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November 2005
Status: Real
image Here's another picture doing the rounds of an astronaut floating in space outside the space shuttle, holding up a 'For Sale' sign. Since it's so easy to change signs in photoshop, I guess some might suspect the image to be fake. But it's real, and it's actually pretty old. It dates to 1984. (I have no idea why it's suddenly started to circulate again.) NASA provides this description of the image:

Astronaut Dale A. Gardner, having just completed the major portion of his second extravehicular activity (EVA) period in three days, holds up a "For Sale" sign refering to the two satellites, Palapa B-2 and Westar 6 that they retrieved from orbit after their Payload Assist Modules (PAM) failed to fire. Astronaut Joseph P. Allen IV, who also participated in the two EVAs, is reflected in Gardner's helmet visor. A portion of each of two recovered satellites is in the lower right corner, with Westar 6 nearer Discovery's aft.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 29, 2005
Comments (4)
Status: Real
imageHere's a picture going around of a giant cowgirl. As far as I can tell, it's real (i.e. not photoshopped). But the trick, I think, is that the woman on the left is posing beside particularly short women, thereby making herself look bigger. If you look at the refrigerator in the background, she seems to be just slightly taller than it, which would put her (I'm guessing) at around six-and-a-half feet. That's tall, but not gigantic. I don't think she's as tall as Heather Haven, whose picture is in one of my hoax photo tests. (via SnarkySpot)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 29, 2005
Comments (24)
Status: Real
I feel compelled to post something about this simply because I've posted about the sport of penile weight lifting before, expressing a few doubts about its reality. (I also had a few questions about the actual mechanics of the process). Inside Bay Area has this report of a recent demonstration of penile weight lifting in action:

Grandmaster Tu Jin-Sheng, best known for his Iron Crotch, attached himself not once, but twice, to a rental moving truck and pulled it several yards across a parking lot in Fremont. In lace-up leather boots and a black tank top, the 50-year-old tied a strip of blue fabric around the base of his penis and testicles and tugged to make sure it was on tight. An assistant kicked him hard between the legs before he lashed himself to the vehicle.

Here's the best part of the article:

Jin-Shengs performance drew a hearty applause (and only a few gasps) from the sparse crowd. He wrapped a piece of fabric around his waist to conceal his genitals from the crowd, but in the heat of the second truck pull, when he tied the cloth around his testicles only, it was pushed aside to reveal a ball of flesh that looked ready to burst.

Lovely. So apparently this sport doesn't involve muscle training, per se. It's more like hoping your skin and connective tissue don't rip apart as you lift (or pull) the weight. The description of the event sounds credible enough for me to categorize it as real.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Sports
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 29, 2005
Comments (59)
Status: True-to-life dolls
image Here's a great way to permanently traumatize your kids. Give them some of these creepy Amamanta anatomically correct dolls:

These dolls include true anatomical details such as stitched on genitals and breasts. This means that children and parents alike will find the dolls true-to-life and see themselves as naturally complete and OK... Amamanta family cloth dolls are soft and cuddly and consist of a mother, father, son, daughter and newborn baby. This newborn baby can be placed in the mother’s belly and pulled out of the mothers womb to demonstrate birthing to the child.

I think what makes the dolls creepy is that they look totally fake, with painted on eyes and smiles, and then they surprise you with these ultra-true-to-life bits sticking out. It's disconcerting. My idea is that you could have your kid open them as a present on Christmas morning, and then, with the entire family there (aunts, uncles, and everyone), initiate a frank discussion about genitals and the process of birth. The kid would never be the same. (And a warning in case you're reading this at work: If you search around long enough on the amamanta site, you will encounter pictures of naked dolls.)
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 29, 2005
Comments (17)
Status: Fiction mistaken for reality
I've included many definitions of hoax-related terms in Hippo Eats Dwarf. One of these terms is the CSI Effect. I define it as "The belief that all criminal cases are solved using the high-tech, forensic science seen on TV crime shows such as CSI. Lawyers have noticed that the lack of such high-tech evidence can seriously prejudice a jury against a prosecutor's case. A manifestation of the if-it's-not-like-what-we-see-on-TV-then-it-can't-be-real mentality." And now the Star Tribune reports on a recent occurrence of the CSI Effect:

Dakota County authorities thought their felony case against a driver charged with criminal vehicular operation was solid. But jurors knocked it down to a misdemeanor, convicting the defendant of reckless driving instead. Then they told the prosecutor they were disappointed with the case. "They wanted to see a computerized reenactment," said Phil Prokopowicz, chief deputy county attorney. "It was something they expected."

