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July 2006
Status: Ponzi Scheme
Chilean police have arrested a pair of con artists who had constructed an elaborate pyramid scheme based on the sale of "magic cheese". OhMyNews reports:
The fraud consisted in selling people packs of "Yo Flex," a powder that, she claimed, would ferment milk into a special cheese. Giselle said that this "Magic Cheese" was the latest fashion in France, where women used it as a skin cosmetic, and which in Africa was used as a food supplement...
In Chile, a pack of Yo Flex sold for US$500, but chemical analysis determined that the powder was a dairy ferment worth only US$4. Mella and Jara told victims that Yo Flex should be mixed with milk and that the cheese should be returned to Fermex, which would export it to France and Africa. The agents promised the people that they would double their money in three months. Initially, Fermex did pay victims profits, but this was a ploy to convince more to invest their money. Soon, many were investing sums ranging from US$5,000 to US$40,000. Many would sell their cars or property or get bank loans to buy the packs of Yo Flex.
Ponzi would have been proud. I think someone should collect samples of all the worthless junk that's been sold through Ponzi schemes (magic cheese, bioperformance pills, etc.), and then display it all in a Ponzi Museum. Or this would be a cool gallery to have in an actual Museum of Hoaxes, should such a thing ever come into existence. (Anyone want to donate a million dollars or so to help me build it?)
Categories: Con Artists, Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 21, 2006
Comments (16)
Status: Prank
Here's a slight variation on the old dihydrogen monoxide prank. The director of the Waterfront Park in Louisville, Ky placed signs around the fountains warning people of dangerously high levels of hydrogen in the water:
It seems authorities, tired of swimmers splashing around in the fountains and leery of the possibility of bacteria developing in the water, were hoping the public would be scared away by the foreboding signs — even though there was nothing amiss. David Karem, executive director of the Waterfront Development Corp., said he had the signs made in the hopes that a lack of understanding of the chemical makeup of water and the association of hydrogen to dangerous weapons such as the hydrogen bomb would keep the fountains people-free... Unfortunately for Karem, the hot summer days and a few good students have him fighting what he knows might be a losing battle.
I figure it's only a matter of time before someone sues him for emotional distress caused by the signs.
Categories: Pranks, Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 20, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Weird (but probably true) news
image A Lubbock, Texas news station has reported that a local fisherman recently caught a fish that seems to have human teeth:
Fisherman Scott Curry reeled in the 20-pound fish on Buffalo Springs Lake and immediately noticed the catch had human-like teeth. A game warden photographed the fish and is attempting to identify it. General Manager of Buffalo Springs Lake Greg Thornton told KLBK13-TV in Texas that he has never seen anything like the fish in the 36 years he has lived near the lake.
The leading theory is that the fish is a Pacu, about which Wikipedia has this entry:
The Pacu is a common name used to refer to several species of South American freshwater fish that are closely related to the Piranha. They are vegetarian or omnivorous and are commonly kept as aquarium pets. They have unusual teeth, which strangely resemble human teeth, which they use to crush seeds that fall into the water. Pacus have been illegally introduced as exotic species throughout the world into freshwater habitats, including discoveries in the United States in Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and Texas.
I'm hoping that Big Gary (as the MoH's fish expert) may be able to shed some light on this.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 20, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Undetermined
image I don't have any information about this picture. It's just an image of a cloud shaped like Godzilla that I came across on the web. Is it real or fake? Well, it looks real to me, and I can't see any obvious signs of photoshopping. But I couldn't say for sure. Also, I have no idea what type of cloud this is.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 20, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Old joke
The Register has posted a transcript of a BBC radio call-in show during which a man phoned up claiming to have a highly unusual medical problem. Following an operation in Turkey to treat his impotence, the man now finds that every time his neighbor opens the garage door, he gets an uncontrollable erection:
CALLER: But what is happening now is every time my neighbour comes back in their 4 x 4, I get an erection.
HOST: Good Lord.
CALLER: This is embarrassing. It's a big problem.
HOST: Have you been to see your doctor about it?
CALLER: The problem is I had this done in Turkey, using equipment that is not known in this country. I don't like it because every time his car pulls in I can't leave the house.
HOST: (Laughing) I'm afraid that it sounds funny as well. I know it's not funny for you.
CALLER: It's not funny for me, Roger, when I can't leave the house because I'm walking around with a big erection.
I'm sure I'm giving this more thought than it deserves, because there's no way it's not a joke. I'm not aware of any bionic penile implants that could be activated by the radio frequency that a garage-door opener uses. (And I actually did some research into strange penis implants in the course of writing chapter two in Hippo Eats Dwarf... the one about fake body parts... but I never came across anything like that.)

