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May 2007
image A Swedish pop band called Rednex is up for sale on eBay for $1.5 million. An accompanying website, popbandforsale.com, details what you get when you buy the band:
The Music - the Trademark - the Band
The Tour - the Record Deals - the Web Site
The Record Releases - the Plans - the Contacts
The Contracts - the Styling - the Catalogue
(all previous hits and recordings)
And of course… ... the opportunities… ... the future...
At first I wondered whether this was even a real band, never having heard of Rednex before, but apparently it is real. On the band's website, they claim to have sold over 10 million records. Their heyday was back in 1994 when they had a hit song called Cotton Eye Joe. They never matched that success again, though they have had a few lesser hits since then.

Still, I wasn't sure if the sale offer was legitimate. The website popbandforsale.com looks extremely amateurish. Not what you'd expect if they really were courting a buyer willing to pay $1.5 million. The site even has google ads on it, because I guess they really need the few bucks they'll get from those ads, despite the money they're hoping to get from the sale. Also, the band doesn't mention the sale offer anywhere that I can find on their own website. Nevertheless, the sale has been widely reported in the news, so if the offer wasn't genuine, I assume the band would have said so by now.

The question is, is the band really worth $1.5 million? Maybe someone will think so, but I suspect the band doesn't really expect any serious offers. They've probably dreamed this up as a publicity stunt to get themselves in the news. And so far, it's worked.
Categories: eBay, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Tue May 22, 2007
Comments (7)
Prank Bathroom Signs Backfire
If you ever go to McGuire's Irish Pub in Destin, Florida, it pays to read the fine print, especially when going to the bathroom. For years McGuire's has played a joke on its customers. The fine print on the "Ladies" sign explains that it's actually the men's room, and vice versa for the "Mens" sign. But recently, "A father filed a complaint, after his daughter was interrupted by a man in what she thought was the ladies room. Now, state regulators are threatening to close the pub because of the lack of proper signs." McGuire's general manager says that it was merely intended to be an "Irish joke."

Fake Hostage Situation at Bank
If you ever decide to blindfold and kidnap one of your co-workers as a joke, don't stop at the local bank to make a deposit. People might get the wrong idea: "Squad cars swarmed into Westfield Valencia Town Center around noon and a California Highway Patrol plane scoped out the streets for the suspected robber, who was gone from the bank by the time they arrived. There was a catch: It wasn't a robbery. The man had "kidnapped" his co-worker and was taking her to a birthday lunch, and had stopped at the SCV Bank branch on Town Center Drive to make a quick deposit. "I would say he could have made a better decision than to go into a bank," said Deputy Greg Hutt."

Robbers Disguised as Jehovah's Witnesses
A Swedish newspaper, The Local, reports that "Police in the Dalarna region are on the lookout for two well-dressed young men following an unusual burglary in Orsa on Sunday evening. The men, aged between 20 and 30, managed to gain entry to an elderly woman's apartment after dressing up as Jehovah's Witnesses. 'Once inside the apartment, they pulled out a knife and forced her to hand over jewellery and money,' said police spokesman Tore Strand." Hmm. So how do they know the robbers were merely "dressing up" as Jehovah's Witnesses. Maybe they were a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses gone bad.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue May 22, 2007
Comments (6)
image Is it true that large flocks of wild parrots can be found in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Diego? When I first heard this I doubted it, since I live in San Diego and I've never seen wild parrots flying around (though I've seen plenty of other strange birds in my backyard.) But apparently parrots are adapting very well to urban environments, and many can now be found living wild in cities throughout the world. It's called Urban Parrot Phenomena. (Actually, I don't know if it's widely referred to as that, but I like the term.)