The article goes on to say:

Because of the "CSI" shows, some prosecutors contend, more jurors believe every crime scene yields forensic evidence that offers conclusive scientific proof of innocence or guilt, almost instantly. When selecting jurors, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said, prosecutors are now trying to explain "that real life is not like a TV show ... and that just because there is no DNA evidence does not mean that there is not substantial other evidence sufficient to prove our case."
Categories: Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 29, 2005
Comments (16)
Status: Real
image Sightings of a curious abstinence-promoting billboard are being reported throughout Iowa. The message that the billboard offers: Wait For The Bling. While teen pregnancy is obviously a serious problem, these billboards almost seem like a joke (and have a few people questioning if they're photoshopped). But they seem to be real. The fine print on the bottom of the billboard reveals that they're created by the Iowa Department of Public Health's Abstinence Education Program. Maybe they'll have the desired effect, though I doubt it. Seems to me like they could just as easily be interpreted to mean "Don't do anything until the guy gives you an expensive gift." (via Eschaton)
Categories: Birth/Babies, Photos/Videos, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (18)
Status: Scam
According to legend, Plymouth Rock was the first thing the pilgrims set foot upon when they landed in Massachusetts. I think that the rock itself is now on display in Plymouth. But United Press International reports that pieces of the Rock are popping up on eBay where they're fetching as much as $900. The catch is that there's absolutely no way to verify that these really are pieces of the original Plymouth Rock. A lot of people did carve off chunks of Plymouth Rock during the 18th and 19th centuries, but there's no way to differentiate a real piece of Plymouth Rock from a fake piece.
Categories: Con Artists, eBay, History
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (13)
Status: Real
I know of many high schools named after Washington, Lincoln, or other famous characters from U.S. history, but as far as I'm aware, there's only one Big Foot High School. It's located in Walworth, Wisconsin. However, it's not named after the Bigfoot monster. Instead, it's named after an Indian Chief:

Big Foot Union High School is named after the Potawatomi Indian Chief Big Foot who lived along the banks of Geneva Lake until his tribe was relocated by the United States government in 1836. In fact, Geneva Lake was originally known as Big Foot Lake until a New York surveyor, John Brink, renamed it.

I can't find any reference to the Bigfoot monster on the school's website. I'm betting they try to downplay that connection. Still, it would be pretty cool to tell people you go to Bigfoot High.
Categories: Cryptozoology, Places
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (27)
Status: Apparently it's real
image I've posted before about chewy vodka bars, which are real not real (I included them as a question on my April Fool's Day test), although chewable rice wine is real. But now a German company is going a step further by making powdered alcohol, which it's marketing to teenagers. From an article in Deutsche Welle:

The powder inside contains alcohol, and a lot of it -- about 4.8 percent by volume. That is the equivalent of one to one-and-a-half glasses of liquor. The product is called subyou, manufactured by a company in North Rhine-Westphalia, and is marketed squarely at teenagers with slogans like "taste for not much dough" and "gets a good buzz going." Add the powder to cold water, and consumers have an alcoholic drink containing either vodka or rum.

I find it pretty bizarre that it's possible to convert alcohol into a powdered form, but apparently this product is real. Word of this began to spread on the internet a couple of months ago (though I only become aware of it this week), and a posting on Gizmodo.com (which sounds believable to me, as a non-scientist) comfirms that it is possible, in theory, to create powdered alcohol. The trick seems to be to mix it with sugar first:

subyou could be say 95% filler (sugar?) which has been mixed with a small amount of ethanol (your link suggests 4.8% ethanol by volume). Given that this amount of alcohol, even if one were to eat the powder straight, is only 9.6 proof “alcohol”, I’m skeptical that it’s as powerful as the website would like us to believe.

