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January 2006
Status: Update about advertising hoax
image Remember this racy PUMA ad? It was circulating around the internet back in early 2003. The rumor was that it had appeared in the Brazilian version of Maxim, but PUMA officials soon denied this, and further stated that their company was not responsible for it in any way. PUMA then threatened to sue anyone who posted it. (No one ever got sued.) This led many bloggers to speculate that PUMA was, in fact, the creator of it, and had spread it as a subviral advertisement (i.e. a viral ad secretly produced by a company, which the company denies any knowledge of... allowing them to experiment with more controversial forms of marketing). But despite this speculation, the question of who created the image remained unresolved, until now. Peter Kim, former PUMA International Marketing Manager, has disclosed the inside story on his blog:

What really happened - a small Eastern European agency affiliated with Saatchi & Saatchi created the ads on spec, trying to win business with a PUMA subsidiary. They got nothing and emailed the ads to friends; from that point it snowballed. As you can guess, when the PUMA powers-that-be decided to get all corporate on the blogosphere, the whole thing exploded. Poor Pete M.'s (PUMA GC in the US) email inbox exploded with junk after that, with his name being on the cease and desist. No "Brazilian Maxim", no evil master plan (they're real but we'll say they're fake), but online store sales were up like CRAZY for a couple of weeks. Too bad we didn't even have the shoes in the ads in stock!

This is bad news for me, because I describe the fake PUMA ad in Hippo Eats Dwarf, but I leave the story about it open ended, stating that no one knows (or is admitting) who created it. Unfortunately it's too late to revise what I wrote because the book is already rolling off the presses. I guess that's the danger of writing about recent events. You risk getting outdated. (via Adrants)
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 31, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Real
image A very cool picture... and it's not photoshopped. It was taken by Eric Nguyen in Kansas in 2004, and was featured as the Astronomy Picture of the Day on June 13, 2005. APOD explains: "Last June in Kansas, storm chaser Eric Nguyen photographed this budding twister in a different light -- the light of a rainbow. Pictured above, a white tornado cloud descends from a dark storm cloud. The Sun, peeking through a clear patch of sky to the left, illuminates some buildings in the foreground. Sunlight reflects off raindrops to form a rainbow. By coincidence, the tornado appears to end right over the rainbow."
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 31, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Real
image Zkato wants to know if the fossil of fighting dinosaurs found on the website of the Nakasato dinosaur Center is real. The fossil does sound a little too good to be true:

One Protoceratops, a herbivorous (plant-eating) dinosaur, perished in the struggle with a carnivorous theropod, Velociraptor. After their death 80 million years ago, both skeletons were fossilized, then finally unearthed in 1971 in fully articulated forms without having been smashed.

However, not only is it real, it's one of the most famous fossils in the world. It was found in Mongolia in 1971, and was exhibited in 2000 at the American Museum of Natural History. An episode of Discovery Channel's Dinosaur Planet included a computer-graphic reconstruction of the struggle between the protoceratops and the velociraptor. The fighting dinosaur website seems to be circulating around right now because someone linked to it on digg.com.

The big mystery is how the two dinosaurs managed to get buried alive while fighting. Dinosaur Planet's theory is that "the animals were most likely fighting on a rain-soaked sand dune which collapsed preserving them mid-battle." Or they could have gotten stuck in a sudden sandstorm. A few other theories are outlined in a post on cryptozoology.com.
Categories: Animals, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 30, 2006
Comments (12)
Status: Real
I love fat cat pictures, and here are some good ones, courtesy of Kieran Charette who reports that they were taken at a vets office in Vancouver. Apparently the cat is perfectly healthy. Just large. 32 pounds, to be exact. (Which makes him 8 pounds lighter than Sassy, aka Munchkin.) I don't see any reason why these pictures would be fake. (Although the datestamp on the pictures--09/01/2007--is obviously wrong.)

image image
image image
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 30, 2006
Comments (34)
Status: Optical Illusion
image Barry Bland snapped a photograph of two airplanes apparently narrowly avoiding colliding in the sky over London. However, Civil Aviation Authorities are dismissing the photograph as an optical illusion, pointing out that none of their safety systems indicated that the two planes were close to each other. The BBC reports:

British Air Line Pilots Association chairman Captain Mervyn Granshaw described it as a "fluke photograph". He explained how visual factors conspire to make the planes could look closer together, but safety measures meant they could not be in such proximity. While the lower plane was a A300, a smaller freight plane, the one behind was a JAL A330 - a larger, passenger plane. The difference in size, angle of the photograph and the distance it was taken from - the ground to two planes at high altitude - would exaggerate the effect, he said.

