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November 2005
Status: Real
image In June 2004 the New York Times published an article about alibi networks, which are informal networks of people who will provide excuses for each other:

Cellphone-based alibi clubs, which have sprung up in the United States, Europe and Asia, allow people to send out mass text messages to thousands of potential collaborators asking for help. When a willing helper responds, the sender and the helper devise a lie, and the helper then calls the victim with the excuse -- not unlike having a friend forge a doctor's note for a teacher in the pre-digital age.

Apparently someone thought this would be a great basis for a business and launched AlibiNetwork.com, which describes its mission as being: "To invent, create and provide personalized virtual alibis for people wishing to anticipate and justify absences." As far as I can tell, this company is absolutely for real. Their most frequently requested alibi is "a phone number in any area or country code staffed by an operator trained in accents pretending to be a hotel receptionist." This will set you back $275. I assume that someone who really doesn't want to get caught during a weekend tryst, might consider this worth the price. Of course, the question lingering in the back of the mind of its customers must be: could an alibi service ever transform into a blackmail service?
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 22, 2005
Comments (4)
Status: Dwarf-eating hippo sighting
Peter Mount sent along a sighting of the Hippo Eats Dwarf story. (Not my book, the story itself.) It's turned up in a new book titled The World's Stupidest Deaths. I haven't seen the book, but this Australian review of it lists the tale as being among the stupid deaths it describes:

Other "stupid deaths" include:
AUSTRIAN dwarf and circus acrobat Franz Dasch, who was killed when he bounced on a trampoline into the yawning mouth of a nearby hippopotamus.
DAVID Grundman, of Arizona, who in 1991 fired two shotgun barrels at a giant cactus, causing it to crash down on him.
etc.


I assume the death is listed as a fact. (Incidentally, the guy who died when a cactus fell on him--that's a true story, but according to my information it happened in 1982, not 1991. It inspired the song Saguaro by the Austin Lounge Lizards.)
(And just to clarify, I think the Hippo Eats Dwarf story is total b.s., despite the fact that it's usually reported as being true--which is why I chose it as the title for my book.)
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 22, 2005
Comments (8)
Status: Real (but possibly a publicity stunt)
image Breath Capture is a company that's selling air. Or more specifically, they're selling tubes. The customers themselves are supposed to provide the air by breathing into the tubes. They promote these tubes as a way to "Capture the breath of a loved one or friend and keep them close. Forever." So it's a gimmick, kind of like pet rocks, or buying land on the Moon. But what gets me is this claim the company makes on it site:

Breath Capture is a patent-pending method and apparatus for collecting human breath as a keepsake display.

They applied for a patent on this? It's just a tube into which you blow before putting the top on. How could this possibly be patentable? This made me suspicious enough to check out the site's registration info. Turns out it's registered to Thompson & Company, a Memphis-based marketing firm. So possibly Breath Capture is a stunt dreamed up by this marketing agency to prove that they can sell anything—even air. (Unless the Breath Capture company hired Thompson & Company to promote its product... but surely there can't be that much money in selling glass tubes that they could afford a fancy marketing agency.)
Categories: Advertising, Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 21, 2005
Comments (7)
Status: Dating service scam
Match.com, an online dating service, has been accused of sending some of its members bogus romantic emails in an effort to get them to renew their subscriptions. But even stranger, it's also been accused of sending Match.com employees out on phony dates with subscribers:

The Match lawsuit was filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by plaintiff Matthew Evans, who contends he went out with a woman he met through the site who turned out to be nothing more than "date bait" working for the company. The relationship went nowhere, according to his suit. Evans says Match set up the date for him because it wanted to keep him from pulling the plug on his subscription and was hoping he'd tell other potential members about the attractive woman he met through the service, according to Leviant [Evans's lawyer]... Leviant said his client found out about the alleged scam after the woman he dated confessed she was employed by Match.

If Match.com really was paying a woman to go out with this guy, that would seem like an incredibly expensive way to generate a very small amount of publicity. It seems more likely that the girl made up the story about being a Match.com employee as a way to dump the guy.
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 21, 2005
Comments (13)
Status: Prank
Eighteen garden gnomes were found lined up in the Australian town of Warrnambool, waiting to cross a road. The police stated:

"Right on the crossing, there was some on one side and some on the other side patiently waiting for the traffic to stop," he said. "At this stage we believe it's just a school prank but obviously the owners of the garden gnomes wouldn't appreciate their property being stolen from their gardens. They're just gn-one (gone)."