Update: David Emery immediately identified this as an old joke whose history has already been traced in FoafTale News. Apparently Bob Hope used a similar joke in his routine, saying that his neighbor got a new pacemaker, but now every time he made love his garage door opened. As the joke circulated through popular culture, the pacemaker turned into a penile implant that was activated whenever the garage door opened. This version has been seen in the Weekly World News (August 5, 1997, p. 58) and Fortean Times (68:13).
Categories: Body Manipulation, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 20, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Useful stuff to know if you're buying a car
Florida businessman Earl Stewart has started a blog, Earl Stewart On Cars, that's full of useful insights about the auto industry. Some of his observations about auto dealer scams and deceptive sales tactics are particularly interesting. Here's a few of them:
• The “Big Sale Event”. If you look in today’s newspaper, you will find that most car dealers in your area are having a sale of some kind. It may be because of a current holiday, “too large an inventory” of cars, to “reduce their taxes”, “the manager is out of town”, or some other nefarious lure... If you don’t buy a car during the tight time constraints of a phony sales event, you can negotiate just as good a price the next day.

“The Price I’m giving you is only good for today”. If a salesman or sales manager tells you that, it is probably only a tactic to push you into buying the car.

“Take the car home tonight and see how you like it”... there are two reasons the car salesman offers this. One is that you must leave the vehicle you might be trading in with the car dealer. This means that you cannot shop prices with other dealers. The second reason is the psychological impact of parking that new car in your driveway where your family and neighbors can see it. The slang expression for this is “the puppy dog”.

• The “really big” discount”... Federal law requires new cars to have a price sticker on the window named the Monroney label. A discount from this suggested retail price gives you a fair basis for comparison. Unfortunately, most car dealers today, increase the suggested retail price substantially with the use of an addendum to the Monroney sticker often referred to as a “Market Adjustment Addendum”. This “adjustment” can be several thousands of dollars. Be sure you know what the asking price is for the car when you have been offered a “big discount”.
In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted an outrageous example of misleading advertising used by one car dealership. They had a "half-price sale" during which "The price you see is half the price you pay." Think about it.

Carl Sifakis has also cataloged a number of auto dealer scams in his book Hoaxes and Scams: A Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses and Swindles.

For instance, there's the practice (now illegal in many states) of "bird dogging" in which car dealers pay people who refer customers to them. Obviously someone getting paid for a referral might not be objective. Plus, as Sifakis notes, "car salesmen aren't about to give a customer referred by a bird dog an extra good deal." He then relates this story:
New car salesmen tell the standard story of the sharpie to whom a potential buyer was referred. The salesman promptly took him for almost list price, despite the fact that the customer had a trade-in that also netted the hustler an extra commission. The salesman also took the shopper for financing and insurance at very favorable terms—that is, for the car dealer. The kicker to the story showed up on the paperwork when the salesman filled in his contact for the sale. In the space naming the source, he'd written "Mother."
Then there's the practices of lowballing and highballing. In lowballing the salesman offers to sell a car for a ridiculously low price, only to reveal later that the manager hadn't approved the price, and that the real price is much higher. Many people will then buy the car anyway, because they've already got their mind around to the idea of buying it. Highballing is the same thing, but switched around so that the dealer will offer to buy a trade-in for a ridiculously high price, only to reveal later that the manager hadn't approved that price.
Categories: Advertising, Business/Finance, Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 19, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Public Service Video
A highly informative Beginner's Guide To Faking Your Death On The Internet can be viewed on YouTube. It was created by satirist and internet scholar Luke Lewis. Some of the points it covers:

→ Interest in your death (or the death of your alter-ego) can be measured by Heinstein's 2nd Law of the Internet, which states: I = H x W x C. Or rather, INTEREST in your character equals their HOTNESS times their camWHORE factor times the CRAZINESS of the community in which you're posting (measured in LJs or LiveJournals). "The higher the I value, the more ego strokage you'll get from faking your death."

