31, 2005
Comments (17)
The Mozart Effect is the term for the idea that listening to classical music will improve your intelligence. The idea is baloney, and yet it enjoys wide belief. Check out MozartEffect.com, where Don Campbell sells a variety of products that will supposedly help people use music to improve their minds and bodies. The Skeptic's Dictionary has a good article debunking the phenomenon. Now Stanford researcher Chip Heath and his colleague Adrian Bangerter have published research tracking the evolution of the idea of the Mozart Effect. They trace The concept back to a 1993 experiment that found college students experienced a slight rise in IQ when listening to classical music (other researchers were never able to duplicate these results). From there the concept took off. But even though the original experiment involved college students, it didn't take long before people were applying the idea to infants and teenagers. So Heath and Bangerter came up with the hypothesis that "the legend of the Mozart Effect grew in response to anxiety about children's education." And "Sure enough, they found that in states with the most problematic educational systems (such as Georgia and Florida), newspapers gave the most coverage to the Mozart Effect." It seems like an interesting case study of what fuels the spread of misinformation.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 31, 2005
Comments (38)
A mysterious clump of hair found in the Yukon earlier this month turns out (surprise, surprise) to NOT be Bigfoot hair. Instead, it's hair from a bison. The sample was analyzed by David Coltman, a geneticist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

This isn't the first time 'Bigfoot hair' has been analyzed and shown to be something other than fibers from a shedding Sasquatch. It's quite remarkable, if you stop to consider it, that despite being frequently sighted and heard, all the Bigfoots out there have managed to avoid leaving a single physical sample of their presence (such as hair, skin, or bones) that can be verified by researchers. Although they do leave a lot of footprints. Skeptics would say that this is clear evidence that Bigfoot doesn't exist. But the true believers continue to insist that we simply haven't looked hard enough yet. (thanks to Gary and Kathy for forwarding me the link)
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 29, 2005
Comments (19)
Rad Monkey™ are the creators of the electric cowbell:

Nothing can be more disheartening for the modern cowbellist than to find the sound of his instrument drowned out by the overpowering volume of today's electric guitars and drums. That sweet tone -- crafted and refined through hard work -- is lost in the din before it ever reaches the audience.
Cowbellists around the world are turning to Rad Monkey™ Electric Cowbells to level the playing field. The Rad Monkey™ XLM500's active pickup provides ear-drum splitting power, allowing your cowbell to cut through any sonic onslaught. Anywhere. Anytime.


I'm assuming this is a hoax (the fact that the only thing it's possible to buy through their site is a t-shirt is a giveaway). I'm guessing it's a reference to the 'More Cowbell' Saturday Night Live skit in which Christopher Walken played a record producer helping Blue Oyster Cult to produce their song "Don't Fear the Reaper". (via Red Ferret)
Categories: Technology, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 28, 2005
Comments (9)
image One of the contestants in this year's Baby of the Year competition hosted by the Kent & Sussex Courier was a little different. The odd baby out was Juanzo Bell. The strange grimace on young Juanzo's face was attributed to Wolf Syndrome, "a rare condition in which fur and whiskers grow - eventually obscuring the baby's smile." But in reality Juanzo was the photoshop creation of the guy who created the Vote For Juanzo blog. His aim was to undermine the integrity of the Kent & Sussex Courier's baby contest, since he views it as a cynical gimmick used by the paper to bump up their circulation figures. He was hoping to motivate the internet community to vote for Juanzo en masse. However, the deadline for voting was July 15, so it's too late to help the cause now. No word on how Juanzo fared in the contest. (via J-Walk)
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 27, 2005
Comments (10)
image 94-year-old Harry Tomlinson was amazed when his apple tree began to grow plums and blackberries, as well as apples. The 'fruit salad' tree generated some media interest, but horticulturalists took one look at the tree and saw that the plums and blackberries had simply been pasted on. The identity of the hoaxer remains unknown (assuming that it wasn't Mr. Tomlinson himself).

I believe that there are real varieties of 'fruit salad' trees, which I've posted about before. They're created by grafting different types of trees together. However, another horticultural mystery that I once posted about--the orange that grew inside of an apple-- remains unsolved.