I'm inclined to agree that it's just an optical illusion, since I've seen these kinds of "near miss" photos before. (For instance, there's this phony near miss over San Francisco.) The lack of visual reference points in the sky can really play tricks on your eyes. (Thanks to Charlie Wright for the link.)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 30, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: A few hoax sites
After getting the first season of Lost on dvd for christmas, I've become hooked on the show. Although I'm beginning to suspect that the writers of the show are simply going to introduce one mystery after another without ever offering an explanation for anything. But anyway, here are some hoax websites related to Lost: Oceanic World Air (the airline that the Lost passengers were flying on), Dharma Industries (the mysterious project that was being conducted on the island), and The Hanso Foundation (The philanthropic foundation funding the Dharma Initiative. This page is part of an alternate reality game, as is the Dharma Industries site). If you know of any other Lost-related hoax sites, let me know.

And here's something that isn't a hoax, but is rather curious. If you type the mysterious numbers from Lost (4 8 15 16 23 42) into google maps, they correspond to the approximate latitude and longitude of an island in the middle of the Pacific. My guess is that this probably isn't an accident.

Update: A few more hoax websites of Lost:

http://www.driveshaftband.com (the website of Charlie's band. Thanks to Nordan for this link.)

http://www.mrcluck.com or http://www.mrclucks.com (websites of the fast-food restaurant that Hurley used to work in, before he won the lottery. As far as hoax websites go, these aren't very fully developed. The front page simply links to a podcast about the show.)

The island in the Pacific mentioned above is Kosrae Island (Thanks to Eric Schucard and Tim for this info).
Categories: Entertainment, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 28, 2006
Comments (63)
Status: The intention seems genuine (though it doesn't look like the service has matched anyone up)
Ally forwarded me a link to the website withchild.us, along with this comment:

A friend sent this to me (we used to be part of a young mom's group) and I thought it was really disturbing... Could this site be a hoax? I sure hope so... It's a site that hooks up men who want to adopt with girls who don't want to give up their babies and they have the slogan "Attention Single Men Seeking To Adopt A Baby: Why snatch a baby from a poor 18-year-old birthmom when you can have the baby and the birthmom?" Yeah, weird...

I'm sad to say that I don't think withchild.us is a hoax. Bizarre, yes. But not a hoax. The idea the site promotes, as Ally said, is to pair up guys who want to adopt or find a wife, with pregnant, single women who are considering adoption. The mother gets to keep her baby, the guy gets to have an instant family (wife and kid), and theoretically everyone is happy. But check out the two guys, George Duckworth and Patrick Gibbons, who are listed as seeking pregnant brides:
image image

Not surprisingly, there are no women-seeking-men registered on the site.

Withchild.us is registered to Tom Alciere, who seems to view the adoption industry as an evil business that encourages young girls to get pregnant so it can sell their babies. His alternative is to encourage the young girls to marry guys who would otherwise be shopping for mail-order brides. (He even says, "Why travel to the Philippines to marry an 18-year-old cheerleader when there are young ladies available in your area?") On the surface it seems like a logical solution. Except, of course, that it completely ignores real-world considerations, such as whether any 18-year-old girl in her right mind would want to be saddled with Duckworth for the rest of her life. Alciere is also registered as the owner of internetbrides.info, where he offers info about finding an internet bride, as well as links to sites where you can "get laid tonight". A quick google search reveals that Alciere was a New Hampshire state representative, in which position he stirred up controversy by encouraging people to kill police officers. Charming guy.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 28, 2006
Comments (22)
Status: Undetermined
image Birds can be very clever, but so clever that they'll take up stitching as a hobby? I'm not so sure about that, though that's what Sandra Battye claims of her three-year-old budgie, Spike. She says:

"She would sit on my shoulder and watch me for hours. One day I just sat and didn’t stitch. It seemed to frustrate her. Then suddenly she picked up the needle in her beak and began cross-stitching herself. I was staggered. Now I can’t stop her. She still gets a bit confused at how the patterns work but she is very good at pulling and pushing the needle through the fabric."