The gnomes were taken to the police station where they were given a cup of tea. However, the police were unable to fingerprint them. (One of these days I really need to create a separate category just for gnome stories.)
Categories: Gnomes, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 18, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Real
A few Australian consumers have apparently opened their refrigerator and discovered that their pork chops are glowing. This has caused concerns about radioactive contamination. To allay these fears, the New South Wales food authority issued a statement assuring everyone that the glowing is caused by a harmless bacteria called Pseudomonas fluorescens:

"The Food Authority understands that many people would be alarmed to discover their food glowing in the fridge, but we can assure NSW consumers that the bacteria responsible is totally harmless if consumed," Mr Davey said.
"Pseudomonas fluorescens is normally present on meat and seafood at low levels and proper cooking kills it.
"And while most of us would understandably be shocked to see our food glowing, it is important to remember that the micro-organism responsible for the glow is not known to cause food poisoning."


This is the first I've ever heard of glowing meat, but the food authority's explanation sounds logical. I don't think radiated food would glow unless it was so radioactive as to be instantly lethal.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 18, 2005
Comments (26)
Status: Real
image I've been compiling a list of odd (but real) musicals. So far I have: To this short list I can now add Thalidomide: the Musical. It's described as "A PC-free musical with a short-armed punch. Set against the 60s thalidomide drug scandal this is a love story with show tunes, love songs and monster baby Tangos." It features songs such as It's Hard To Hitch Down Life's Highway With No Thumbs and Talk To The Flipper. It was written by and stars Mat Fraser, who is himself a victim of Thalidomide. An article about the production states that:

While Thalidomide groups have generally backed the new show, they admit that some members have been offended by Mat's work in the past. Dr Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust, said: "We think it's great someone as badly disabled as Mat is making a great career in this industry. Many of the people we support wholeheartedly approve of him because his aim has always been to challenge society's attitudes towards the disabled."
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 18, 2005
Comments (19)
Status: Real pictures, but of what?
An Alex from Colombia sent me these pictures and the following note:

I came across these images and sincerely speaking I have no idea what they are. Is there any logical explanation for such thing? I suppose that they are either stage props or someone with a very disturbed mind and undoubtedly very good skills in clay or meat modeling made them, staged them and took the pictures.

Unfortunately I can't identify what's going on in these pictures any better than Alex from Colombia can. It looks to me like body parts being produced in a Hollywood special effects shop. But that's just a guess. At least they're obviously not real body parts.

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Categories: Body Manipulation, Gross
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 18, 2005
Comments (21)
Status: Reality TV Show
The premise of a new UK reality TV show, Space Cadets, will be to fool a group of contestants into believing they've been blasted into space. To achieve this goal the show's producers have outfitted an old airbase in the UK to look like a Russian base. As for simulating the space flight itself:

Their shuttle will be a Hollywood creation, made originally for the film Space Cowboys. A giant custom-built screen positioned just outside the shuttle will, it is hoped, provide the illusion of a view of Earth from space including a hurricane over Mexico and a glimpse of the UK on one day when cloud cover parts... The producers will not have to worry about recreating weightlessness because they are being “sent” 62 miles (100km) to Near Space, not Deep Space, where the sensation occurs.

It's hard to imagine anyone falling for this prank, no matter how high-quality the custom-built screens outside the fake shuttle are. But it does remind me of the theory propounded by the Man Will Never Fly Society, whose members insist that mankind has never built a machine capable of flight:

Little do "plane" passengers realize that they are merely boarding Greyhound buses with wings, and that while aboard these winged buses, given the illusion of flight when cloud like scenery is moved past their windows by stagehands in a very expensive theatrical performance.
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 17, 2005
Comments (26)
Status: Never Existed
image Remember the Black Basketball League? Its teams (including favorites such as the Newark Eagles, Harlem Knights, Baltimore Crabs, West Philly Dancers and Cleveland Ebonies) competed from 1920-40, when they were shut out of the all-white league. Consumers can now honor the memory of this league by buying sportswear emblazoned with the team logos. Of course, if you don't remember this league, it might be because historians insist that it never existed. But Eric Williams, the guy who's selling the black league sportswear, isn't letting that minor fact bother him. He explains that:

"These logos had to come from somewhere.. Whether there was a league or not those logos ... that's still nice to represent the 'hood or whatever it was. Those were all the inner cities. (Whether it was) an interim league or a professional league, those leagues and those logos, to me they sound like they exist. The story sounds good to me so I'm rolling with it."

