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April 2007

I've been out of town recently. My wife and I drove up to Santa Barbara last weekend, where she had a work-related event to go to. While she was busy at that, I decided to check out Santa Barbara's used bookstores. I was browsing at The Book Den, when a student photographer approached me and asked if I would be willing to participate in a project she was working on. She was taking pictures of people in the bookstore, posed in various ways, and then digitally inserting them into a box. She had me climb a ladder. She just sent me the resulting image, and I think it looks pretty cool. It seems like something that's crying out for a good caption, but I can't think of one. Any ideas?

After Santa Barbara we spent a couple of days in Merced, in central California. We're thinking of moving there -- because the University of California, where my wife works, just opened a new campus there, and because the cost of living is so much cheaper there. (Though there's not a whole lot there.) Any move would be at least a year away.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 30, 2007
Comments (22)
image Peace Bomb
Colin Barnett thought a good way to promote his art might be to place one of his vases outside the National Gallery of Victoria with the phrase "Peace Bomb" written on it. The police disagreed, and now Barnett is spending three months behind bars. I guess his publicity stunt backfired.

Fake Snakes
"Austrian officials fed up with motorists stopping to urinate by the roadside have put up fake snake warnings to scare them into using toilets... Of course there are no snakes but they don’t know that." So what happens when the Austrian authorities really want to warn people about snakes? No one will believe them.

Taiwan Hostage Hoax
Two Taiwanese MPs reported that students had been taken hostage at National Taiwan University. The police arrive, only to discover it was all a hoax. the MPs just wanted to test the police response time.
Categories: Animals, Hate Crimes/Terror
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 20, 2007
Comments (2)

Brits flunk honesty test
A credit-card protection firm, Affinion International, conducted an experiment in which they left items such as mobile phones, key, and wallets in city centres (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, and Manchester). All the items were clearly marked with the owner's contact number, but most were never returned. Not surprising.

Obscene messages end graffiti experiment
Officials in Louisville tried to give graffiti artists a legal place to practice their craft, but abandoned the experiment after the concrete walls simply became filled with obscene messages. The walls will now be painted beige... and will doubtless soon be covered with illegal graffiti.

Man from Tooting becomes Hindu Goddess
Steve Cooper was just a run-of-the-mill unemployed guy in his hometown of Tooting, England. But when he moved to India he became known as the reincarnation of Bahucharaji, the patron of Indian eunuchs. I wonder how exactly he came into this new career. That's a story I'd like to know.

Mozart Effect debunked
A study commissioned by the German government has officially debunked the Mozart Effect -- which is the idea that listening to certain kinds of classical music will raise a person's intelligence.
Categories: Art, Psychology, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2007
Comments (5)
A book coming out next month, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, by independent scholar John Lauritsen, argues that Mary Shelley did not write Frankenstein. Instead, Lauritsen argues, the credit should go to her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Why? For one, Lauritsen suggests Mary was too young and inexperienced as a writer to have penned a classic like Frankenstein. (She was nineteen at the time.) Lauritsen also suggests that the language of Frankenstein sounds like something Percy would have written. The Sunday Times reports:
He says some of the language, with lines such as "I will glut the maw of death", were pure Shelley, and that the young aristocrat wrote a handful of fashionable horror tales that echo the later tone of Frankenstein. Lauritsen said Shelley had many reasons to disguise his authorship, including hints of "free love" that had already driven him out of England and an undertone of "Romantic, but I would not say gay, male love". Another factor may have been the critics, who hated it. The Quarterly Review of 1818 said the story of Frankenstein, the Swiss scientist who creates a monster from body parts, only to see it run amok, was a "tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
Most literary critics aren't buying Lauritsen's argument. Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian, argues that Mary Shelley must have written Frankenstein because a) the book is actually pretty badly written, as one would expect from a 19-year-old, and b) the underlying theme of the book is a very feminine one:
"The driving impulse of this incoherent tale is a nameless female dread, the dread of gestating a monster... Percy was capable perhaps of imagining such a nightmare, but it is the novel's blindness to its underlying theme that provides the strongest evidence that the spinner of the tale is a woman. It is not until the end of the novel that the monster can describe himself as an abortion. If women's attraction to the gothic genre is explained by the opportunity it offers for the embodiment of the amoral female subconscious, Frankenstein is the ultimate expression of the female gothic."
I'm inclined to believe that Mary Shelley is the true author of Frankenstein. But it is an interesting question to think about.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2007
Comments (16)
image It may look like something out of a fairytale, but it's definitely real. Plus, it's a pretty cool photo. Here's a different picture of a white peacock on Wikipedia. (via Reality Carnival)
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2007
Comments (14)
Here's a couple of YouTube videos on the subject of controlling traffic lights. The first video is for pedestrians. It claims that by clicking the walk button in a special way you can cause the traffic light to change in your favor. This secret code is: 3 short clicks, 2 long, 1 short, 2 long, and 3 short. Sounds like total baloney to me. Of course, if you live in New York City, many of the walk buttons have no effect whatsoever on the signal because they were disconnected decades ago.