An article from the IPS News Agency discusses San Diego's urban parrots and their possible origins:
Residents of Ocean Beach believe the parrots arrived 25 years ago after a pet store burned down, and they never left. The seaside community is now home to a flock of 100 naturalised parrots composed of red-headed conures and stubby-winged amazons...
The true origins of San Diego's city parrots are unknown. More likely than not, they escaped from pet stores, pet owners and even during transport in previous decades when importing wild birds to the United States was part of the legal parrot trade.
Roelant Jonker and Grace Innemee are Dutch biologists who have been studying the phenomena of urban parrots for a while and have a lot of info about the subject on their website, cityparrots.org. You can also view a short clip that Channel 10 news here in San Diego did about the city's parrots. My wife told me that the parrots here in San Diego speak with a Mexican accent, but I think she was pulling my leg.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue May 22, 2007
Comments (31)
I'm a bit late with this, but I see (via Fortean Times) that last month Reuters reported that rumors were spreading around Pakistan and Afghanistan alleging that:
a deadly virus was being sent through mobile phones, and that anyone answering phone calls from some certain numbers would contract a fatal illness. The rumours claimed that "as soon as you answer your phone blood comes out of your mouth, nose and ears and you die"
The local phone companies were trying to calm people down, assuring them that it's impossible to contract a killer virus simply by answering your mobile phone.

This is not the first time such a rumor has been reported. The first time I saw it pop up was back in July 2004, when it was spreading around Nigeria. The rumor then was that a phone call from one of two numbers, either 0802 311 1999 or 0802 222 5999, would cause instant death. An Agence France Presse reporter bravely dialed both numbers, but survived.

Next the rumor surfaced in India in 2006. The rumor now warned of "devil calls" which, when received, would cause mobile phones to explode like bombs, killing their owners.

Of course, the real danger is not a killer phone virus. Instead, it's the relentless spread of the unstoppable gullibility virus.
Categories: Mass Delusion, Technology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri May 18, 2007
Comments (30)
Here's a recent case of a man who is obviously not cut out for a life of crime:
What a cashier first thought of as a practical joke turned into no laughing matter for a Ranson man who was arrested Wednesday after using women’s underwear and a lighter shaped like a small gun in an attempt to rob a convenience store...
“He entered the store wearing a pair of women’s pajama shorts over his face,” Sgt. T.C. Kearns of the West Virginia State Police said Wednesday. “I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.”...
“At first she (the cashier) thought it was a joke,” Kearns said.
[The robber] then pulled out what appeared to be a handgun and demanded money.
“She was unsure if it was an actual gun or a cigarette lighter in the figure of a gun, which the store used to sell,” Schuessler wrote in the criminal complaint filed in Berkeley County Magistrate Court.
The cashier refused to give the man any money, and [the robber] fled the scene in a Jeep Cherokee on Gerrardstown Road.
The guy was later picked up and arrested. He had the underwear with him. He's being held on $31,500 bail.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu May 17, 2007
Comments (8)
This YouTube video demonstrates a physics trick right out of high-school science -- how to take a glass of water and a glass of whiskey and swap their contents, without using a third glass. It relies on the principle that whiskey is lighter than water and will float on top of it. The funny part is not the video, which is fairly straightforward, but rather the comments left by YouTube viewers, many of whom seem to think the video must have been faked. I guess they weren't paying attention in high-school science. I had a bottle of cheap whiskey on hand (Rebel Yell), so I tried the experiment myself, and I can attest that it definitely works. You just have to make sure not to allow the whiskey and water to mix too quickly, otherwise they'll combine together and you'll end up with two glasses of watered-down whiskey.

Categories: Photos/Videos, Science
Posted by Alex on Thu May 17, 2007
Comments (8)

Fake Zebras
A zoo in China is charging a small fee for posing beside horses painted with zebra stripes. The zoo assures the customers that it is 'just for fun'.

Dressed Up Dead Fawn Left By Theatre
"The police log entry said it all: "Deceased fawn was dressed up like an infant and abandoned at the Pantages Theater."
The police have no idea who left the fawn or why, but they believe that the fawn had been stillborn and had died some time previously.

