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April 2006
Status: Undetermined
microwave experiment I've posted before about theories that microwaved food is bad for you, but this is slightly different. Some guy has posted pictures of his granddaughter's science fair project in which she tested the effect microwaved water would have on a plant. The result: the plant died. (Yes, the water had been cooled before she watered the plant with it.) But the plant given water that had been boiled on a stove did just fine. So what does this prove? That microwaved water is toxic? Not necessarily. The guy notes:

We have seen a number of comments on this, such as what was the water in the microwave boiled in. The thinking is that maybe some leaching took place if it was in plastic. It was boiled in a plastic cup, so this could be a possibility. Also it was not a double blind experiment, so she knew which was which when watering them. On top of that she was wanting the microwaved ones to do poorly, and although most scientists would dismiss the idea, it is possible that her thoughts toward each plant had an effect as well. Bottom line is, the results are interesting, and duplicate the results that others have reported (try Googling '"microwaved water" plants') more experiments need to be done with better controls and as a double blind study. But this was a simple 6th grade science fair project, and was never intended to be anything more than that. The plants were genetically identical, they were produced from graphs from the same parent plant, so that variable can be eliminated.

Intriguingly, the Straight Dope (a source I usually trust) has written an article about the controversy over microwave cooking, and he notes that scientists actually do not fully understand the chemical changes that take place when food is microwaved, and so there may indeed be some kind of "microwave effect." He notes a 1992 Stanford study that found microwaving breast milk mysteriously reduces its infection-fighting properties, as well as studies that have found that microwaves can accelerate certain chemical reactions. He writes: "'One suggestion,' a bunch of chemists wrote recently, 'is that this is some form of 'ponderomotive' driving force that arises when high frequency electric fields modulate ionic currents near interfaces with abrupt differences in ion mobility.'" He doesn't attempt to explain this theory.

I would repeat the girl's experiment myself, but everything I try to grow mysteriously dies, so there wouldn't be much point. (via The Greener Side)
Categories: Food, Science
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 21, 2006
Comments (100)
Status: Pareidolia
image Spaceweather.com reports that the Loch Ness Monster has been spotted... on the sun. Check out this picture taken by astrophotographer Gary Palmer of Los Angeles. It does look kind of like a serpent, and by the standards of proof applied to blurry images of Loch Ness, that means it must be a sun serpent! (Apparently the dark shapes are really solar filaments, "relatively cool, dense gas suspended above the surface of the Sun.") (via The Anomalist)
Categories: Cryptozoology, Pareidolia, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 20, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: News
76-year-old William Winikoff of Coconut Creek, Florida has been charged with lewd and lascivious conduct for posing as a doctor and offering women free breast exams. Remarkably, he duped at least two women with this scam:

Carrying a black “doctor’s” bag, investigators claim Winnikoff walked up to a apartment building and told a 36-year-old woman, that he was in the neighborhood offering free breast exams. According to police, the woman let Winikoff into her apartment and the phony doctor began the exam, touching first her breasts, and then, her genitals. The woman quickly realized that Winikoff was not a real doctor and she called 911, but the fake doctor had already left her apartment to find another victim; a 33 year old woman who lives in the same apartment complex.

The Smoking Gun has some more details about this case.

It may sound like a stupid scam, but variations of it seem to happen more often than you would think. And the perpetrators always manage to find women who will fall for it. For instance, in October 2002 Zachariah Scott, a Toronto hospital employee, was charged with telling women in the obstetrics ward of Mount Sinai Hospital that he was a 'lactation consultant,' and then examining their breasts. No one realized anything was amiss until one of the women asked a nurse if she could see him again. She was told that the hospital only had female technicians.

Even weirder was the case, reported by Portuguese newspapers in 2002, of a woman who phoned other women and told them about a revolutionary new technology that allowed breast examinations to be conducted by satellite. All they had to do, she told them, was stand topless in an open window and a passing satellite would conduct a mammogram. Every woman who was contacted complied with the strange instructions. One woman even stripped entirely naked. The phone would then ring again, but instead of getting their mammogram results, the phony doctor would describe her sexual fantasies to the women in graphic detail.
Categories: Con Artists, Health/Medicine, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Fake
image Dave forwarded me this email he received (which, he noted, was dated April 1, so it seemed a bit suspicious to him). The subject line of the email reads: DEEP-SPACE PHOTO: EP_4277. The text reads: The subject of this photo is a very rare one indeed - taken by NASA with the Hubble space telescope. This is the only documented existence of a binary king galaxy in our known universe.

Astronomy is definitely not my expertise. I wouldn't even be able to find the Big Dipper on a clear night. So although I know what a binary galaxy is (two galaxies orbiting each other), I have no idea what a 'binary king galaxy' is. (A google search pulls up nothing for the term.) I was able to find out that the Hubble space telescope has photographed binary galaxies. For instance, see this BBC article from 1999. But the 1999 image of a binary galaxy looks nothing like the image in Dave's email. So is the picture Dave sent really a Hubble space telescope image of the only binary king galaxy known to astronomers? I have no idea.