This second video claims that it's possible to cause red lights to turn green by using a universal remote control. I'm more inclined to believe this is possible, since I know that emergency vehicles do have devices to change the lights to green. However, you would first have to locate the correct frequency, which would mean standing there with the remote on scan mode until it hits on the right one. Also, you'd need to know the correct code. (The video claims the code is 911.) Finally, would a typical remote control have a strong enough signal? Oh, and it would also be completely illegal.

Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 16, 2007
Comments (36)
Why do people fall for stuff like this?
A woman is suing a Tokyo-based chiropractor over pricey but ineffective treatments that involved spinning her in a centrifugal device to make her taller... The chiropractic center told her the treatments using centrifugal force would make her taller at a cost of 1.05 million yen per 1 centimeter gained... According to the suit, the center said her leg bones had grown by a little over 3 cm, showing X-rays taken before and after the treatments. The woman argues the center allegedly manipulated the X-rays and that its explanations lack medical credibility.
I think 1.05 million yen is around $9000. It would have been a lot cheaper for her to have found a centrifuge ride at an amusement park. Of course, the chiropractor can defend himself by claiming that he was just pulling her leg.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 16, 2007
Comments (6)
image Here's an odd story reported in the Mainichi Daily News:
A tablet given to a local woman by a group of men posing as sewage workers who told her to swallow it if her tap water became dirty, has proven to be an chemical pipe cleaning agent, investigators said....
Several men visited the home of the victim in the Nagata Sannodai district of Minami-ku, Yokohama on Thursday morning, and handed a blue and white tablet to the resident, bureau officials said. "We're carrying out sewage works in the neighborhood. Please put this tablet into the drainage pipe if the tap water becomes turbid or gives off a foul smell," one of the men was quoted as telling the resident. The men later visited the home again and asked the resident if they used the tablet. No sewage work was underway at the time. A 70-year-old woman living in Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama, was told to swallow the tablet they gave her. They subsequently visited her home and asked her if she took it. When she answered she did not swallow it, the men asked her why she failed to take it.

So let me get this straight. Some guys are going around, posing as sewage workers, and giving people free drain-clearing chemicals. And sometimes they're trying to get people to swallow these chemicals. These sound like very disturbed individuals, but I'm also getting the sense that there's more to this story than is being reported here.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 15, 2007
Comments (5)
A Dutch company called Energique claims to have developed a type of dog food that has the pleasant side effect of drastically reducing what comes out the other end. Basically, the company claims that if you feed your dog this stuff, your dog will barely poop at all:
Energique has also been working on the many complaints about dog excrement. With the body absorbing almost 90% of the food intake, only 10% is excreted. On the entire dog population, that saves 55 million kilograms of dog excrement in the Netherlands alone.
An Ananova article gives some more details: "They claim remaining 10% comes out the other end as a smell-free dry pellet that can be picked up by hand in a tissue. According to research by the University of Utrecht, a dog will normally need to go three times a day, but with Energique it only needs to go once a week."

This strikes me as a very odd claim. If true, could it possibly be healthy for the dog? I would imagine that the total surface area of a food has a lot to do with how much of it can get digested. For instance, a powder would probably get digested more fully than a chunk of meat. But is the one necessarily healthier than the other, just because more of it is getting digested?

The amount of poop a dog produces would almost seem to be a function of how much it eats. Surely if you feed your dog tons of this Energique food, it's still going to excrete most of it.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 15, 2007
Comments (17)
A picture of an actual scene -- nothing has been digitally manipulated or removed. A lot of people are familiar with this illusion. My wife, for instance, took one look at it and told me that not only did she know what the trick was, but that it's also possible to buy table-top versions of it. But for those who haven't seen it before, it is kind of cool. The trick is that the pipe supplying the water (and holding the faucet up) is concealed by the stream of water. I'm not sure where this picture was taken.

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 14, 2007
Comments (22)
A YouTube video claiming that it's possible to cut glass with scissors by placing the glass underwater has been attracting some skepticism. Geekologie suggests that the guy in the video is swapping out pieces of glass with other pieces of glass as he pretends to cut it.

