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October 2005
Status: Hoax
imageI'm a bit late on this one, but it's odd enough to be worth recording for posterity. It was the blog of Sam Gustard, "Google's first full-time on-site dentist." As the blog explained:

After they hear this people usually ask why we need our own dentist, or they roll their eyes about supposed extravagence like the well-known free meals at work and so on. Actually, I'm surprised more companies of their size don't have their own dentist. Just do the math (I had to do some math in my interview also): with 3000 employees visiting the dentist twice a year on weekdays, that's 24 patients a day, which is more than a full load. Do you want those people staying at work or leaving the office for several hours each time? On top of that, the after-hours service is key because people here are night owls, and a dental emergency could leave someone unable to work for quite some time during a key product release.

It seemed logical enough (why shouldn't big companies provide on-site dental service to their staff?), and quite a few people fell for it. But when curious bloggers asked Google directly about their dentist, Google denied all knowledge of such a person, revealing it to be a hoax. Since then the GoogleTooth blog has disappeared, though it's still in the Google cache. And below are a few pictures of the office of Google's dentist.

image image
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 24, 2005
Comments (7)
Status: Seems True
Earlier this year there was a story about a couple who named their baby Yahoo, in honor of having met over the internet. That story turned out to be a hoax invented by a Romanian reporter, Ion Garnod. But now there's a case, apparently true, in which a couple decided to name their baby Google. In response to whether he thinks his son will be teased in school on account of his name, the father stated: "not if he is using Google Search engine and he is building new idea with his friends around The Psychometric and Informational Structural Mind." I have no idea what that means. However, according to the Google Blog, the baby's full name is Oliver Google Kai, which means that Google is his middle name, which isn't quite as odd as if it were his first name.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 24, 2005
Comments (12)
Status: In my opinion, a case of parrot pareidolia
image Victor is (or rather was) a budgie that, according to its owner, could speak in context. In other words, Victor could not only mimic words, as many birds can, but also carry on meaningful conversations. Victor has been a topic of discussion on the internet for over four years. However, I just became aware of him thanks to an email from Gretel Shuvzwichinstov. So here are the basic facts about Victor, as I understand them:

Victor belonged to Ryan Reynolds who, as he became aware that Victor was saying intelligible things, began to record him. Victor's conversations go something like this: Victor so cute. What will you do for Victor? Give me some carrot. I get lots of cheese, mmmm, cheese, cheese. So I talk too fast, so whatever! Reynolds has made many audio recordings of Victor available on his website. There are also videos of Victor speaking. Victor died in 2000, so it's impossible for anyone else to study him. Which is one of the reasons why a lot of people suspect Victor is simply an elaborate hoax concocted by Reynolds.

Another reason why this all might be a hoax is that budgies are not generally known for being able to carry on meaningful conversations. Also, Reynolds seems to be one of the very few people who can extract anything intelligible out of the weird noises Victor made. Though I can definitely catch the occasional word, most of Victor's squawks sound like something out of The Exorcist to me. I half suspect that if you played them backwards, you'd discover Victor was muttering Satanic curses in ancient Aramaic. If the Electronic Voice Phenomena advocates (the people who swear they can hear coffee pots talking to them) got hold of Victor, they would probably conclude he was channelling spirits from beyond.

In Reynolds' favor, he seems to passionately believe in Victor and, more generally, in the idea that birds possess the capacity for complex speech. He states that:

A majority of the people that come to this site embrace it for what it really is. A truthful study of a talking parrot that could speak in conversational language. However the claims that some make about it being a hoax are ridiculous and have no grounds whatsoever. Individuals who make these claims should understand that they are slandering me, especially if they say it in an open forum in writing. I do not take this lightly as I have worked very hard on these sites during the past few years to be libeled so unfairly.

So my hunch is that Reynolds is sincere (i.e. this isn't a deliberate hoax), but he's convinced himself there's something meaningful in a bird's random chatter. Making this an example of audio pareidolia.
Categories: Animals, Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Sun Oct 23, 2005
Comments (42)
Status: Seems to be true
Charles Haberl e-mailed me with a question about the world's longest surname. Here's the main part of his message (it's kind of long):

There's an bit of internet lore circulating around that the Guinness World Record for Longest Name in the world belongs to a Mr. Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffwelchevoralternwarengewissenschaftschafe rswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvonangreifeudurch ihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenersch einenvanderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraft gestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternaitigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelche gehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonverstandigmens chlichkeitkonntefortpflanzenundsicherfeuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitn icheinfurchtvorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischenternart Zeus igraum Senior, who was born in Munich in 1904 and lived in Philadelphia for most of his life. Apparently he shortened his name to Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, and subsequently went by Hubert Blaine Wolfe, but the "Senior" indicates that he passed some form of his name to his son.