So there you have it. Damn the facts. He's rolling with the story. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for the link.)
Categories: History, Sports
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 17, 2005
Comments (32)
Status: Real
image The picture to the right has not been photoshopped (would that it had). That woman's waist really is that thin. She's Cathie Jung, who holds the title in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Smallest Waist on a Living Person:

Cathie Jung's waist is about the same size as a regular jar of mayonnaise. She's been wearing a corset every day for the past 12 years, and she now wears one 24 hours a day. "I probably have around 100 of them," says the corset queen.

The pictures of Cathie remind me of the Stomach-Sucked-In picture I posted earlier this year. (via The Presurfer)
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 16, 2005
Comments (71)
Status: Psychology test
image I've linked to a fake smile test before, but this one hosted by the BBC (and designed by Professor Paul Ekman, from the University of California) is more elaborate since it allows you to see actual video clips of people smiling. I did quite badly at differentiating the real from the fake, scoring only 9 out of 20. The blurb at the conclusion of the test notes that "Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling." That made me feel a bit better. The blurb also explains that "when a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly." However, I don't think knowing that will significantly improve anyone's score on the test.
Categories: Psychology
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 16, 2005
Comments (37)
Status: Real
image Just in time for Thanksgiving, Jones Soda is debuting salmon-flavored soda. It's a publicity stunt, but it's real. They boast that "When you smell it, it's got that smoked salmon aroma." Yum. Just what I want my soda to smell like. They've also got other thanksgiving-themed sodas that come together in a holiday pack: Brussels Sprout with Prosciutto, Cranberry Sauce, Turkey & Gravy, Wild Herb Stuffing, Pumpkin Pie, Broccoli Casserole, Corn on the Cob, and Pecan Pie. You won't have to eat dinner at all. Just sample sodas all night. (Thanks to Big Gary for the link.)
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 16, 2005
Comments (14)
Status: Email hoax (real pictures, fake caption)
Bad: Falling for an email hoax. Worse: Using the hoax as the basis for your presentation to the local city planning commission, thereby displaying your gullibility to the entire public.

As reported by the Muncie Star Press (no link), Don Love gets the award for doing the latter. He received an email containing a series of pictures of an opulent estate (shown below), with the caption:

In case you're wondering where this hotel is, it isn't a hotel at all. IT IS A HOUSE! It's owned by the family of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu-Dhabi.

Enraged, he made a slide presentation out of the pictures and showed them to the planning commission, as part of his effort to get them to approve construction of an ethanol plant. His point was that they should promote local energy projects, to prevent all the city's money going to greedy, oil-rich sheiks. He told them: "This is the type of thing being done with your petro dollars that I want to re-patriate. Keep in mind the gentleman has more than 20 wives. This is one of 70 baths. Some are bigger than my house. This is his little swimming pool. These are his cars."

Of course, the pictures don't show a sheik's palace. In reality they show a fancy hotel in Abu Dhabi called the Emirates Palace. All the stuff about 20 wives is bogus too. If Love had bothered to do any research, he would have found this out. He probably could also have found some real pictures of a sheik's palace, which would have been a more effective way of making his point. Incidentally, my other house (the one in my daydreams) looks just like the one in the pictures.

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Categories: Email Hoaxes, Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 15, 2005
Comments (69)
Status: Viral email
Pasted below is the content of an email that's going around. It's not a hoax, but it deals with issues of camouflage and deception. (It also reminds me of some Before and After pictures that I posted over a year ago.) The subject line of the email is: Never underestimate the power of makeup.

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Categories: Email Hoaxes, Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 14, 2005
Comments (29)
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