Update: Thanks to Brian T. who found the original image, lacking the 'binary king galaxy,' on the Hubble website, thereby proving that the above image is a fake. Now the question is, why did someone fake this? If it's a joke, I don't get it.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Real
Recently the South Australia Sunday Mail reported on the case of Mrs. Foote, an elderly woman who is under attack by millipedes:

AN elderly Kapunda woman says she feels as though she is living in an Alfred Hitchcock movie - under attack by thousands of writhing millipedes... "Every morning, I get a broom and have to sweep my way out of the front veranda to go and pick up the newspaper, I'm sick and tired of sweeping up." Mrs Foote said the creepy crawlies now encircled her house, despite numerous calls to the Light Regional Council for help.

The reporter probably got a chuckle out of the lady's name, but the millipede invasion itself is real. Australian newspapers are reporting that regions in South Australia are suffering from massive invasions of Portuguese millipedes. The Advertiser shares a few facts about this pest:

The Portuguese millipede first appeared in South Australia in 1953 at Port Lincoln. It probably came from either the eastern states or direct from Europe. Millipedes were not recorded in Perth until the 1980s... The Portuguese species found the cool, wet winters of Adelaide so suitable that its numbers increased rapidly... In the 1970s, the numbers of millipedes in the Adelaide Hills were so huge that people would remove bucket-loads of millipedes from their houses every day. The Belair-to-Adelaide railway line was regularly stopped because the oil from squashed millipedes made the track too slippery to carry the trains... The then Department of Agriculture tried a number of biological control methods, with a parasitic nematode the most successful. Since the release of the nematode in the late 1970s, millipede numbers have slowly reduced, although they are still the most common animal in the suburban garden.

(via the rambler)
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Real
image Found on Flickr: a cool picture of a giant laser beaming out of the MMT Telescope, on top of Mt. Hopkins in Arizona. The guy who took it, Filip Pizlo, says it's not photoshopped, and I'm willing to believe him, if only because when I was a grad student at UC San Diego there was a green laser beam similar to this visible in the sky over La Jolla almost every night. I never figured out where it was coming from or what the purpose of it was. It couldn't have been coming from the MMT Telescope in Arizona because that would have been too far away.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Fake
image A video on stillfree.com shows a guy (Mark Ecko) spraying graffiti on Air Force One. This involves him avoiding armed guards, climbing over fences, and then sprinting across the tarmac to write "Still Free" on the plane's engine. The video is well done, but fake. As a disclaimer on the site reads: "You, the viewer of the preceeding are hereby advised that the video does not depict a real event. It is intended for the sole, limited and express purpose of entertainment and to induce you, the viewer of the video, to think critically about freedom of expression and speech and the government's responses to the same."
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 18, 2006
Comments (27)
Status: Probably photoshopped
image How did the elephant get up in the tree? I'm guessing photoshop since, as far as I know, elephants are not known to be tree climbers. I don't have any information about the source of this image, but it wouldn't surprise me if it came from a worth1000 contest, or something of that nature.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Publicity stunt/superstition
An organization named witchschool.com has announced that on May 5th, 2006 an experiment in global spell casting will take place:

Hundreds of participants around the world will focus their energy to manifest love, peace, prosperity and hope for the world. With this unified act of will, they anticipate that magic energy will fill people with personal power and create events that will lead to a better world. "We need no longer wait to see if magic is real or not", according to Ed Hubbard, CEO of Witch School, "We can test it through such global experiments, but instead of looking for data, I am looking forward to hearing the experiences people will have through this day of divine manifestation. I believe it will move the way we think about the world and how it works."

I am sure that this will have about as much effect as Not One Damn Dime Day or World Jump Day.
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Pseudoscience
Aon Private Clients, a British insurance broker, has commissioned the first ever study of how to improve the feng shui of cars. They note that implementing these recommendations "could improve the flow of energy in vehicles and help drivers alleviate the negative feelings which lead to road rage." Suggestions offered by the study include:
  • A driver should park his or her car facing away from the driver’s home. According to feng shui, cars are ‘predatory tigers’. If parked facing towards a house or office building, they create a threat to the occupants of the building.
  • Remove clutter from the car: it ‘sucks the life force out of the driver’.
  • If using wi-fi connections such as Bluetooth, drivers and passengers should drink regular quantities of still water to flush out the effects of this negative and draining energy from their bodies.
  • To get rid of negative energy inside the car, which could affect the driver’s mood, the owner should sit in the car and sing, clap their hands or play music to make a statement that it is now your cleared space and will go forward refreshed and free from past events.
  • Keep the windows clean: this allows chi energy to enter the car from outside. In feng shui terms, the windows are the eyes for the car.
  • Tie a small blue ribbon on the satellite navigation or the rear-view mirror: the colour blue is a representation of Water, the perfect driving state of mind: clear, thoughtful, flowing and clear.
  • Keep a bottle of water in the car for the same reason
  • Sprinkle sea salt crystals on the carpets: they absorb passengers’ negative energy and can be cleaned out regularly taking the negativity with them.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Insurance Scam
When I was in elementary school, I often heard a rumor that if you ate chalk you could fake the symptoms of being sick, and thus not have to go to school. I never tried it, but this couple seems to have taken the same idea and advanced it a step further:

A couple has been charged with filing fraudulent insurance claims that said they had eaten glass found in their food at restaurants, hotels and grocery stores, federal prosecutors said... The couple used aliases, false Social Security numbers and identity cards, and in some cases, had eaten glass intentionally to support their insurance claims, prosecutors said. The glass did not come from the food they had bought, prosecutors said.

On the other hand, this couple could also suffer from hyalophagia, a medical disorder characterized by the eating of glass. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for the link)
Categories: Con Artists, Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Typosquatter
My wife just discovered this. If you misspell museumofhoaxes.com by switching he 'e' and the 'u' in museum (a very easy mistake to make), you'll arrive at The Musuem of Hoaxes, which contains links to info about museums. It's obviously a site created by a spammer hoping to profit off of people who are trying to get to the Museum of Hoaxes, but who aren't great spellers. I probably shouldn't link to this alternative version of the Museum (I'm only sending more traffic to the spammer), but I'm kind of flattered that someone thought it was worth their time to create this. According to Larry Adams, author of Fraud In Other Words, this kind of practice (registering misspelled domain names) is called typosquatting:

Typosquatting is the intentional use of misspelled domain names and meta tags to misdirect Internet traffic or revenue from one Web site to another. It is based on the probability that a certain number of Internet users will mistype the URL or name of a Web site. Typically, a typosquatter registers several possible input errors for a Web site of a famous company, brand name or celebrity known for its high traffic. The typosquatter monitors the bogus sites to see how many clicks a day each of their "typo" domain names receives, and uses the information to sell advertising for the sites that receive a high volume of accidental traffic. Advertising revenue might come from selling ads to the original site's competitors or by providing redirect pages to gambling and porn sites.
Categories: Con Artists, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Undetermined (but I think they're real)
Two pictures, found on flickr (here and here on Alex Laurie's photostream) of a cow in a car:

image   image

The info accompanying the images states that they were "taken by a friend of a friend in Slovenia." It looks more like a calf than a full-grown cow, so I suppose it would be possible to stuff the animal in the back of your Volkswagen and hit the highway with it. Given that there are two images, and they don't appear to be photoshopped, I'm inclined to say the photos are odd, but real.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 14, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Real
A lot of people have been emailing me these two pictures of giant rabbits, wanting to know if they're real. (Even my wife emailed them to me.) So I figure I better post something about them.

image   image

I state in Hippo Eats Dwarf that "The bigger the animal, the taller the tale you're likely being fed." So most of the time if you see pictures of animals that are grossly oversized (such as these big roosters), the pictures are fake. But these rabbits are an exception to that rule, because they're real. They're giant rabbits, specially bred for size. They can reach weights of up to 20lbs. The rabbit on the left is called Herman, and the one on the right is Robert. Robert is the current record holder for world's largest rabbit.

It seems like there's been a flurry of stories about giant rabbits in the news recently. There was the story about a Devil Rabbit that's been decimating vegetable patches in Felton. As well as the one about a marriage of two giant rabbits that was condemned by the RSPCA. Rabbit stories must be proliferating now because of the approach of Easter.

Related Post:
November 6, 2003: British Giant Rabbits
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 14, 2006
Comments (16)
Status: Medical News
The journal Public Library of Science Medicine is publishing a special series of articles devoted to the practice of "diseasemongering": when pharmaceutical companies invent diseases, or market cures for benign conditions, in order to sell more drugs. The Times, reporting on the special issue, writes that:

conditions such as female sexual dysfunction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and “restless legs syndrome” have been promoted by companies hoping to sell more of their drugs. Other minor problems that are a normal part of life, such as symptoms of the menopause, are also becoming increasingly “medicalised”, while risk factors such as high cholesterol levels or osteoporosis are being presented as diseases in their own right, according to the editors.

In Hippo Eats Dwarf I wrote about a similar issue: how the plastic surgery industry has created medical names for various "disorders" and "deformities" that are actually perfectly normal, healthy body shapes. Examples include "batwing disorder" (loose skin under the arms), "violin deformity" (wide hips), "hypomastia" (small breasts), and "ptosis" (saggy breasts).

In related news, investigators have found that drug studies sponsored by corporations are invariably skewed to favor the study sponsors. Industry studies will use tricks such as using too low a dose of a competitor's drug, or massaging statistics to get the results they want. In other words, you can't trust the pharmaceutical industry (no surprise there), since whenever they have to choose between profits and quality health care, they always seem to favor profits.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 13, 2006
Comments (23)
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