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January 2006
Status: Real
image Odd, but real. Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a seven-person bicycle. (Actually, bicycle is inaccurate. It's a tricycle.) The blurb about it says: "The frame has an ergonomic design making it easy to get on and off, and has seven sets of pedals that propel the trike forward via a patented transmission system. One person steers, while all seven riders are free to pedal, or not, as the bike moves along." You'd look real cool going down to the store to pick up a loaf of bread on this thing, especially if you then try to chain it up in the bike rack. (Thanks to Daniel Folk for the link.)
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: It's a kind of magic trick (though it really will hold up your books)
image Linkydinky.com is offering a product called the magicSHELF. Kathy Johnston emailed me to ask: "Is this for real? I can't tell how it works." Unfortunately, I don't yet have a definitive answer. The magicSHELF has stumped me.

Pictures of the magicSHELF show books floating against a wall as if by magic, with no visible means of support. As the site says, "magicSHELF floats your books in the air, docking to any wall you wish." When I first saw it I figured it had to be a joke. This is linkydinky, after all, the creators of the infamous Lovenstein Institute email. Plus, the pictures of the magicSHELF in action could easily have been photoshopped, and statements such as "How does magicSHELF work? It works like magic!" seem tongue-in-cheek. But then I noticed that they're taking money for these things, which put a dent in my skepticism. After all, if you send them $18, you better get something in return... and not just an empty box. I don't think linkydinky would invite people to send them money for a nonexistent product. So now I'm thinking that the magicSHELF must be real, although I have no explanation for how it works.

Update: Greg Cason ordered a magicSHELF and emailed me the flyer that explains how it works. So what's the secret? Well, now that I know, I think I need to invoke the magician's creed (don't spoil the trick) and stay mum. However, I will say that it is real, and it definitely does work.

Update 2: I received my very own magicshelf in the mail, sent by Uncle Url of linkydinky to help me verify that it is, indeed, real. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light, but I could swear that the package it arrived in was floating, ever so slightly, off the ground. wink

Anyway, it didn't take me long to get it installed. Maybe ten minutes total. You can see the results below.

image image image


When you get the magicSHELF your first thought might be, "This is so simple. Why didn't I think of this?" But, speaking for myself, I had never thought of it before, so I've got to give Uncle Url credit for the idea. And it definitely looks cool to have books magically floating on the wall. It's a surreal effect. You kind of have to blink twice to make sure your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. It really looks like there should be something supporting the books. Great conversation starter. I know I'm going to be showing it off to every guest that comes over.

So how sturdy is it? Well, I wouldn't stack a lot of books on it. Six or seven seems about right. Also, I wouldn't lean on it or let kids hang on it (unless you want a hole in your wall). But if it's by your bedside, it'll support some books and a glass of water, no problem.

If you're handy with making stuff on your own, you could probably jerry-rig something similar to the magicSHELF for less money. (But if you can't imagine how this might be done, then you're probably not handy enough to take on such a project.) However, the challenge would be to find the right parts. When I was at Home Depot this morning, I quickly checked to see how easy it would be to find similar parts. I found a few things that could work, if I had the tools to bend them into the right shape. But I don't have those kind of tools. However, I'm pretty sure that if one were to drive around to a few different hardware stores, you could eventually find something roughly equivalent. But how much effort are you willing to expend? It's a lot easier just to order it from Uncle Url. And it is his idea, after all.

Disclaimer: I don't have any kind of financial arrangement with linkydinky, but I have agreed to let Uncle Url quote me as saying that the magicSHELF is real. In return, whenever he uses my testimonial, he mentions that I have a book coming out soon, Hippo Eats Dwarf. So I do derive some benefit from that.
Categories: Literature/Language, Magic, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (38)
Status: Identified as a rattail
David Emery forwarded me the link to this creepy looking fish that washed up on the beach on Cayman Brac over the weekend. The local paper there is trying to figure out what in the heck it is:

It is roughly thirty inches long, more than half of which is a long, eel-like tail attached to a fish body. It has pale pink scales, pectoral fins, a dorsal fin and a small feathery fin on its belly. Local fishermen say they have not seen a creature quite like this before. It has boney bristles all along its spine, right down to the tip of its tail and small sharp teeth, which curve slightly inward.