→ Also, terminal illness is generally a better way to depart this world than a car crash. Car crashes are too abrupt and not unusual enough.

→ Finally, "a post without an OMG is a post incomplete."

Lewis notes that "He is currently working on the sequel: 'A Beginner's Guide To The British', due for release in late July." Personally, I think the sequel should be a beginner's guide to faking someone else's death on the internet.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 19, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Weird (but true) news
First I should note that I didn't title this post 'Mice On A Plane', since it seems that everyone else in the world who's written about this has already used that joke. The same with noting that the cure for mice on a plane is snakes on a plane.

Anyway, the story here is that an American Airlines plane was recently grounded because of a mouse infestation. I know that my parents (who live out in the countryside in Virginia) often have problems with mice getting into their car and chewing through cables, but I wouldn't have thought mice would like conditions on a plane. Too loud and cold. Apparently I was wrong. American Airlines has admitted that 17 mice were found on the plane, while a whistleblower claims that the real number of mice on the plane was much higher. Possibly as many as 1000. There were even dead mice found in the oxygen masks. (That would be a pleasant surprise in the case of an emergency.) The scary thing is that this plane was flying repeatedly back and forth between LA and New York before American finally did something about the problem. (Thanks to Jen for the link)
Categories: Animals, Exploration/Travel
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 19, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Literary Hoax
The Weekend Australian recently announced the results of a literary experiment. They took chapter three of celebrated Australian writer Patrick White's novel The Eye of the Storm, changed its title to The Eye of the Cyclone, changed the names of the characters in it, and changed the name of the author to Wraith Picket (an anagram of Patrick White). Then they submitted this to twelve Australian publishers. Ten of them rejected it, and two never responded. One reviewer wrote that "the sample chapter, while reply (sic) with energy and feeling, does not give evidence that the work is yet of a publishable quality."

This particular brand of literary hoax has been done countless times before, and always, it seems, with the same result. Most recently the Sunday Times submitted chapters of a VS Naipaul novel to British publishers, who summarily rejected it. The perpetrators of the hoax always claim it reveals the weak literary standards of the publishing industry. Meanwhile the publishing industry just shrugs off the hoaxes and continues on trying to figure out how to make money. My theory is that journalists love to repeat this experiment because most of them are wannabe novelists and like to imagine that their lack of literary success is due to the short-sightedness of the publishing industry, not their own lack of talent. (Though I should note that I like to complain about the publishing industry as much as anyone.)

I think that the Weekend Australian should have submitted the chapter to horror publishers, because Wraith Picket would make a great name for a horror writer.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 19, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Photoshopped
image This picture of a cat having a whitewater adventure is doing the rounds. Amusing, but pretty obviously photoshopped. (I don't think many cats would willingly get into a raft.) Here's the original from which the cat was taken:
image
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 19, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Probably a hoax
image The latest mystery to capture the short attention span of the internet is ThatGirlEmily. It's a blog, supposedly written by "Emily" who during the past two weeks has discovered that her husband "Steven" is cheating on her. Coincidentally she started her blog just before all these interesting things in her life began occuring. Yesterday she decided to get even with Steven by placing a large billboard near where he works with this message on it:
Hi Steven,
Do I have your attention now? I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly-endowed slimeball. Everything's caught on tape,
Your (soon-to-be-ex) Wife, Emily
p.s. I paid for this billboard from OUR joint bank account.
Emily's blog and billboard, as almost everyone who has posted about it agrees, just screams viral marketing. AtleastIhavechicken.com has summarized some of the reasons why it's probably a viral marketing campaign:
1) Emily has gone to some effort to conceal her identity;
2) Her blog is too well written (grammatically speaking) and the story unfolds a little too neatly to be real;
3) Since she started her blog, someone using the username ThatGirlEmily has been comment spamming numerous message boards. See here, and here, and here.
4) In addition to the billboard in New York (which seems to be real), an identical billboard has also been spotted in LA. The dual billboards, in my opinion, is the real clincher, because why would Emily, if she were real, pay for billboards in different cities?