Note that misspellings are rife (the Wikipedia entry for his name is "Adolph_Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenberdorf," but within the entry he is identified as "Adolph Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorf" - neither of which are correct.

If you poke around, as I have, you'll find that the book in which this bit of information is contained is variously described as "old," "from the 70s", and even "published in 1978." The most amazing thing about this name is the translation of the content after "Wolfe Schlegel Steinhausen-Bergedorf," ("wolf" "mallet" "Steinhausen (a common placename)" and "Bergedorf (a borough of Hamburg)") which translates to

"...who before ages were conscientious shepherds whose sheep were well tended and diligently protected against attackers who by their rapacity were enemies who 12,000 years ago appeared from the stars to the humans by spaceships with light as an origin of power, started a long voyage within starlike space in search for the star which has habitable planets orbiting and whither the new race of reasonable humanity could thrive and enjoy lifelong happiness and tranquility without fear of attack from other intelligent creatures from within starlike space."

On one forum (allsearch.de's AllMystery forum, in German) this is identified as "medieval German" and advanced as possible evidence for the extraterrestrial origins of mankind. I'm more inclined to view it as someone (possibly Mr. Wolfe-Schlegel Steinhausen-Bergerdorff himself)'s idea of a practical joke on the Guinness people.

My question is, does this man actually appear in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the holder of the world's longest name, or is this a bit of unsubstantiated internet trivia? Furthermore, was the text after "Bergerdorff" part of the original Guinness account, or was it subsequently added on? The Guinness website is useless in this regard (it doesn't feature any entry for "longest name") and I don't have a copy of the 1978 Guinness Book of World Records or indeed that for any other year.


Here's my answer: By a very odd coincidence, I own only one edition of the Guinness Book of Records, and it happens to be the 1978 edition. And it does indeed mention Mr. Wolfe. The entry about him states:

The longest name used by anyone is Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, Senior, who was born at Bergedorf, near Hamburg, Germany, on 29 Feb. 1904. On printed forms he uses only his eighth and second Christian names and the first 35 letters of his surname. The full version of the name of 590 letters appeared in the 12th edition of The Guinness Book of Records. He now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and has shortened his surname to Mr. Wolfe + 585, Senior.

I assume that the 12th edition (which I don't own) gave the full, long version of Mr. Wolfe's name. The other part of Charles's question (was this a practical joke on the Guinness people?) is harder to answer. Mr. Wolfe's birthday (February 29, 1904) seems a bit suspicious, but 1904 was a leap year, so it could be true. For now I suppose we'll have to trust that the Guinness people did their homework and weren't the victims of a hoax.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 21, 2005
Comments (37)
Status: Hoax (Fake News Story)
image A fake news article ruffled a few feathers over in Asia by reporting that China had invaded the Japanese island of Okinawa. In the context of growing tensions between the two countries, this was apparently believable to some people. Though there's no word on how many people fell for it. The hoaxers disguised their fake story as a Yahoo! News page. Usually fake news stories are easily spotted by examining the URL. If it looks like a Yahoo! News page, but it's not on news.yahoo.com (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is), then it's a good bet the story is fake. I haven't been able to find out what the URL of the hoax article was in this case.
Categories: Military, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 21, 2005
Comments (21)
Status: Probably a hoax
imageLast month Precious Lara Quigaman, Miss Philippines, was crowned as the 2005 Miss International. An email now going around relates a story about her answer to a question asked during the final round:

Precious Lara Quigaman, the Miss Philippines who took home the 2005 Miss International crown, was asked during the final round the following question:
What do you say to the people of the world who have typecasted filipinos as nannies?
Precious Lara replied, “I take no offense on being typecasted as a nanny. But i do take offense that the educated people of the world have somehow denegrated the true sense and meaning of what a nanny is.”
Quigaman further elaborated: “Let me tell you what she is. She is someone who gives more than she takes. She is someone you trust to look after the very people most precious to you - your child, the elderly, yourself. She is the one who has made a living out of caring and loving other people.”
In closing, Precious ended her nanny speech with, “So to those who have typecasted us as nannies, thank you. It is a testament to the loving and caring culture of the Filipino people. And for that, I am forever proud and grateful of my roots and culture.”
That’s a winning answer, ladies and gentlemen!


