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September 2007
A 1951 photo of a "yeti footprint" recently sold at Christie's for £3,500. That's almost $7000 (thanks to the lousy exchange rate we Americans are currently stuck with).

The photo was taken in the Himalayas in 1951 by Eric Shipton, who was a member of a reconaissance expedition scouting the region before attempting to climb Mt. Everest. Another member of the team, Tom Bourdillon, included this note with the picture when he sent it to his friend Michael Davies:
“Dear Mick, here are the footprint photos: sorry for the delay. We came across them on a high pass on the Nepal-Tibet watershed during the 1951 Everest expedition.
“They seemed to have come over a secondary pass at about 19,500ft, down to 19,000ft where we first saw them, and then went on down the glacier. We followed them for the better part of a mile.
“What it is, I don’t know, but I am quite clear that it is no animal known to live in the Himalaya, and that it is big. Compare the depths to which it and Mike Ward (no featherweight) have broken into the snow. Yours, Tom Bourdillon.”
If anyone wants some photos of footprints of the San Diego Yeti, taken in my backyard, I'm willing to sell them for a reasonable price. (Thanks, Cranky Media Guy)
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 28, 2007
Comments (5)
Cops Writing Cops claims to be a site created by a bunch of police officers in order to publicize the problem of cops who give other cops tickets for traffic violations. They invite cops who have been ticketed by other cops to write in with their stories. In their "About Us" section, they write:
Our mission is to try and bond our community by bringing the stories of how our brothers and sisters are sometimes mistreated by other brothers and sisters. Maybe after visiting this site and reading how much it really does affect other officers, you may think twice about giving that ticket. It's ONLY A TICKET! We're positive that there is someone more deserving of your attention than your own brother or sister.
Here they offer their argument about why cops should not be ticketed for traffic violations:
Best Buy employees get an employee price (which is awesome), Subway employees get free subs, military people get free hops on planes, airline employees get the jet around the world for free ($50 is free). Every profession gets some kind of 'perk'.
Whoever created the site has carefully concealed their identity. (The site was registered via Domains by Proxy.) This makes it difficult to know whether or not they're for real. But I'm having a hard time taking it seriously. It reads a lot like what someone who was angry at the police and wanted to make them look bad would create. (Thanks to James for the link)
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 28, 2007
Comments (10)
The website for Porthemmet Beach advertises that it is the best beach in Cornwall. It also claims that it's the only beach in the UK to allow topless sunbathing. So how does one find this beach? These are the directions on the website:
Porthemmet is very easy to get to from anywhere in Cornwall. Head north up the A30 until you see the signs. They are very clear, you can't miss it! It should be noted that there is a private joke in Cornwall whereby locals will pretend to not know where Porthemmet Beach is. Don't be fooled, every Cornish person knows about this beach, they are just having some fun. Tell them that you are an "emmet" (someone that loves Cornwall, see below) and that "there'll be ell-up" (nothing to do) if they don't tell you.
Apparently in recent months tourists have been trying to find this idyllic beach. But with no luck, because the beach doesn't exist. It's the tongue-in-cheek creation of Jonty Haywood, a teacher from Truro. According to the BBC, if people were actually to follow the directions to Porthemmet, they'd find themselves leaving the county. In an interview with The Independent, Haywood explained why he created the hoax website:

"Although I would like to claim there is an important underlying point being made here, there isn't. Sending tourists off to find an imaginary beach is funny."

(Thanks to Sarah Hartwell, messybeast.com)
Categories: Places, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 27, 2007
Comments (17)
Mark Singer has written an article for the New Yorker about the Joyce Hatto hoax, that was revealed earlier this year. I was busy finishing Elephants on Acid when it was making headlines, but Flora posted about it.

Hatto was supposedly a virtuoso pianist, whose talent was discovered only very late in her life, when she was already in her seventies. She was notable for being able to masterfully play a wide variety of works, including compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. But it turned out that her husband had been taking recordings of other pianists and claiming they were recordings of Joyce. Singer tries to understand what motivated Hatto's husband to do this. It's a good article. Definitely worth a read.
Categories: Music
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 27, 2007
Comments (4)
National Geographic has an article about a "hotbed of deception" in the natural world. It involves the genitals of a small, reddish-brown parasite called the bat bug. In order to protect themselves from the unwanted advances of male members of the species, female bat bugs have evolved a region on their body similar to a fake genital:
Researchers have long known that male bat bugs ignore females' conventional parts and instead use their sharp penises to stab the females' abdomens, injecting sperm directly into the bloodstream. So the females evolved a defense: structures called paragenitals that guide a male's needle-like member into a spongy reservoir of immune cells.
It turns out that male bat bugs sport a similar fake genital area, because males often perform "the same injurious sexual acts on other males." All in all, the sex life of the bat bug sounds like a rather unpleasant affair.
Categories: Science, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 27, 2007
Comments (2)
A study conducted in Germany found that "fake" acupuncture worked almost as well as "real" acupuncture, and that both performed better than conventional care (which included painkillers, massage, and heat therapy). Reportedly, 47 percent of patients receiving real acupuncture to treat lower back pain improved, as did 44 percent of the fake acupuncture group, but only 27 percent of the usual care group got relief. The study has been published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which is a reputable journal.