But even if this stuff is real, I can't imagine powdered rum tastes anything like the real thing.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (22)
I've never watched The Situation with Tucker Carlson before. It's on too late for me. All I know is that Tucker is that guy who wears a bowtie. But tomorrow (Monday) I'll be a guest on the show. Tucker will chat with me for about five minutes about the history of hoaxes. Or, at least, that's what I've been told. The interview will be done via video feed, so I'll be sitting in San Diego and he'll be in New York. Look for me to be on at around 11:40 pm (eastern time).
Update: I've been bumped from Monday night. They tell me that I'll now be on Tuesday night.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Hoax photo
image What we have here appears to be a guy shooting out a stream of fire as he goes to the bathroom. I'm going to go out on a limb, and say it has to be a hoax. Either the flames have been photoshopped in (which is easy enough to do), or he's holding something concealed in his hand (such as a bottle of lighter fluid), and that's what is really shooting out the stream of fire. The fiery liquid also doesn't appear to be spreading across the floor, as one would expect it to do. (Thanks to Bart for sending this in.)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (12)
Status: Real
image Happy Thanksgiving everyone. My wife and I hate to have to prepare a huge meal and then deal with all the cleanup, so every year we go out to eat. This year we're going to try the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet at the Viejas casino. We've heard it's pretty good, and reasonably priced. And where better to celebrate Thanksgiving but at a Native American casino!

Anyway, in honor of Thanksgiving here's an image that's been circulating around for quite a while. As far as I know, it's real (though I'm not 100% sure). It's credited to a Reuters photographer, whose name I don't know. The scene was captured on Thanksgiving 2001 when President Bush did the annual pardoning of the turkey. The turkey that's pardoned gets to live out its life on a farm. There have been spoofs photos of this ceremony (below).
image
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 24, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Hoax photos
These photos of trucks painted with optical-illusion art have begun doing the rounds. They're pretty obviously photoshopped since it's the exact same truck in every picture. But they're cool nonetheless. The pictures actually were all entries for a 2005 Rhino Rolling Advertising Award, being given by a German advertising agency. The challenge must have been to dream up the coolest advertisement to paint on a truck. All the entries can be seen here. It looks like the one with the pepsi crates hanging from the roof won.

image image image image
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 23, 2005
Comments (7)
Status: Snake Oil
image The makers of MagneurolS·6 promise that this little pill has some remarkable properties. It will give you "the ability to plug into Earths complex magnetic fields" thereby enhancing your extra-sensory perception and psychic abilities. Of course, never mind that its ingredients are nothing that you can't find in any vitamin supplement costing far less than $49 a bottle. You won't care about such trivial matters once your sixth sense (S·6) has been awakened. One potential danger, however. When taking Magneurol, some users report that "they can 'feel' the radiation, or something like it, emanating from the [cell]phone where they could not do so before." Of course, with the psychic powers the pill bestows, you shouldn't need a cellphone. So that radiation won't be a problem.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 23, 2005
Comments (63)
Status: Hoax website
Banner of Heaven is (or rather was) a weblog run by a group of mormons who wrote about their experiences trying to balance the pressures of daily life with the demands of their religion. The cast included:

Jenn: "a perky, 20-something Mormon, seeking an eternal mate in the Big Apple"
Mari: "the shyest character, got her neighbor's package by mistake and was afraid to deliver it to him in case he got mad"
Miranda: "the feminist who is disappointed in her husband's ambitions."
Septimus: "a divorced returned missionary with social anxiety and sweaty hands"
Aaron: "a wannabe prophet who sees God's hand in everything"
and Greg: "who isn't Mormon but hangs out with them."

The blog attracted quite a following in the Mormon community, but as an article in the Salt Lake Tribune reveals, it was a hoax. All the characters were fictional:

The storytellers were planning to out themselves by Thanksgiving. But two weeks ago, a group of readers got suspicious. Folks at ninemoons.com offered a free T-shirt to anyone who correctly identified the real people behind Banner's six characters. On Oct. 28, Gibson, Evans and the rest of the Banner gang came clean, publishing groveling mea culpas, apologizing to readers, acknowledging they got carried away. They are sorry for tricking and hurting people or fueling opponents of the LDS Church... Some critics of the LDS Church grabbed onto the Banner of Heaven episode as a parallel for the church's own founding, saying that it was like founder Joseph Smith claiming invented revelations. That is most upsetting to Banner creators who are all believing Mormons, Evans says. "Religion is more than telling a beautiful story, it's about truth."
Categories: Religion, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 23, 2005
Comments (9)
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