I've been unable to find any source to confirm that this question was indeed asked to Quigaman during the final round. But it seems like it would have been a very odd question to ask. And according to Crispina Belen of the Manila Bulletin, there were no questions of this sort asked during the pageant:

There was no Question & Answer portion at the 45th Miss International beauty pageant in Tokyo but the finalists were asked to write an essay about their advocacies and plans to help the less fortunate. Precious Lara concerns the streetchildren. She has said in the past that she would like to be a missionary doctor to be able to help the poor and the needy.

And a post on Filipino.ca states that:

That wasn't Quigaman's winning answer. Miss International traditionally doesn't have a final question. The finalists each do a speech about what their cause is and what they would do if they were Miss International. Her speech was about helping children and their need for education.

So it would seem that the email is a hoax. Personally, I had never realized that Filipinos were typecast as nannies. I thought it would be the British, if anyone, who would be typecast in that way.
Categories: Email Hoaxes
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 19, 2005
Comments (8)
image I wasn't able to post for the past few days since I was out in the Anza Borrego desert (just outside of San Diego), where I spent a long weekend with my wife and parents at the Borrego Valley Inn. I got to see some incredible desert fauna while I was there, including coyotes, jack rabbits, tarantulas, red-tailed hawks, and roadrunners. Thankfully I didn't encounter any rattlesnakes. In the picture to the right I believe that I was looking at a Jumpin' Yuccy.
Update: Here's a picture of the tarantula that I saw. It was just wandering down the road. I'm assuming it was a tarantula, though given my limited knowledge of spiders, I could be wrong.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 18, 2005
Comments (8)
Status: Not to my knowledge.
Since my upcoming book is titled Hippo Eats Dwarf, this brief article in The Sun caught my attention:

PANTOS of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs are being censored — to outlaw the word DWARF. A shocked village drama group sent off for a script and found Dopey and his pals — played by kids — had to be called “gnomes” instead. Ray Lionet, 73, of the Coxheath Players in Kent, said the ban was to avoid offending short people. He said: “It’s madness.”

I never thought the word dwarf was considered to be derogatory. I hope it's not, because it's way too late to change the title of my book. Though when I was considering the title, I kept thinking that no one has ever claimed "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to be offensive, so the word must be okay. Now, that's no longer true. But anyway, wouldn't it have to be less offensive to call a little person a dwarf, than to call them a gnome?
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 18, 2005
Comments (36)
Status: Controversial. I'm doubtful this could work, but some people swear it does
image I'm sorry. I refuse to believe it would be possible to train a cat to use a toilet, despite what the CitiKitty company might claim. After all, you can't train cats to do anything. (At least, not my cat.) This is how the CityKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit is supposed to work:

The specially designed training seat securely sits on your toilet filled with litter. Your cat naturally uses CitiKitty as its new litter box. The rings are removed thus reducing the amount of litter. Once all rings are removed your cat is toilet trained!

I think the cat might use the citikitty thing while it has litter in it. But once the litter is gone, the cat will not keep going back to where the litter used to be. Instead, it'll pee on your bed (or somewhere else designed to punish you and force you to bring back the litter). But in the interest of fairness, if anyone has successfully used this device, I'd be curious to hear about it.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 13, 2005
Comments (61)
Status: Not Marzipan
I'm a big fan of Marzipan. In fact, I've made several pilgrimages to Lübeck, home of Niederegger, makers of the best marzipan in the world (in my opinion). So I was intrigued by these pictures of tiny babies supposedly made out of marzipan. I don't see why one couldn't make lifelike dolls out of marzipan, but that's not the case with these dolls. They're actually made by the artist Camille Allen out of polymer clay or resin, and they're not edible. Still, in the past it was apparently possible to buy jelly babies, as well as chocolate babies. So why not marzipan babies? (via Strong Chemistry)

image image image
Categories: Birth/Babies, Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 13, 2005
Comments (103)
Status: Fake
Photos have circulated purporting to show the Helios Airways airplane that crashed on August 14, 2005 near Athens, as seen from the cockpit of a Lockheed Martin F-16 that intercepted it before the crash. According to Flight International, these photos are fake:

Flight International has identified the pictures as high-quality fakes as they show a Helios 737-800, rather than the -300 that crashed. Efforts to disguise this have been made by doctoring the registration to that of the crashed aircraft. The other key giveaways that the aircraft is an -800 rather than a -300, are the twin overwing exits, its fuselage length and trailing edge configuration.