Cross-Stitcher magazine gave Spike its Young Cross-Stitcher of the Year Award for 2005. I'm willing to believe that the budgie might enjoy picking up the needle and tugging on it... but actually maneuvering the needle through the fabric is a bit harder to believe. Though sometimes animals do amazing things. I'd like to see a video of Spike in action before I list this as real. I'm curious how much help the owner gives the budgie. (Thanks to Melanie Brock for the link)
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 27, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Real, Fake
The expression on this cat's face is pretty wild, but I don't see any evidence of photoshopping. I found the image on this Russian livejournal site, so I'm guessing it might be a Russian fireman who just saved the cat.
image

This little guy, however, ("frogkitten" -- whose image has been floating around the internet for years) has definitely been photoshopped.
image
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 27, 2006
Comments (25)
Status: Theoretically could happen (though there's no solid evidence it ever has)
You may have received this email warning recently:

Imagine: You walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into REVERSE. Habit!
You look into the rear-view window to back out of your parking space and you notice a piece of paper, some sort of advertisement stuck to your rear window. So, you shift into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your vehicle to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view... when you reach the back of your car, that is when the car-jackers jump out of no where ... jump into your car and take off -- your engine was running, your purse is in the car, and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.
BE AWARE OF THIS NEW SCHEME
Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later and be thankful that your read this email and that you forwarded it to your friends.


I got it and dismissed it as a hoax, given its similarity to the false warning about people trying to sell perfume in parking lots. (They supposedly get you to sniff the perfume which is really ether and knocks you out.) But an article in the Mercury News notes that it might be worth paying attention to the paper-on-the-rear-window warning. They interview a California Highway Patrol officer who says:

I have heard of this a few times, and it is true. What makes it popular among car thieves is that it's non-confrontational (no gun or threat needed) which equals a lesser fine or sentence if they're caught. And it's a lot easier than traditional methods. Your readers should definitely heed this advice to drive away.

David Emery notes that the warning might be a bit overblown, but also cautions that: "Much more important than worrying about whether or not to remove a piece of paper stuck to your windshield, therefore — in any situation where you might be vulnerable to a carjacking — is being aware of your surroundings and taking note of who may be lurking nearby as you enter or exit your automobile."
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 26, 2006
Comments (25)
Status: Phony
image Here we go again. Another memoirist has been unmasked as a phony. This time it's Nasdijj, celebrated Native-American author of autobiographical works such as The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams and The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping. Turns out he ain't Native American, unless by Native American one means white anglo-saxon protestant. His real identity seems to be that of Tim Barrus, who grew up in a middle-class community in Lansing, Michigan. As Barrus, he was a pioneer of gay "leather" erotica, before the gay community got tired of his antics and he disappeared for a few years, only to resurface as Nasdijj. The Native American community has had its doubts about him for quite a while, since he never seemed to have a firm grasp on the nuances of Navajo culture. But he's been fully unmasked by Matthew Fleischer in an article in this week's LA Weekly.

So this month alone we've seen the work of JT LeRoy, James Frey, and now Nasdijj called into question. One common theme is that the work of all three was widely praised for its raw, brutal honesty. Given how artificial and pre-packaged much of our world seems, there's obviously a big demand for things that seem uncommercialized and genuine. But as we're seeing, this demand has provided a perfect opportunity for con artists who can cynically exploit it by serving up fake experience as the real thing. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for forwarding the link.)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 26, 2006
Comments (5)
So I've been in contact with Uncle Url of Linky Dinky, and as a consequence I've become a firm believer in the brilliance and ingenuity of the magicSHELF. Everyone needs to have one of these! Well, that may be, but the behind-the-scenes story is that Uncle Url and I have worked out a deal. He's sending me a magicSHELF (and an extra one which I can give away as a prize). I'm going to test it out and verify that it does indeed work as advertised. Then he'll be able to use me as an objective, third-party endorsement. In return, when he mentions my endorsement in his newsletter, he might also mention that I have a book coming out. So it's like a cross-promotional deal. The catch is that I can't actually spill the beans on how the magicSHELF works, in order to maintain the air of mystery about it. [It is a magic trick, after all, and it's not good form to reveal magic tricks.] So I can say that it works, but not how... though it's really not too hard to guess how it works, so I don't think I'm keeping a big secret. However, by mistake, I already spilled the beans. So I now have to "reclassify" that information. Everyone please forget what I posted two days ago. (Oh, and expect to see me soon on one of those late-night infomercials: It slices! It dices! It's the incredible magicSHELF!")

