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February 2006
Status: News Article
C|Net is running an interesting article on its site about "Pictures That Lie." They found quite a few of the images here at the Museum of Hoaxes. They contacted me about a week ago asking permission to use some of the images, but I had to admit that I didn't control the copyright on the images they were interested in, so it wasn't up to me to grant permission. (Though I said they should feel free to use the images since most of them were either in the public domain or their creator was unknown... i.e. they're "orphan" works.)

image My only criticism of the article is with image number six which shows a note requesting a bathroom break written by George Bush while at the U.N. C|Net notes: "Reuters later admitted that it overexposed portions of the note so that the message stood out better." But I wouldn't call this a picture that lies. Bush really did write the note. Reuters simply enhanced the photo to make the writing clearer. They didn't alter what was written, which would really have been lying.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 06, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Undetermined
image The story of Harvey Bennett and his ocean-crossing bottle has been widely reported during the past week. The basic facts are as follows: Harvey Bennett, the owner of a tackle shop in Amagansett, New York, has for years been throwing messages-in-bottles into the Atlantic. He usually never sees the bottles again. But on January 24 he received a package in the mail containing one of his discarded bottles which, apparently, had floated all the way to Bournemouth, England. The finder of the bottle (who knew Bennett's address from the business card in the bottle) had written this note to Bennett:

I recently found your bottle while taking a scenic walk on a beach by Poole Harbour. While you may consider this some profound experiment on the path and speed of oceanic currents, I have another name for it - litter. You Americans don't seem to be happy unless you are mucking up somewhere. If you wish to foul your own nest, all well and good. But please refrain in the future from fouling mine.

The strangeness of this reply has puzzled everyone, and even prompted the Daily Telegraph to apologize for their countryman's lack of humor. But Newsday smells something fishy with this seafaring bottle story. They don't suspect Harvey Bennett is making up a hoax, but they think someone may be playing a prank on him. They point out that the name of the humorless British correspondent, "Mr. Bigglesworth," is also the name of Dr. Evil's cat in the Austin Powers movies. In addition:

A search of public records turned up no Henry Biggelsworth in Poole or neighboring Bournemouth... On a customs label affixed to the package, the sender used a slightly different spelling - Bigglesworth - when signing his name... The sender left out the "e" in Bournemouth on the return address. There is also no street in Bournemouth called "The Bowery." And the postal code should have begun with "BH" not "BJ."

Assuming that Bennett is trustworthy, I'm guessing that one of three things could have happened: a) The bottle really did make its way to England, and the reply was meant to be tongue-in-cheek; b) The bottle was found by someone in America and shipped to England, from where it was sent back to Bennett... making this a bottle version of the traveling-gnome prank; or c) the whole thing was engineered by some of Bennett's friends as a prank on him. They put one of his business cards in a bottle and arranged for it to be sent to him from England.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 06, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Fake (in the sense of being a doll), Real (in the sense of really being sold)
imageI think this Princess Di doll, created by Texas-based Time Capsule Toys, is an example of what Umberto Eco would call hyperreality—fakes whose fakeness (or kitchiness, or strangeness) makes them interesting in their own right. The likeness of Princess Di isn't actually very good, but its makers have tried to make it more true-to-life by having it say various melancholy phrases that Princess Di said, such as "I sit here in sadness," or "There's far too much about me in the newspapers, far too much," or "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts." For some reason, they're calling the doll the "Princess of Whales." I don't know if that's a misspelling, or a feeble attempt to avoid using Princess Di's name.

The Brits don't like the doll at all. The Mirror has declared it "probably the most tasteless, tackiest-ever tribute to Diana." Another Mirror columnist wrote: "She has bandy legs, a huge behind, hair like a crash-helmet, wild make-up, a hooked nose, no chest and ankles that make her look like she's got two club feet. Still, if you could blow the doll up, most men would choose to have sex with it before Camilla."
Categories: Celebrities
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 03, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Pareidolia
image Oscar, who's a fish, lives in a tank in Waterfoot, England. He's attracting quite a bit of attention because markings on one side of his body seem to spell out the name Allah in arabic script, while markings on his other side seem to spell out Muhammad. Since I don't know arabic, I'm not in a position to judge how much the markings look like these words. But at least saying that markings spell a word is a bit more cut-and-dry than saying that markings look like Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or someone else whose appearance is unknown. (And now that I think about it, I suppose the Muslim ban on images of Muhammad means that the world will never get to see pieces of toast or frying pans bearing the image of Muhammad.) People who have examined Oscar are quite confident that the markings haven't been painted on in any way. I'm sure Oscar's new-found status as a miracle fish won't hurt the price the pet shop owner can fetch for him. (Thanks to Paul Farrington for the link.)
Categories: Animals, Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 03, 2006
Comments (45)
Status: Real (fake photo service)
image Wouldn't it be great to have a picture of Fido dressed in a military uniform to keep on the mantel? Unfortunately actually dressing Fido in the uniform can be a hassle, but thankfully there's now an alternative, PetsInUniform.com:

Imagine: your dog, cat, or other pet in full military regalia. We make this fantasy a reality. Using the latest digital techniques, we combine a photo of your pet with the uniform and background of your choice.