If you have any idea, let them know. I assume it is a real fish. Kentaro Mori speculates that it's a deep-sea creature, like these. (Remember them? They're the fish that supposedly washed up on beaches after the Asian tsunami.)
image image

Update: According to the Cayman Net News, in an article posted January 20, 2006, the mystery fish has been identified: "Croy McCoy, a research scientist at the Department of Environment, told Cayman Net News that, based on the description and photos provided, he believes the fish is a member of the Family Macrouridae (Coryphaenoididae), better known as grenadiers or rattails." (Thanks to Rswilson for posting this link in the comments. And let it be noted that Nemo was right.)
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (12)
Status: Fake
image Check out this video of Monk Hai-Tank (wmv file). He's 90-years-old, but he still has "finger skill." Which means that he can stand upside-down supported by only one finger. The video obviously has to be fake. I assume they're supporting him with invisible wires. Special effects like this are pretty standard in kung-fu movies. (via Ceticismo Aberto)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (104)
Status: Fake tans in the news
Deprived of natural sunlight by geography, students in Glasgow high schools have taken to popping down to the tanning salon between classes. This has become such a problem (with school officials worrying about students damaging their skin) that some high schools have begun offering lessons on how to get a fake tan:

In the first of a series of such sessions, Lisa Fulton, a training expert with Fake Bake, will give pupils tips on how to apply fake tan next week. Ms Fulton also plans to tell the pupils about her celebrity clientele, in the hope that stars will have influence where health experts do not.

The reaction of the students to this seems mixed. The Daily Record reports:

MORE controversy at the Glasgow school that's called in a fake tan firm to stop pupils going for sunbeds. A fourth-year girl has been suspended for disrupting the home economics class by stripping down to her underwear and lying under the grill.

What kind of grill are they talking about? A sunbed grill? (Which means they have a sunbed in the school itself?) Or was this some kind of protest on her part? We never had anything as exciting as a girl stripping down to her underwear during class at my high school, if only because it was an all-male school.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Prank
Here it is. The best blonde joke ever.

(If you ever find out what it is, let me know)
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Scam
Here's an offer that has scam written all over it. The GTC Group (I'm kind of reluctant to link to their website, on the off chance that I'll help send a victim their way, but here it is) claims that if you agree to establish a trading account in their name (no money or fees required!), they will pay you, and 5000 other lucky volunteers, $24,000. They're circulating this claim via email. Here's how they explain the deal on their website:

Our client is a family trust with $1B to invest. We recently presented them with an investment opportunity to make a return of 18% without risk. Unfortunately, this opportunity involves the purchase of certain restricted financial instruments in the Asian markets. Due to regulation, the purchase of these instruments is restricted to $200,000 per person (or trust or any other entity). We are therefore unable to invest any more than $200,000 of our client's funds. We presented our client with a possible solution, to which they were agreeable. Our solution is very simple, as I'm sure you may have preempted already. We require 5,000 people who would like the opportunity to earn a share of the return WITHOUT any investment required. Once we reach this number, each person will have a trading account established in their name. Each account will be funded with $200,000. The trading cycle will then begin, which lasts for just over one month. At this stage, the profit will be split between our client and the participants. Of the 18% return our client will receive 5%.

You don't really need to read any further than "a return of 18% without risk" to know it's a scam. There's no way to make an 18% return on anything, let alone $1B, without risk. There's also the fact that they claim to be a billion-dollar trading outfit, but they can only afford a rinky-dink website. And we're expected to believe that some "family trust" is going to entrust them with $1B? Even though they claim no fees are required, I'm sure people who sign up will be asked to pay 'unanticipated fees' somewhere down the line. I'm also sure no one will ever see that $24,000. According to the registration info for the domain name, the GTC Group is run by some guy named George Davies out of Stanbrook House, 2-5 Old Bond Street, London. (Thanks to Harvey Wharfield for forwarding me the link to this thing.)
Categories: Con Artists, Email Hoaxes
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 17, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Scam
According to the Arab News, the Nigerian bank scam has taken on a new twist. The scammers no longer tell you that they want to transfer $30 million into your bank account, or that you've won the European lottery. Now they inform you that you've been cursed, and you need to pay up to have the curse lifted. They bypass email and phone you directly to tell you this:

Abdul Rahman, sociology professor at Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University, said he received one of these calls from an Arabic speaker who informed him that he had been cursed by a colleague. The caller then claimed that he could neutralize the evil spell provided a specified sum of money was transferred to a bank account in Mali. The operator even claimed he would reveal the identity of the colleague if payment were sent.

Actually, I don't think Arab News is correct to identify this as an evolution of the Nigerian bank scam. I've definitely heard of fake curse scams before, though I can't find a link to another example.
Categories: Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Undetermined
image What is the meaning of a two-mile line of paint that stretches through central London? No one knows who put it there or why. The BBC reports:

It begins on the pavement at a bus stop in Euston and only stops for roads, starting again on the pavement on the other side... Camden Council, Transport for London and electricity suppliers say they did not put it there. Theories include it being a drunken prank or street art.