I don't know who's the mastermind behind ThatGirlEmily, but here are the leading theories:

1) It's a viral created by an outdoor billboard company, to demonstrate the effectiveness of billboard advertising. (kind of like the Outhouse Springs campaign.)
2) Or it's a viral for a Court TV show. Possibly Parco P.I. (this is Gawker's favorite theory.)

Emily vows 14 days of vengeance. So I'm sure we'll eventually know the real story behind this.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 18, 2006
Comments (24)
Status: Undetermined
image Posted on YouTube: a Japanese video of trained flies (actually they don't look like flies to me... maybe wasps or bees). They roll on their back and then juggle a ball on their legs. While it may be possible to train goldfish, I don't think it's possible to train flies. (Though, as one person on Digg pointed out, in laboratory experiments flies have been shown to be capable of learning.) My guess is that they've been drugged. This would account for them rolling over. Juggling the ball between their legs is probably a reflex action. (via Neatorama)
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 18, 2006
Comments (20)
Status: Undetermined
image Divester.com has been posting more Scary Shark: Real or Not challenges. Their latest picture shows a "horny shark." Is it real or not? The answer will be revealed next week. I'm not sure about this one. The shark kind of looks like it's made out of paper mache, so I'm going to vote that it's fake.


image They also had a good challenge last week which I forgot to post about. To me the picture looked like a rag-doll shark, so I voted that it was fake. But I was wrong. Turns out that it's a photo of a real creature known as a cookie cutter shark. It lives in the depths of the ocean and only ventures to the surface at night to feed.

Related Posts:
July 1, 2006: Shark Head
June 24, 2006: Shark Photos
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 17, 2006
Comments (22)
Status: Strange, but real
image Big Gary forwarded me this story about a rare two-toned lobster found last week by a lobsterman, Alan Robinson, off the coast of Maine. Robinson donated it to the Mount Desert Oceanarium whose staff members say that "the odds or finding a half-and-half lobster are 1 in 50 million to 100 million. By comparison, the odds of finding a blue lobster are about 1 in a million."


image Something about this story struck me as very familiar. And then I remembered what it was. Another story about the discovery of a two-toned lobster was posted last month in the forum. This earlier lobster was found off the coast of Newfoundland and is currently on display at the marine interpretation centre in Terra Nova National Park.

So what are the odds of two half-toned lobsters being found within a month and a half of each other? It's like these things are popping up all over.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 17, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Fictional
image Unflinching Triumph, a recently released movie, explores the little-known subculture of Professional Staredown contests (aka Staring Contests). You can view the movie in its entirety online (free and legal!), or view the trailer at YouTube.

If you believe the movie, there really is such a thing as professional staredown contests. This illusion is strengthened by the website of the National Association of Staredown Professionals (NASP) and the website of Staredown Champion Tony Patterson. However, I'm pretty sure that the movie is a mockumentary, and that the NASP and Tony Patterson sites are part of the joke.

But I started wondering if perhaps the movie was based on a germ of truth. Is there some kind of subculture of staring enthusiasts? After all if cup stacking or chess boxing can be sports, why not staring? So I checked on Lexis Nexis to see if there was any mention of Staring as a professional sport in any paper for the past five years. But there doesn't seem to be. Wikipedia doesn't make note of any such thing either, though it does mention that some people like to challenge their pets to staring contests.
Categories: Entertainment, Sports, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 16, 2006
Comments (11)
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