Hmm. I'm no expert on this subject, but after some quick googling, I'm inclined to believe that it is possible to cut glass with scissors by holding the glass underwater., which appears to be a commercial glass company, addresses the claim on their site (though not with specific reference to the YouTube video). They say that the trick does work, though it doesn't make a very clean cut. They quote from Scientific American to explain why holding the glass under water aids the cutting process:
water causes glass to crack more easily because when a water molecule enters the crack, a reaction occurs in which a silicon-oxygen bond at the crack and an oxygen-hydrogen bond in the water are cleaved, creating two hydroxyl groups attached to silicon. As a result, the length of the crack grows by the size of one bond rupture. The water reaction reduces the energy necessary to break the silicon-oxygen bonds, thus the crack grows faster.
An article by some guy name Paul Umstead, titled "How to cut glass without a diamond cutter," also asserts that the glass-under-water trick works. Umstead sounds like he knows what he's talking about, which is more than I can say. So I'm going to say that it seems to be true that you can cut glass with scissors by holding the glass under water. I would test it out myself, but I don't have a spare pane of glass lying around.

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 13, 2007
Comments (20)
The photos show a giant skeleton lying on display in a town square, recalling that photo of a giant skeleton supposedly unearthed in Saudi Arabia that circulated around a few years ago. (It was actually an image from a Worth1000 photoshop contest.)

In this case, the giant skeleton is not a product of photoshop. It's a real skeleton, in the sense that it's something that one can really go and see. However, it's not real in the sense of being an actual archeological artifact. It's a piece of art created by the Late Gino De Dominicis. It's titled "COSMIC MAGNET." It's currently on display in Milan, and then will tour throughout Europe.

The Google translation of a blurb about the piece says:
The body of Cosmic Calamita, marking the possible connections between microcosm and the macrocosmos, evokes inaccessible spaces to the progress and the technology, reaching to the myth and the night of the times. Landed on our planet in disowned circumstances, this colossal Moby Dick projects the spectators ammutoliti on the mystery of elsewhere beyond the land space and a time of the history becoming some the terrifying one to cerimoniere.
image image

Categories: Art, Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 13, 2007
Comments (2)
Wow! It's been almost a month since I posted. Last time I posted, I thought that work on my next book was winding down. That turned out to be overly optimistic. I still had a lot of work to do, but now it truly is all done. The manuscript has been sent to my publisher.

Meanwhile, thanks to Flora for keeping this place running while I took a leave of absence!

As proof that I really have been working on a book, the book itself -- Elephants On Acid: and Other Bizarre Experiments -- is now listed on Amazon, although it will only be in stores in October or November. Also, from what I understand, the cover that you see on the Amazon page is not the actual cover. It's just a placeholder. The design department hasn't finished work on the real cover yet.

The book is not about hoaxes at all. It's about, as the subtitle suggests, bizarre scientific experiments. Here's the advertising blurb that the publisher wrote about it:
When Tusko the Elephant woke in his pen at the Lincoln Park Zoo on the morning of August 3, 1962, little did he know that he was about to become the test subject in an experiment to determine what happens to an elephant given a massive dose of LSD.
In Elephants on Acid, Alex Boese reveals to readers the results of not only this scientific trial but of scores of other outrageous, amusing, and provocative experiments found in the files of modern science.
Why can't people tickle themselves? Will babies instinctually pick a well-balanced diet? Will the average dog get help in an emergency? Is it possible to restore life to the dead? Read Elephants on Acid and find out!
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 13, 2007
Comments (14)
imageThis website shows a ‘dead fairy’, along with the story of how it was found in the Derbyshire countryside. It claims that the police and a local ‘paranormal expert’ had examined the fairy, and that the barrow it was found in contained over 20 bodies.

The site also features an update posted on April 1st, which explains that no, it is not a real fairy, and that it is a piece of art.

According to one of the people who wrote to us about this story, some people refuse to believe it’s not a real fairy, and are claiming that the artist’s update itself is a hoax.
The fairy is currently up for sale on ebay.

(Thanks, Jen and John.)
Categories: Art, Cryptozoology, eBay
Posted by Flora on Thu Apr 05, 2007
Comments (14)
Google Introduces TiSP
Google TiSP (BETA) is a fully functional, end-to-end system that provides in-home wireless access by connecting your commode-based TiSP wireless router to one of thousands of TiSP Access Nodes via fiber-optic cable strung through your local municipal sewage lines.
Gmail Paper
For those who like the features of Gmail, but aren’t so keen on email.

Google Maps Trick
This trick produced by Google Maps staff allows you to position one of a number of customisations on a map.

(Thanks to all who sent us these links.)
Categories: Pranks, Websites
Posted by Flora on Tue Apr 03, 2007
Comments (12)