Woman Pretends to be Pregnant - Wastes Police Time
A Rhode Island woman has been given probation for a year after claiming her boyfriend had taken their child. Several months previously, Roxann Lacey falsely told her boyfriend that she was pregnant.
At the beginning of this month, she contacted the police, telling them that she had given birth at home, but her boyfriend had taken the child after an argument.
Medical examination found that she had not given birth, and she pleaded no contest to filing a false police report.
Categories: Animals, Birth/Babies, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Flora on Wed May 16, 2007
Comments (7)
The Wilmington, Delaware News Journal reports that there's a new prank that's all the rage in America's high schools. It's called backpack-flipping. The idea is simple. You take someone's backpack, remove all its contents, turn it inside out, and then restuff it with everything that was originally in there. Students are divided on whether or not this is amusing:
Sophomore Tim Southerland, whose backpack has been flipped 15 times, thinks backpack-flipping is "like a drug."
"There are three rules to flipping," he said. "Number one, don't talk about backpack-flipping. Number two, you only flip once. Number three, once you join the flip club you don't get out. It's just like Fight Club. Everyone who doesn't do it is stupid." Many students think that backpack-flipping is an annoyance.
"I think it's stupid because it's not even funny," sophomore Brad Simon said.
I think it sounds as annoyingly stupid as wet-willies or giving people wedgies. But is it a new prank? That's the question. Some believe it is:
According to physical education teacher Harry Walker, backpack-flipping is a relatively new occurrence. "They didn't do it when I was a kid," he said.
I don't recall ever seeing this occur when I was in high school either. So maybe it is new.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue May 15, 2007
Comments (15)
Sixty-nine elementary students from Scales Elementary School got quite a scare during a recent field trip to Fall Creek Falls. Their teachers told them that a gunman was on the loose in the area:
The students were told to lie on the floor or crawl underneath tables and keep quiet. The lights went out, and about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said. Some held hands and shook.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Shay said Saturday afternoon as she recounted the incident. “At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out. (A teacher) told us, ‘We just got a call that there’s been a random shooting.’ I was freaked out.
As the students lay cowering on the floor, a man in a hooded sweatshirt pulled on a locked door, trying to get into the room. But here's the punchline -- it turned out that the threat was just a prank. And the pranksters were none other than the teachers, who were trying to make the kids think about what it would be like to be in a real situation like that. Two of the school employees responsible for the prank have now been suspended.

I can understand why it might be useful to stage a fake drill for an emergency such as a fire, but the logic of staging fake terror attacks escapes me. After all, what if someone were to fight back? Nevertheless, this is not the first time we've seen a situation like this. Back in August 2004 I posted about a fake terrorism drill that took place in a government office in Carter County, Tennessee, in which the local Emergency Management Director secretly arranged for armed intruders to burst into the office, fire shots in the air, and take hostages... prompting the workers to panic and run for cover.
Categories: Hate Crimes/Terror
Posted by Alex on Tue May 15, 2007
Comments (16)
image The tulip craze that hit Holland in the seventeenth century is arguably the most famous financial bubble in all of history. According to the popular account of what happened, prices for tulips began to go through the roof in 1636 as word spread that wealthy people were willing to pay huge sums of money for tulips. Soon the general population joined in the speculative fervor, many people using their life savings in order to buy bulbs, believing they could resell them at windfall profits. At the height of the mania, a single bulb cost as much as a mansion. But eventually reality set in. In 1637 panic selling commenced as people realized they were never going to make a return on their investments, and the price of bulbs crashed, losing over 90% of their value. Many people were financially ruined.

Like I said, that's the oft-told, popular account of what happened. But I've always been suspicious of it. For one thing, the main source many people rely on for their info about the tulipmania is Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which was written in the 19th century, and which doesn't offer any references to back up some of its rather far-fetched tales (such as the claim that one sailor was sentenced to months in jail for mistakenly eating a tulip bulb that he mistook for an onion).

Anne Goldgar debunks many of the legends of the tulip craze in her new book, Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age. For instance, according to the Financial Times review of her book, Goldgar was unable to find a single person who was bankrupted by the tulipmania.