Update: Here's an article about the 'fruit salad' tree before it was debunked. I like the explanation that one horticulturalist attempted to provide to explain the fruity anomaly: "One explanation is the tree may have developed some kind of fungal condition which can produce what are known as pocket plums which are actually apples. As for blackberries, I am sorry but it shouldn't happen."
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 27, 2005
Comments (12)
In a series of articles over the past week, the Register has pointed out some strange things that can be found with Google Maps. First, check out the map of the moon that Google added to its service today in honor of the moon landing anniversary. Zoom in as close as possible and you'll discover an unusual revelation.

image Second, Google maps reveals that there's a building on a military base here in San Diego that's built in the shape of a swastika. Strange, but true. It's not clear why this design was chosen. Probably the architects didn't bother to think about how it would look from the air.

image Finally, Google sleuths have discovered an image of a face that can be seen in some Peruvian sand dunes. Of course, it's already been declared to be the face of Jesus.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 21, 2005
Comments (23)
In honor of the anniversary of the moon landing, Space.com has an article listing (and debunking) the top 10 Apollo Hoax Theories. Below are the top 10 points raised by those who believe the moon landing was a hoax. You'll have to read the article to get the explanation of why these points DON'T prove that the moon landing was a hoax.

#10. Fluttering Flag: The American flag appears to wave in the lunar wind.
#9. Glow-in-the-Dark Astronauts: If the astronauts had left the safety of the Van Allen Belt the radiation would have killed them.
#8. The Shadow Knows: Multiple-angle shadows in the Moon photos prove there was more than one source of light, like a large studio lamp.
#7. Fried Film: In the Sun, the Moon's temperature is toasty 280 degrees F. The film (among other things) would have melted.
#6. Liquid Water on the Moon: To leave a footprint requires moisture in the soil, doesn't it?
#5. Death by Meteor: Space is filled with super-fast micro meteors that would punch through the ship and kill the astronauts.
#4. No Crater at Landing Site: When the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landed, its powerful engine didn't burrow a deep crater in the "dusty surface."
#3. Phantom Cameraman: How come in that one video of the LEM leaving the surface, the camera follows it up into the sky? Who was running that camera?
#2. Big Rover: There's no way that big moon buggy they were driving could have fit into that little landing module!
#1. Its Full of Stars!: Space is littered with little points of lights (stars). Why then are they missing from the photographs?
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 20, 2005
Comments (134)
imageHere's a picture that I got in my email, which is appropriate for these hot summer days. Not to be negative about sun worshippers, but it's pretty gross. The woman's skin could have been made to look like that with photoshop, but I suspect the image hasn't been manipulated because I know that there are people whose skin really looks like this.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 20, 2005
Comments (33)
image Michael Perkins sent in this image (click the image to enlarge), asking whether or not it's real. I've never seen the image before, so I don't know where it comes from, but it looks like a fake to me. The background image of the bear in the woods seems to have been pasted onto the foreground image of the golfers. Note the unnaturally straight line where the green meets the forest directly behind the flag.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 19, 2005
Comments (49)
So I'm finally back in San Diego. I had a great vacation, but it involved a lot of driving which got tiring after a while, so it's good to be home. Here are a few of the hoax-related highlights of my trip (which started in Washington DC and ended in Minneapolis):

Grovers Mill
This is the one thing that I got a chance to post about (see below) while I was actually on the road, because the hotel I was staying at that night in Roxbury, NY happened to offer internet connection. But that turned out to be my last chance to connect to the internet during the trip.

The Cardiff Giant
After leaving Roxbury, NY we drove up to Cooperstown, NY. Most people visit Cooperstown to check out the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I'm not a baseball fan, so I was there to check out the Farmer's Museum, home of the Cardiff Giant. The Farmer's Museum turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected. I thought it was going to be a museum full of tractors and other farm implements, but it's actually set up as a recreation of a 19th century farming community, complete with actors dressed in period costumes who pretend to be part of the community (kind of like Williamsburg). In the middle of the museum's grounds there's a carnival tent in which the Giant lies. An actor stands outside of the tent pretending to be a carnival barker, urging people to come on in and see the Giant. Once a crowd has gathered he explains the history of the Giant, and he actually did a really good job of telling the story right. I half expected that the museum would gloss over the religious aspects of the Giant's story, but the 'interpreter' made it very clear that the Giant was created by an atheist as a spoof of Biblical literalism.
image image image