I don't think this would work for my cat, since she imagines herself more as royalty than as military.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 03, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Real
This series of images of two pit bulls attacking a bull are a couple of months old (though they're new to me). They recall those images of a mule attacking a mountain lion. Despite looking rather surreal (especially that one of the dog suspended in air above the bull), not to mention bizarre (what were the dogs thinking?), they are real. This scene occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, outside of New Orleans, when the two pit bulls, crazed with hunger, decided that a bull would make a great dinner. They were wrong. A reporter for the Sunday Telegraph witnessed the scene:

Like a wrestling tag team, the bitch and the dog attacked with awesome ferocity, leaping at the bull's head and latching on to its muzzle. The stricken bull repeatedly shook the dogs off, flinging them up to 15 feet in the air. But they took turns to keep up the attack, exhausting the bull which was by now smeared with blood. Even after the bull trampled the bitch, leaving it dazed, the dog stepped up its attack... It was too dangerous for an unarmed witness to intervene but The Sunday Telegraph flagged down a National Guard truck. Seeing what was happening, a soldier shot the bitch in the head. The dog paused before resuming the attack. It took two bullets to stop it dead.

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Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 03, 2006
Comments (56)
image The saga of the magicSHELF continues. I received my own magicSHELF in the mail yesterday, courtesy of linkydinky, and put it up today. Here I am posing with it. I placed it across from my desk. It's definitely odd to look over and see some books floating there. But I like it. It's kind of cool.

I added a short review of the magicSHELF to my original post about it. While I don't reveal how it works in the review, I do try to strike a balanced tone, pointing out that you could make one of these yourself with enough effort (and time spent searching around hardware stores). I also add a disclaimer, noting that in return for letting linkydinky quote me as saying that the magicSHELF is real, he links back to this site and mentions my book. So hopefully that steers clear of any ethical pitfalls.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 02, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Undetermined (though I'm assuming it's false, until proven otherwise)
Some of you may have read this claim before: "Topless saleswomen are legal in Liverpool, England, but only in tropical fish stores." I hadn't heard it before until I happened upon it on the blog of Cavan Scott who is (rightly, I think) quite skeptical of it. He's emailed the Liverpool county council to get their opinion about it, but my guess is that he probably won't get a reply. (Though I decided to send them an email too... they must be wondering why so many emails about topless fish clerks are pouring in.)

I then wasted a lot of time trying to track down the source of the claim. I quickly figured out that it's posted on dumblaws.com (which is probably where everyone else on the internet learned about it), but they provide no references for it. So they could have just made it up. I then searched the Lexis-Nexis legal and news database for any mention of topless Liverpudlian fish saleswomen, but found nothing besides references to the dumb laws site. (No surprise there.) My wife, whose grandmother lives in Liverpool, had never heard of such a law. In other words, I can find absolutely no source, besides dumblaws.com, to indicate that this Liverpool law is true. Which is why I'm labelling it as false, until proven otherwise. If it does happen to be true, I'd really like to know what the original reason for passing such a law was.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 02, 2006
Comments (38)
Status: Undetermined (the cryptogram is probably genuine, but it's meaning is unknown)
image Security expert Bruce Schneier has posted an interesting item on his blog. It's a scan of a cryptogram emailed to him by someone who claims the cryptogram was left behind by a man named David Rayburn, who killed his wife and stepson with a hammer and then hanged himself. It's been confirmed that this murder/suicide did occur, and it seems likely that the correspondent is telling the truth about the presence of the cryptogram at the crime scene, even though news reports didn't mention it. The question is, what does the cryptogram mean? There's a huge amount of debate about this on Schneier's blog. To me the most likely explanation offered so far is that it may be an encrypted password list. (The cryptogram was in a briefcase next to Rayburn's body, along with some CDs of child pornography.) But one person (named Alex, but I swear it wasn't me) posted an intriguing (though slightly sick and twisted) suggestion: "Maybe he was playing hangman with himself and lost."
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 02, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Real
These photos show rooms painted in such a way that, if you stand in the correct place, a pattern will appear. Despite looking photoshopped, they are real. The painted rooms are the creations of artist Felice Varini. On his website you can find more examples of his art if you search around long enough (and struggle through the incredibly bad navigation). Varini writes:

The painted form achieves its coherence when the viewer stands at the vantage point. When he* moves out of it, the work meets with space generating infinite vantage points on the form. It is not therefore through this original vantage point that I see the work achieved; it takes place in the set of vantage points the viewer can have on it. If I establish a particular relation to architectural features that influence the installation shape, my work still preserves its independence whatever architectural spaces I encounter. I start from an actual situation to construct my painting. Reality is never altered, erased or modified, it interests and seduces me in all its complexity. I work "here and now".

I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, but the illusions are pretty cool. (Thanks to Eric Kimlinger for sending me a link to the photos.)

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Categories: Art, Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 02, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: False
Popular legend has it that goldfish have no memory, which is why they're happy to swim around in small glass bowls. (Actually, I had never heard this legend before, but my wife had.) Now researchers in the UK have debunked this legend. The Telegraph reports:

The urban legend of the amnesiac fish has been dealt a new blow by a study which shows that goldfish can learn to avoid parts of their tanks where they receive electric shocks for at least 24 hours, probably longer... The new study was conducted by Rebecca Dunlop, Sarah Millsopp and Peter Laming at the Queen's University of Belfast and is published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science... The Belfast team showed that goldfish can remember accurately where in their tanks they receive electric shocks. The stronger the shocks, the less likely the fish were to return to the sector of the tank where they had received them. The team reported similar results with trout.

Giving fish electric shocks sounds a little cruel, but I guess you can't test them with flash cards, or put them in a maze. Of course, the legend of the forgetful fish might have arisen because goldfish are oxygen-deprived and near blindness from being kept in those little round bowls.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 01, 2006
Comments (19)
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 Wed Feb 01, 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 Wed Feb 01, 2006
Comments (4)
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