Nor did the speculative craze include large sections of the population: "In lore, Dutch chimney sweeps spent their savings on bulbs, but in fact the buyers were mostly merchants and craftsmen from the province of Holland. These are the smug burghers we know from portraits of the era. Many were Mennonites."

A financial bubble in the tulip market really did occur, followed by a crash. However:
It's a myth that tulipmania devastated the Dutch economy. How could it, when so few people traded tulips? Even those who did survived the crash. Tulips were merely a sideline to their real professions. In any case, Goldgar explains, few buyers actually paid the exorbitant prices they had agreed. The crucial point is that this was a futures market. The flowers spent most of the year underground. Trades were made constantly, but were only paid for in summer when the bulbs were dug up. In the summer after the crash, most buyers simply refused to accept and pay for their bulbs. Some paid the sellers a small recompense, usually less than 5 per cent of the agreed price. These modest payouts don't seem to have ruined anyone. Rather, tulipmania damaged the code of honour that underlay Dutch capitalism. When buyers reneged, trust suffered. Tulipmania was a social crisis, not a financial one, argues Goldgar.
So most buyers simply refused to pay up for the bulbs after the crash. Unfortunately, in today's financial markets people don't have that kind of luxury. Nowadays, with a single click of a mouse, all your money disappears instantly and forever.
Categories: Business/Finance, History
Posted by Alex on Mon May 14, 2007
Comments (13)
Did escaping slaves fleeing from the South in the pre-Civil War era use secret codes woven into quilts to communicate with each other and guide them on their journey? That is the premise of the quilt-code theory, first popularized in a 1998 book written by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. A National Geographic article from 2004 elaborates on the theory:
A plantation seamstress would sew a sampler quilt containing different quilt patterns. Slaves would use the sampler to memorize the code. The seamstress then sewed ten quilts, each composed of one of the code's patterns. The seamstress would hang the quilts in full view one at a time, allowing the slaves to reinforce their memory of the pattern and its associated meaning. When slaves made their escape, they used their memory of the quilts as a mnemonic device to guide them safely along their journey.
Apparently a wrench pattern meant "gather your tools and get physically and mentally prepared to escape the plantation." A bear's paw meant "head north over the Appalachian Mountains." A tumbling blocks pattern meant "pack up and go." A bow tie pattern meant "to dress up or disguise themselves."

However, many historians dispute the existence of such a code, arguing that there's little evidence it ever existed or was used. The principal evidence for it comes from oral tradition, such as the testimony of a woman named Ozella McDaniel, who was a descendant of slaves, and told the story to Tobin and Dodard. She claimed the secret had been passed down from one generation to the next, without ever being written down.

A recent article in the Omaha World-Herald summarizes some of the arguments of quilt-code skeptics:
Quilt historians believe that the quilt connection to the Underground Railroad is a myth or folktale, and may even be a hoax concocted by a woman who sold quilts.
"So many people are buying into it because it's such a great story," said Sheila Green, chairwoman of education for the Nebraska State Quilt Guild. "It is just a story."
Green said quilt historians note that some of the quilt patterns said to have been part of the "code" to guide fleeing slaves did not even exist in the 1800s. For example, the pattern known as the "bow tie" - which some say told escaping slaves to dress up or disguise themselves - was not found in print until 1956. Kathy Moore, a quilt historian who lives in Lincoln, said it is possible that someone quilted that design before 1956 but that it did not have a name.
"It's the names that tell the story," she said. "This story is a myth that borders on a hoax."
Moore also said one must consider that fugitive slaves traveled at night and wouldn't have gotten close enough to a house to see the pattern of a quilt hanging on a clothesline or porch rail.
I don't know enough about the issue to form an opinion about whether or not the quilt code was real. I've never even read Tobin and Dodard's book. However, it does remind me of a few other secret-code theories covered on the MoH, such as the hanky code (which apparently is real), and powerline codes (which probably aren't real).
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Sat May 12, 2007
Comments (15)
image A couple out in Arizona, Richard and Monica Chapin, have built a moonlight magnifier (or, as they call it, an "interstellar light collector"). Exposure to concentrated lunar rays, they claim, can have all kinds of positive medical benefits. They hope it may even heal cancer. It cost them over $2 million to build the thing. According to their website, starlightuses.com, here's how the machine works:
The Interstellar Light Collector rotates a full 360 degrees, and can be aligned with the position of the moon to 1/10,000 of an inch in accuracy. With a collection surface of 3,000 square feet, the collected light can be focused into an area as large as 10 by ten feet or as small as 1mm that can pulsated or applied as a laser and transmitted directly into the accompanying research facility.
The Arizona Republic recently published an article about this device. They describe in a bit more detail exactly what happens during a therapeutic session:
Visitors receive "moonstones," or rocks purified by sunlight, before they enter the basking zone in twos and threes. They are instructed to soak them with lunar rays for a personally sanctifying energy.
The Chapins don't charge money for this, but they do encourage visitors to make $10 donations and are seeking investors.