CSICOP
The next day (after spending the night in the Fingers Lake region of New York where we did some wine tasting), we drove to Buffalo and stopped off at the offices of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry (aka CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). They're the publishers of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I got a tour of their offices. Joe Nickell showed me around his office (center picture), and I posed for a shot with Ben Radford, editor of Skeptical Inquirer. Ben also had lunch with my wife and me before we took off for Niagara Falls.
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Marvin's Marvelous Museum
After visiting the Falls, and spending the night in Canada, the next hoax stop was Detroit, home of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. I didn't really know what to expect before I arrived at Marvin's Museum. All I knew was that he had on exhibit P.T. Barnum's fake copy of the Cardiff Giant (a fake of a fake, so to speak). But his small museum, tucked away in a strip mall in a Detroit suburb, turned out to contain so much more. I was completely blown away by it. Marvin's collected all kinds of bizarre coin-operated oddities. There are a few of the mechanical fortune tellers often found at carnivals, but he also has other coin-operated machines that are far more ghoulish and bizarre. For instance, there's a machine that recreates a man being electrocuted in an electric chair (it ends with smoke billowing out of the machine), as well as a machine that recreates (with extreme realism) a bum vomiting into a trash can. The pictures below show the outside of his museum, me posing with Marvin in front of the fake Cardiff Giant, and the electric chair exhibit (somewhat obscured by a flash).
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The Forevertron
After Detroit we drove through Michigan, crossed Lake Michigan by ferry, and spent a couple of days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (where, by accident, we got to meet the mayor). But the next hoaxy thing we visited was the Forevertron, a piece of massive metal sculpture that doubles as an anti-gravity machine located in the middle of Wisconsin. Unfortunately we arrived on a day when the Forevertron happened to be closed, much to our disappointment. I could see the Forevertron in the distance if I peered over the fence, but I couldn't get up close to it. The lesson here was that we should have looked at the opening hours posted on the Forevertron website more closely (though we couldn't have changed our schedule anyway). However, the trip wasn't a complete waste. Down the road in the Wisconsin Dells we found a giant fake dinosaur looming above a gas station.
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In terms of hoaxes, that was pretty much it for the trip. After Wisconsin we drove to Minneapolis where we spent a couple of days visiting family. I got a chance to visit the Mall of America, but unfortunately that wasn't a hoax.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 19, 2005
Comments (19)
So I managed to finish the first draft of my book the night before I flew to Virginia to spend the 4th of July weekend with my parents. And yesterday my wife and I started off on our driving tour of the east coast. Today we arrived in Grovers Mill, New Jersey (the first stop on our 'hoax tour'), where in 1938 Martians supposedly landed, thereby launching a mass panic throughout the United States. Here I am getting out of our rented car in Grovers Mill.
image
The first thing we went to see was the War of the Worlds Memorial, located in a park in the center of town. To call Grovers Mill a town is actually a bit of an overstatement... a small collection of houses would be a more accurate description of it. To get to the memorial you have to walk across the park. As we did this we rapidly discovered that this park was home to more animal crap than any other park in the world. There literally wasn't a square foot of grass free of animal droppings. I think they were from deer. It was like navigating a minefield. Anyway, we finally arrived at the memorial safe and sound. Just behind the memorial is the scenic Grovers Mill Pond (note: sarcasm... the pond is like a stagnant wasteland).
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The next thing we wanted to see was the water tower that local residents had supposedly shot at, mistaking it for a martian. After a lot of searching, driving up and down the main road, we couldn't find it. So finally we asked the guy at the local auto parts/gardening store for directions. It turned out that the tower was right next door to the parts store, but you couldn't see it because trees had grown up all around it, totally concealing it. We had walked right past it. Apparently the man whose property it stands on doesn't like people coming to look at it, so he's allowed it to get grown over. You can only catch a small glimpse of it through the branches of the trees. The guy at the auto parts store told us that a photographer from the NY Times had been out there the week before to get a picture of the tower (because of the new War of the Worlds movie that just came out, and which I haven't seen yet), but he finally gave up, concluding that it was impossible to get a picture of it.
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So that was Grovers Mill. Tonight we're in Roxbury, in upstate New York. Tomorrow we head further upstate to see the Cardiff Giant in Cooperstown.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 06, 2005
Comments (21)