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June 2006
Status: Urban Legend
The Miami Herald reports the case of a man who threatened to shoot the mother of his child with a gun silenced by a potato. He never fired the gun, but did explain to her how the potato would silence the shot, insuring that no one would hear what happened. The police had this to say about the man's knowledge of acoustics:
The vegetable, while rich in carbs, does not make an effective silencer, police say. The myth dates back to mob murders of the 1920s and has persisted through movies and word of mouth.
"It was fine in Dick Tracy, but in real life, it's not true," said Miami-Dade Sgt. Bob Hoelscher, a longtime firearms technician who is not involved in the case. The sound of a gunshot can be suppressed somewhat if the gun is low-caliber and the cartridge is weak enough, Hoelscher said. But it usually makes a mess.
Detectives seized a 9mm Ruger pistol from Thompson.
"You're going to have potato salad 360 degrees from the muzzle," Hoelscher said. Of course, people haven't stopped trying.
Another favorite, often seen in movies and on TV, is to tape an empty plastic soda bottle onto the muzzle of the gun. I don't think this works any better than the potato technique. The Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics Page points out that movies, in general, tend to grossly misrepresent the effectiveness of silencers. In real life they don't silence guns as much as they do in movies. (I should note that I've never handled a gun, so I'm relying entirely on the word of other sources here.):
Cutting sound intensity in half only reduces the relative loudness by merely 3 dB. This would be barely noticeable. A good set of ear plugs typically reduces noise by about 30 dB and so, would reduce a muzzle blast from 150 to 120 dB, still a very loud noise. We estimate that the innocuous "fut" sound made by a movie silencer is roughly 50 dB 7, a whopping noise reduction of 100 dB from the dB level of a muzzle blast! In other words, a silencer has to reduce sound intensity of a muzzle blast by a factor of 1010 to give such a low relative loudness. This can be done with a very well designed and precision made silencer using subsonic ammunition. However, even commercially available silencers are more likely to give a reduction of 30 to 40 dB similar to ear plugs, than the incredible 100 dB reduction frequently portrayed in movies, especially when used on high-powered rifles.
(via David Emery)
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 05, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Photoshopped
image Here's a picture that's going around, just in time for the upcoming World Cup. Apparently this was created a couple of years ago for a Nike campaign in Mexico. However, the image is just a concept piece created by the JWT agency (i.e. it's photoshopped). This was never done in real life. Pity. It would be a pretty cool piece of urban art if it were real. (via Coolzor)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 03, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Public Service Announcement
image I just discovered a whole stash of clips of Alan Abel hoaxes on YouTube (uploaded, I assume, by his daughter, Jenny). There's Omar's School for Beggars, the fake lottery winner, Ban Breast Feeding, the mass fainting on Donahue, and many more. It's a good twenty minutes worth of entertainment. Enjoy.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 03, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Unusual Research
There's nothing hoaxy about this story. It's just another example of how non-rational people can be... especially investors in the stock market. Two Princeton researchers, Adam Alter and Danny Oppenheimer, have discovered that the ease with which a company's name and its ticker symbol can be pronounced has a strong short-term effect on the performance of its stock. In other words, "a stock with the symbol BAL should outperform one with the symbol BDL in the first few days of trading."
"We looked at intervals of a day, a week, six months and a year after IPO," Alter said. "The effect was strongest shortly after IPO. For example, if you started with $1,000 and invested it in companies with the 10 most fluent names, you would earn $333 more than you would have had you invested in the 10 with the least fluent." Alter said the pair of scientists had been careful to address the possibility that other factors were at play in the study. "We thought it was possible that larger companies might both adopt more fluent names and attract greater investment than smaller companies," he said. "But the effect held regardless of company size. We also showed that the effect held when we controlled for the influence of industry, country of origin and other factors."
In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted a similar effect: that when investors think they've found the next big thing (be it railways, airlines, biotech, dot.coms, or nanotechnology) all stocks whose names seem to have something to do with those fields benefit, whether or not they actually do have something to do with those fields. Thus, in the recent nanotechnology crazy, Nanometrics (ticker symbol: NANO) shot up, even though it makes semiconductor tools and has nothing to do with nanotechnology.
