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August 2007
An article in the Japanese Mainichi Daily News (which claims to be merely repeating a story that appeared in a magazine called Fushigi Knuckles) tells the story of the attempt to introduce Wormburgers in Japan. An Aomori Prefecture company, so the story goes, tried to market worms as food for human consumption because of the high nutritional value of worms:
Instead of a beef patty, the Worm Burger used ground worms, cut the onions a little, added wheat flour, a runny egg and blended in milk to make it go down easier. The magazine notes that despite the best intentions, the Worm Burger ended up as a major flop. Marketers had been targeting women and young people, but appear to have struggled to overcome worms' image as a bizarre food.
Maybe this really happened, but probably not. It's more likely that this is a recycling of the old Wormburger urban legend from the late 1970s. This urban legend got launched when papers reported that food scientists were experimenting with earthworms as a source of protein. Take, for instance, this UPI article that appeared in a number of American newspapers in mid-December, 1975:
Sacramento, Calif. (UPI)
You may one day be eating earthworm casserole. And redworm cookies.
The lowly earthworm, ignored by almost everybody but the fisherman, is burrowing its way into the world of big business, and may be put to work soon to help man grow crops, dispose of garbage and even satisfy his dietary need for protein.
So says Frank Carmody, market development director for North American Bait Farms of Ontario, Calif., one of the nation's largest growing and marketing businesses ...
If produced in sufficient quantity at a cost competitive with other protein materials, he said, worms could be used as feed for pets, poultry, fish and other animals as well as food for people. Seventy-two per cent of a worm's dry weight is protein.
Sponsor of a worm recipe contest, North American Bait has received ideas for adding dried, crispy worms to salads, casseroles and cookies. Carmody says redworm cookies are "delicious."
After a few articles like this appeared, it was simply a matter of time before tales began to spread of McDonalds and other fast-food chains secretly using worms in their burgers. However, worms are in no way cost competitive with other sources of protein such as beef. So there's little reason to fear that fast-food chains will start padding their burgers with worms any time soon.
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 02, 2007
Comments (10)
image This has nothing to do with hoaxes, but I thought it was interesting, so I'm posting about it anyway. Also, it reminded me of the Compliment Machine, which I posted about just a few days ago.

I received an email from Jennifer Baumeister, who tells me that she's an artist from Berlin working on a project called Comfort XxL, the comforting machine. Here's a description of it:
The comforting machine is an art project by the German artist Jennifer Baumeister. She asks people from different origins, age and gender to say comforting words into her camera. Selected clips are accessible through the machine, which looks like an 80s gambling machine. The audience is able to press a button, selecting a woman, man or child and a randomly chosen clip is shown. The user can repeat this procedure indefinitely. Comfort XxL is not only a machine that comforts people, it is also supposed to show how different people comfort in individual ways, the range of 'comforting styles' people have. The experiences and character of the comforter are revealed in every comforting word they say.
Jennifer's website has some examples of clips viewable on the comforting machine. Jennifer is currently in England collecting comforting clips. She's next going to be in Belfast, from the 9th till the 18th of August 2007. So if you live in Belfast and want to say a few comforting words, check out where she's going to be.

I think I'm, in general, a pretty bad comforter. My usual tactic is to express puzzlement at why the person is so upset, and then I try to analyze the situation logically. However, I don't think logical analysis is what people seeking comfort are typically looking for.
Categories: Art, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 02, 2007
Comments (5)
An Italian scholar, Slavisa Pesci, claims to have uncovered new secret images hidden in Da Vinci's Last Supper by superimposing the painting on to its mirror image. When you do this you can supposedly see a woman holding a child, as well as a goblet in front of Jesus. Personally, I can't see anything at all. It all looks like a blurry mess. But Pesci seems to feel that Da Vinci intended for his painting to be viewed this way. He says, "from some of the details you can infer that we are not talking about chance but about a precise calculation."

Two years ago I posted about another Last Supper theory: The idea that an image of the holy grail is hidden in the painting, located on the wall above the head of St. Bartholomew, the disciple at the extreme left.

The hidden holy grail theory seems a lot more plausible to me than this mirror-image theory. (Thanks, Big Gary)
Categories: Art, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 02, 2007
Comments (9)
Scientific American reports that a nonsense word from The Simpsons has made its way into a scientific paper. Stanford University physicist Shamit Kachru managed to slip the word "embiggen" into a journal article titled "Gauge/gravity duality and meta-stable dynamical supersymmetry breaking."

The word embiggen first appeared in a 1996 episode of The Simpsons. It was used by Jebediah Springfield in these lines of dialogue:
Jebediah: [on film] A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
Edna: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield
Ms. Hoover: I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word.
Here's how Kachru used the word in his article:
While in both cases for P anti-D3-branes the probe approximation is clearly not good, in the set up of this paper we could argue that there is a competing effect which can overcome the desire of the anti-D3s to embiggen, namely their attraction towards the wrapped D5s. Hence, also on the gravity side, the non-supersymmetric states would naively be meta-stable.
This isn't the first time joke words have made their way into usage. I think the words "hornswoggle" and "absquatulate" started out as jokes, invented by people in the midwest. But now they appear in many dictionaries.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 01, 2007
Comments (20)
Many of you may remember Amazon reviewer Henry Raddick. Sadly, Raddick hasn't reviewed any books since 2003. But a new Raddick has emerged: Wayne Redhart. At least, Redhart seems to be doing what he can to fill the void left by Raddick.

And I was quite pleased to discover Redhart has reviewed Hippo Eats Dwarf. Here's his review:

Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S.
by Alex Boese
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.26

A fine guide, 29 Jul 2007
Covering such diverse topics as the Turin Shroud and the 'death' of Elvis Presley, this is an extremely witty and informative guide to notorious hoaxes. It never fails to go into detail and often comes out with little-known facts. I had never before realised that the publication of Alan Sokal's spoof scientific-paper constituted treason, or that he was jailed for seven years (a portion of the sentence having been served in Al Capone's former cell at Alcatraz). Similarly, it was a shock to learn that John Major is a dedicated crop-circle maker, who regularly rose before 3am to create arable-mischief: while serving as Prime Minister! Amazon users may be interested to note the inclusion of's top 500 reviewer Henry Raddick, whose many spoof reviews are well-known across the internet. Boese spends a little time exploring the psychology of hoaxers but, despite his best efforts, he is unable to come up with an answer to the biggest question: What actually motivates these morally-bankrupt buffoons to waste everybody's time on such vapid, unfunny pranks?

I wonder what he'd have to say about Elephants on Acid?
(Thanks, Andrew)
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 01, 2007
Comments (1)
image Lots of blogs have been posting this recent Intel ad, pointing out the racist implications of six black men appearing to bow down to a white man. (I actually think all the crouching runners are the same guy, photoshopped into six different places.)

Whether or not it's racist isn't the question. The question for the MoH is: Is it really an ad by Intel? After all, although it's been widely posted, most blogs haven't specified exactly where the ad ran.

The answer is that it definitely is an actual Intel ad. It appeared in a recent Dell catalog. seems to have been the first blog to post it. Intel has recently posted an explanation and apology on their blog:
Intel’s intent of our ad titled “Multiply Computing Performance and Maximize the Power of Your Employees” was to convey the performance capabilities of our processors through the visual metaphor of a sprinter. We have used the visual of sprinters in the past successfully.
Unfortunately, our execution did not deliver our intended message and in fact proved to be insensitive and insulting. Upon recognizing this, we attempted to pull the ad from all publications but, unfortunately, we failed on one last media placement.
We are sorry and are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 01, 2007
Comments (12)
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