The wikipedia entry about the crash also notes another hoax associated with the event:

News media widely reported that shortly before the crash a passenger sent a SMS transmission indicating that one of the flight crew had become blue in the face, or roughly translated as "The pilot is dead. Farewell, my cousin, here we're frozen." Police later arrested Nektarios-Sotirios Voutas, a 32 year-old private employee from Thessaloniki, who admitted that he had made up the story and given several interviews in order to get attention. Voutas was tried by a court of first instance on August 17, 2005 and received a suspended 6-month imprisonment sentence under a 42-month probation term. The hoax was significant because it seemed to contradict accepted knowledge of cabin-pressure emergencies, especially when combined with other early and erroneous reports.

image image image
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 12, 2005
Comments (3)
Status: True, but misleading
A Newsmax article that many bloggers are linking to states that: "At a concert of the legendary rock group U2, Senator Rick Santorum will hold a fund-raising event for one night only. The thousand-dollar-a-seat fund-raiser has been put together by Sean and Ana Wolfington, and it will take place at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia in support of Santorum's reelection."

The article then goes on to state that Republican Senator Santorum and Bono share spiritual values, and implies that the two men have struck up some kind of political alliance. I don't know about the shared spiritual values part, but the two men definitely haven't struck up a political alliance. The Santorum campaign is holding a fundraiser at a U2 concert, but this is being done without U2's cooperation or blessing. The Santorum campaign is simply booking an executive suite at a U2 concert, to which they're inviting big contributors. U2 can't stop anyone from booking a room at the arena or buying a ticket.

In a New York Daily News article we find this explanation: Hillary [Clinton]'s camp isn't the first to book a Bono box. Her nemesis in the Senate, Pennsylvania's Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, had the same idea. But he's only getting $1,000 a head for U2's show in Philadelphia on Sunday. U2 was so irked by being linked to fund-raisers - particularly media reports that mistakenly said the band was working with Santorum - that their publicist sent out a release yesterday swearing off any connections. "Throughout the U2 tour, politicians from both sides have been organizing fund-raisers at the venues or around specific shows," the statement said. "The U2 concerts are categorically not fund-raisers for any politician - they are rock concerts for U2 fans."
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 12, 2005
Comments (6)
Status: Real
imageA photo of a "water bridge" is circulating around, accompanied by this caption:

Water Bridge in Germany.... What a feat! Six years, 500 million euros, 918 meters long.......now this is engineering! This is a channel-bridge over the River Elbe and joins the former East and West Germany, as part of the unification project. It is located in the city of Magdeburg, near Berlin. The photo was taken on the day of inauguration. To those who appreciate engineering projects.....

No, the picture hasn't been photoshopped. It's a real water bridge. Amazingly, the information in the accompanying caption is also correct. It is 918 meters long, and it did cost over half-a-billion euros to construct. (thanks to Dipankar for sending the photo)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 11, 2005
Comments (17)
Status: Seems to be real
When word got out that New Line Cinema was producing a movie titled Snakes On A Plane, starring Samuel Jackson, some people, assuming that no major studio would actually create a movie that stupid, thought it had to be a hoax. The minimalist plot outline (with bad grammar) added fuel to these suspicions:

On board a flight over the Pacific Ocean, an assassin, bent on killing a passenger who's a witness in protective custody, let loose a crate full of deadly snakes.

The hoax theory got a further boost when New Line decided not to launch an official website for the film. But now production photos from the set have been released, and Samuel Jackson has spoken publicly about it (refuting suggestions that the studio was going to rename the movie Pacific Air Flight 121), thereby tilting the balance in favor of the movie being real. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it. But then, I'm easily entertained. Some of the sequel titles that people are inventing are pretty funny, such as Snakes on a Plane 2: Snakes on a Boat or Snakes on a Plane 9: Bears on a Train. According to the Urban Dictionary, The movie's title has also already entered popular speech as an expression of existential resignment:

snakes on a plane: A simple existential observation that has the same meaning as "Whaddya gonna do?" or "Shit Happens". Taken from the upcoming Samuel L. Jackson movie of the same name, and immortilised by screenwriter Josh Friedman on his blog post of Wednesday, August 17, 2005.
Guy 1: (irate) Dude, you just ran into the back of my SUV!
Guy 2: (calm) Snakes on a plane man. Snakes on a plane.
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 11, 2005
Comments (11)
Reverent.org has an interesting quiz that challenges you to tell the difference between music played by a computer and music played by a human virtuoso. Most people will probably find it pretty easy. I, however, scored only 63%. I mistook Rachmaninov for a computer (among other errors).
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 11, 2005
Comments (8)
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