Categories: Business/Finance, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Pyramid scheme unravels
Thanks to Joe for sending along some links about the ongoing downfall of BioPerformance, Inc. (discussed in the hoax forum in this thread about fuel additives). To summarize briefly: BioPerformance seems to be a classic case of a pyramid scheme. The people at the top of the pyramid were convincing suckers to pay for the privilege of selling little green pills that supposedly, when placed in a car's gas tank, yielded "vast improvements in mileage, performance and emissions". What BioPerformance wasn't telling anyone was that the pills were simply mothballs that didn't improve mileage and could actually ruin a car's engine. (Though oddly enough, according to the Dallas Observer article, mothballs can, under certain conditions, boost octane levels, which can help engine performance... but only when used in very carefully controlled amounts and in high-performance engines.) Sadly, in a classic example of cognitive dissonance, many of the BioPerformance faithful are refusing to admit they've been scammed. But thats always the way it is with con-artists and their victims.
Categories: Business/Finance, Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (33)
Status: Imposter
This is over a week old, but it struck me as odd enough to be worth posting anyway:
The archpriest of St. Peter's basilica has warned European concert organizers against a musician who is falsely advertising himself as the "official organist" to Pope Benedict XVI... An Italian musician, Massimiliano Mussi, has issued publicity brochures in which he claims to a papal appointment. The cardinal warned promoters that the Vatican has only one official organist, American James Edward Goettsche. "Any other person who claims similar titles or merits should be considered dishonest," the cardinal said.
So I'm really curious about what this guy's story is. Has he resorted to deception to get a leg-up in the cut-throat world of organ playing? Or is he using this as a line to pick up girls? "Hey baby, I play the Pope's organ."
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Hoax
Early last month a number of British papers ran pieces about a Norfolk farmer selling execution equipment to dictatorships. For instance, this is from the Scotsman (May 12):
Norfolk farmer David Lucas has built a booming business selling execution equipment to such enlightened governments as those of Zimbabwe and Libya. For the paltry sum of £12,000 you can be the proud owner of a fine set of English Oak gallows to hang the dissident of your choice. Or, if you've got a few unruly citizens you need out of the way, you could go for a group-hanging with Mr Lucas's "multi-hanging execution system", a snip at a hundred grand.
Now we learn that Mr. Lucas's gallows trade is nothing more than a hoax. At least, so says his business partner. UPI reports:
David Lucas, 45, attracted reporters to his pet food shop in Mildenhall, outside of which stands a gallows Lucas built to show his support for capital punishment. He claimed he was selling them to the governments of Libya and Zimbabwe for as much as $22,000, The Times of London reported Thursday. More than 30 British newspapers, along with the BBC and Sky News covered his story, which has fizzled out since his business partner, Brian Rutterford, came forward. "It is a hoax that has got completely out of hand. I know David well, work closely with him and I know he has built one set of gallows -- the one that remains outside his shop on my land," he said. "The rest is rubbish." Rutterford said Lucas had been keeping up the rumor because he likes talking to the media about capital punishment, the report said.
I suppose this is an example of gallows humor.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Undetermined
image Do you believe God belongs in government? Do you believe President Bush is doing The Lord's Work? If so, then step up and buy a BushFish car magnet. There's been speculation that this is some kind of parody, along the lines of It does seem a little over the top. But I'm guessing that the creator of these things doesn't care whether people interpret them as a parody, or as a serious statement, as long as they buy plenty of them. (And yes, as far as I can tell, purchases really can be made via the site... though I wasn't about to actually buy one to make sure.)

On Daily Kos there's been speculation that BushFish is a satire based on the fact that some of the photos of BushFish on car bumpers seem to have been photoshopped. I'm not seeing this. In fact, it seems to me that it would be more work to photoshop a BushFish onto a bumper than it would be to simply slap one onto a bumper in real life and take a picture of it.

Personally I think that if anyone feels a burning need to buy a Bush Fish, they should buy one of the aquatic kind instead.
Categories: Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 01, 2006
Comments (16)
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