Update: Uh, yeah. Before anyone else accuses me of being "Bought for 4 pieces of aluminum" (ouch, that hurt), let me point out that this is a magicSHELF we're talking about. I really do think it's a fun, cute, novelty item. (I've always been a sucker for stuff like this. As a kid I was a huge fan of the clapper and chia pets.) It's not like I'm lending my name to promote Lifewave Energy Patches. The magicSHELF is real and really does work, despite being of mysterious workings. And sometimes it's better to let certain things (Santa Claus, jackalopes, magicshelves) maintain a bit of mystery, rather than ruthlessly exposing their inner workings. Plus, having linkydinky mention my book in their newsletter is an incredible opportunity to get the word out about it (I worked pretty hard on it, so I'd like to give it every chance to do well), and refusing this opportunity in order to uphold the principle that the secret of the magicshelf MUST BE EXPOSED just seems kind of idiotic to me.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 26, 2006
Comments (27)
Status: Beware of fakes
This is just pathetic:

Opportunists have tried to capitalise on the hysteria surrounding the Thames whale by putting a bogus watering-can up for sale on eBay, with a starting price tag of £1,924. The unidentified owner insisted the item was used in the attempted rescue of the 19ft northern bottle-nosed female whale to keep her moist and comfortable. But the fake sale outraged the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, who spent 36 hours and £100,000 trying to save the sea mammal's life and who were selling their own watering-can online.

Here's the real watering can for sale. Bidding is currently up to £99,701.25. (I hope that's not because of fake bids.)
Categories: Con Artists, eBay
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 25, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Real
image Paul Farrington emailed me with a question about the HOTLIX Insect Candy Company: "The site looks real, the products look real, there are no obvious giveaways except the sheer unbelievable grotesqueness of the very concept! What’s your take?" Well, my take is that the insect candy is definitely real, though I've never ordered any of it and submitted it to an entomologist for confirmation. (Nor do I plan to.) But there's no reason to believe the candy wouldn't be real. After all, insects are eaten in many cultures. It's only Westerners who are squeamish about eating them. A recent article in the Smithsonian's Zoogoer magazine discusses insects as food, pointing out that honey is nothing more than "bee vomit," and even notes the existence of the HOTLIX Insect Candy Company:

Although people worldwide have been enjoying edible insects since ancient times, their value—in terms of both nutrition and conservation—is often overlooked by the modern Western world...
An estimated 2,000 insect species are consumed around the world, and people do not just eat insects, they relish them as delicacies. In Africa, caterpillars and winged termites are fried and eaten as roadside snacks (after wings, legs, and bristles are removed, of course), and often considered tastier than meat. Grasshoppers and bee larvae seasoned with soy sauce are favorites in Japan, where pricey canned insects are also available. Papua New Guinea is known for its nutty-flavored sago grubs (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus papuanus or R. bilineatus), beetle larvae that inhabit dead sago palm trees and are honored at annual festivals...
Specialty food shops in Europe have started to sell insects imported from Africa. Even a U.S. company, Hotlix, sells various lollipops with embedded insects, chocolate-covered cockroaches, grubs, slugs, and grasshoppers, and mealworms in barbeque, cheddar cheese, and Mexican flavors.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 25, 2006
Comments (34)
Status: magicSHELVES are a kind of simple magic trick, but they do work (they will hold up your books)
Greg Cason broke down and ordered one of those LinkyDinky magicSHELVES that I posted about last week (I was tempted to do the same), thereby learning the secret of how they work. It turns out it's not a photoshop trick, nor are the books glued to the wall. Actually, they work almost exactly as I theorized. [edited out... I can't give away the secret. That would be against the magician's creed: never give away the trick!]

Update: Uncle Url himself (of Linky Dinky) sent me an email in response to the Museum of Hoaxes's ongoing magicSHELF investigation. Here's how it begins:

Alex -- You spilled my beans!
Well, all I've got to say is that I'm glad you concluded the story by allowing that our MagicShelf is, in fact, a "real" product and that it does exactly what it says it does. However... don't think so fast that the parts can be had at any local hardware store for 3 or 4 dollars.


For the full email click here. (It was a bit too long to post in its entirety on the front page.) Well, I hope Uncle Url doesn't harbor any bad feelings towards me for revealing the secret of the magicSHELF. It would kind of suck to get on Linky Dinky's blacklist. (There are many people whose blacklist I would be proud to be on, but I actually like Linky Dinky. They did come up with the Lovenstein Institute, after all.) But what can I say? The mystery of the magicSHELF was too tempting a puzzle not to try and solve. Anyway, I'm sure there are many products that can be constructed by do-it-yourselfers for a fraction of the cost, but since most of us aren't do-it-yourselfers, I doubt the market for the magicSHELF will be threatened by people buying the parts at the hardware store and making their own. Actually, I'm still tempted to buy one, since it would be an interesting conversation piece to have in my office.
Categories: Magic, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 25, 2006
Comments (7)
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