Maybe it's a message from aliens. But seriously, how could someone paint a two-mile line of paint through a major city without anyone noticing who did it?
Categories: Places, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Bizarre Excuse
Last year Jacques Pluss was fired from his position as a history professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University after the school became aware that he was an active member of the American Nazi Party. Now Pluss is saying that yes, he was a Nazi, but he was only pretending to believe all that stuff. It was all part of an effort to go undercover to collect information for a book. So far undercover that no one was aware of his true feelings, except for his mother, who's now dead. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Told that the links among various white power groups have been well documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, [Pluss] said, “I became a Neo-Nazi because when I was thinking of applying my historical method last year, I wanted to find the most hard-hittingly obnoxious group that I could come up with.” He stressed that he finds Nazi ideology offensive. He said that he realizes his approach upset his former colleagues and students at Fairleigh Dickinson; at William Paterson University, where he previously was a tenured professor of history; and at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. Pluss said that he couldn’t tell anyone about his deception as that would have disturbed his “method acting approach.”... Asked if we can know with confidence that he’s not engaged in another hoax, he said, “you don’t know,” but insisted that he was telling the truth — this time.

I think this guy goes beyond simply being full of it. He sounds full-blown delusional.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Possible prank
image Forty years after stealing a "Sami Fleshscraper" from a Norwegian museum, the contrite thief has mailed the item back. Problem is, the museum has no idea what the object is. From the article on Yahoo News:

"For 40 years I have enjoyed this rare tool in my home. In my old age ... I have now decided to return it to the descendants of those who imagined it, built it and used it," the anonymous thief wrote in a typed letter sent to the embassy just before Christmas. The letter was posted from Biarritz in southwestern France and signed by "an ex-thief who was less a thief and more a man passionate about authenticity and real life"... The repentant thief called it a "scratcher", a word he then crossed out and replaced with "Sami fleshscraper" followed by a question mark. Sami refers to the indigenous people of northern Europe, also known as Lapplanders.

This sounds to me like a prank: mail an inexplicable object to a museum, leaving them wondering what in the world it is. Maybe they'll even decide it really is a fleshscraper and place it in the museum.
Categories: History, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Pranks
Singapore's Electric New Paper has an article about the burgeoning market for pranks among Russia's nouveau riche. People there are spending tens of thousands of dollars (roubles) to pull elaborate pranks on their friends. Staging fake arrests seems to be a popular gag. There's even a company that will coordinate intricate stunts. Jokes in the company's catalog include:

The Robinson Crusoe: "For 20,000 a group of up to five friends are invited on to a yacht and shipwrecked on an island with no food or shelter."

And this one: "Invite friends to a party at an isolated Russian country house or dacha on Moscow's outskirts. After a while the host vanishes, the phone lines are cut and the guests are locked in. For an extra fee, an actor posing as an axe-wielding maniac can break in." Sure, nothing could go wrong there.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Undetermined
image A photo has been circulating showing a scene from the recent Rose Bowl in which a USC cheerleader seems to be celebrating a Texas touchdown. Snopes has posted the picture, but is skeptical of the claim that the cheerleader was cheering after a touchdown by the opposing team. They write: "the image appears to represent not a brainless cheerleader who couldn't tell that the other team had just made a touchdown, but a play that resulted in a close scoring call, with the on-field Texas players signaling their belief that their team had scored, while from other vantage points (such as the cheerleader's sideline view, especially if the goalposts, referee, or other players had momentarily blocked her view) it might have looked at first glance as if USC had successfully stopped Texas short of the goal line."

I'd agree that it's very hard to tell when during the game this picture was taken, and without that information it's basically impossible to know why the cheerleader has her arms raised. Though it does seem odd that no one from USC is cheering, except for her (and the picture really doesn't look photoshopped). Plus, the two cheerleaders to her right do seem to be giving her a funny look. The cheerleader in question has been identified as Natalie. The image was first posted on a Bruin's message board (which makes it a pretty biased source).
Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Photoshopped
image I found this picture on a Finnish-language website, but there was no information about it. However, I'd say it was definitely photoshopped, and not particularly skillfully. The ropes look fake. (The one thing that made me hesitate before saying it was fake, however, was the thought that it could be a picture of an attempt to tow away a beached whale, or something like that.)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Imposter
I kinda thought the posing-as-British-royalty scam had gone out of style with the end of the British Empire. But it seems con artists are still getting mileage out of it, as seen by this story in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

A group of Stillwater student journalists discovered [Joshua Adam] Gardner had been using a false identity when visiting the school in recent weeks. He'd been posing as "Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland" while staying with a Stillwater family for the past two months, investigators say.

Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland? People believed that? Though it seems his primary targets were teenage girls (who were probably pretty impressed to meet a Duke).

Update: CNN has published an article about this guy, who also called himself the "Earl of Scooby." It details how the students exposed him as a fraud. It also reveals how he came up with his name: ""Caspian" was a nickname he'd taken from the "Chronicles of Narnia" book series, he said, and Crichton is from author Michael Crichton."
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 15, 2006
Comments (3)
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