I'm willing to accept that light therapy has positive benefits, but I'm skeptical that moonlight has healing powers any different or greater than those of sunlight. Why would it, since it's just reflected sunlight? The Chapins claim that moonlight can't burn us like sunlight (right, because it's a lot less bright) and that moonlight "presents a distinctive spectrum composed of more reds and yellows, and possesses a different frequency than sunlight. This specific light spectrum has never been artificially duplicated." They admit that the healing benefits of moonlight have never been scientifically tested, but they're gathering anecdotal evidence to build their case.

I actually think it would be kind of cool to experience this thing. Would it be possible to get a moon tan? But I wouldn't look on it as anything more than an entertaining novelty, and I wouldn't expect any medical benefits from it beyond those gained from light therapy in general.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Sat May 12, 2007
Comments (18)
image It began with a classified ad in the Fresno Bee: "Found: Large, obese goldfish. Approx 11yrs old, blind as a bat." The ad, placed by Lori Igasan, ran for a week, starting March 16, and soon attracted a lot of attention, especially after David Letterman talked about it on his show.

Igasan explained to reporters that she had just walked out of her house one day, when she happened to notice a large goldfish lying on her front lawn. Immediately she ran inside to place it in an aquarium with her pet turtle. She decided to place the ad in the paper in order to find the rightful owner of the fish.

A few weeks later another Fresno woman, Bernadette Planting, identified the goldfish as her own, Charley, who had recently gone missing from her above-ground pool. A local aquatics saleswoman speculated that the fish was picked up from the pool by a large bird and dropped 1.3 miles away on Igasan's lawn.

image
Lori Igasan and the goldfish
The Fresno Bee reported the happy reunion of Planting and Charley on May 9. A day later, after numerous readers called in identifying Igasan and Planting as long-time friends, The Bee admitted it had fallen for a hoax.

The two women confessed to the hoax, saying, "It was not our intention to hurt anybody." Apparently it all started when Igasan, the real owner of the fish, placed the unusual ad in the paper as a way to get rid of her unwanted goldfish. When the ad then attracted so much attention, Igasan talked her friend Planting into coming forward as the owner.

The executive editor of the Fresno Bee said, "We're disappointed that these ladies weren't honest, and disappointed that we didn't catch the hoax." The Bee is running a poll of its readers about the hoax. Currently, 44% think that the women should have told the truth, and only 8% think it was harmless fun. Seems like a harmless joke to me. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri May 11, 2007
Comments (15)
This trick is quite an interesting little demonstration of misdirection. I shan't say more, so as to not give it away, but keep your eyes peeled - there is more to this than just one trick.
(Thanks, Nettie and David B.)

Categories: Entertainment, Photos/Videos, Psychology
Posted by Flora on Thu May 10, 2007
Comments (17)
In this video a pair of crane weights falls on a car, completely crushing it. The odds of someone capturing this scene on video as they're driving down a street suggest that it must be fake, but it's a pretty well done fake. A professional agency must have created it. (via Digg)

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2007
Comments (12)
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