According to the AP report, this is what is meant by fake acupuncture:
For the sham acupuncture, needles were inserted, but not as deeply as for the real thing. The sham acupuncture also did not insert needles in traditional acupuncture points on the body and the needles were not manually moved and rotated.
Personally, I've always been skeptical of acupuncture because I don't think that the theory of "qi energy" has any more validity than the ancient western notion of humoral theory. So it made sense to me that fake acupuncture would work about the same as real acupuncture. What surprised me was that both performed better than painkillers.

It's hard to explain why any form of acupuncture would work, unless it triggers a placebo effect, or if the pain of inserting needles is causing the body to produce its own painkillers. But I'm still going to be reaching for the advil when I have a muscle ache instead of poking needles in myself. (via Side Effects May Vary)
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 25, 2007
Comments (12)
Due to my ongoing computer problems and personal situation, this is again brought to you by Madmouse.

Peruvian Meteorite (eovti)
An apparent meteorite landing in Peru has led to reports of illness amongst locals. Original suggestions for the cause of the sickness included radiation poisoning, but that seems unlikely.

Sign Language Translator (Madmouse)
There’s been a lot of discussion in the forum about this story. A group of UK students have developed a system to translate spoken or written words into British Sign Language that is then displayed by an avatar. Suggested uses include translating for meetings and for phone calls. This seems like a very good idea to me, although a lot more development is needed.

Belgium For Sale on Ebay (LaMa)
A disgruntled Belgian, protesting about Belgium’s political problems, put the country up for sale on Ebay. He pointed out that, although the nation is second-hand, the offer included free delivery.

Bigfoot Revealed!!! (gray)
A prankster who has posing as Bigfoot to scare campers for the last two years was captured in Manitoba. Apparently the man was less intimidated by the police than he was by the telling-off delivered by his last ‘victim’.
Categories: Cryptozoology, eBay, Identity/Imposters, Pranks, Science, Technology
Posted by Flora on Fri Sep 21, 2007
Comments (0)
A Chinese artist, Xu Zhen, claims to have climbed to the top of Mt. Everest, sawed off the top of it, and brought it back to China where he now has it on display in an art gallery. From the gallery's press release:
8848 is the publicly recognized height of the world’s tallest mountain, Mt. Everest. Artist Xu Zhen has sawed off 1.86 meters (his height) from the peak of Mt. Everest, and transported the piece to participate in this exhibition. Audiences may not believe that this is real, which is similar to how people rarely question whether the height of Everest truly is 8848 meters. This relationship between belief and doubt has to deal with questions of standard, height, reality, and borders, that the Long March - Chinatown is interested in examining. The work points to the ridiculousness of people’s belief in "facts" and "universal truths". The work "ridicules" humankind’s quest for "height" to overturn and disrupt the preconceived social and historical values.
Along with the top of Mt. Everest, gallery visitors can view a video of Xu Zhen's team sawing off the peak. 3. I wonder if they "explain" exactly how they "transported" it back down once they "sawed it off." (via kottke.org)

Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 21, 2007
Comments (10)
The Smith family, owners of Hee Haw Farms in Utah County, weren't too pleased when they found a crop circle in their corn maze. According to the Deseret News:
Two strategically positioned circles, each measuring 36 feet in diameter, and a 100-foot-long rectangle appeared near the maze entrance in the southwest portion of the nine-acre corn field over Labor Day weekend. From the ground they appear random, but from above the shapes' placement appears more strategic, not to mention anatomically correct.
What kind of message are the extraterrestrials trying to send? Unfortunately I couldn't find an aerial picture of this crop formation. (Crop circle seems like the wrong word.)
Categories: Crop Circles, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 21, 2007
Comments (2)
A picture of an apparently floating barn has recently been making the rounds.



According to whoever posted it on panoramio.com, the barn is located in Ukraine, 1 km from Krasnosilka. However, the same person also titled the picture "kin-dza-dza," which is the title of a Russian science-fiction movie. I don't know if that's supposed to mean that the picture looks like something out of a science-fiction movie, or if it's fake.

I'm inclined to think that the building is real, and that the image wasn't photoshopped. I think that the steel beams at the back of the building could support the entire structure. Here's another image of the building, from a different angle.

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 20, 2007
Comments (23)
The Mail on Sunday reports that a British company called Ecowatts claims to have created a device that seems to create energy from virtually nothing. It's a 12-inch tube that you plug into your electrical outlet. The device then creates more heat energy than the electrical energy put into it can account for. They hope to market this revolutionary tube as a home-heating device.

Sounds like another free-energy scam to me. If the device really did output more energy than is put into it, heating homes would be the least of its abilities. You could use these things to create limitless amounts of power at virtually no cost.

Jim Lyons, who works at the University of York, apparently tested the device and has given it his stamp of approval. If a real researcher from a respected University has okayed the device, then it must be for real. Or, maybe not. Here's Jim Lyons's bio from scimednet.org:
After an initial industrial career as a chartered engineer, I am currently in the academic world and have been at the University of York for the last twelve years. Following a period in the Department of Computer Science, I have become involved with the innovative process of engaging academia with the world of commerce, developing research, particularly into sustainable technologies.
The constraining perspective and narrowly defined disciplines of western academic life drove a need to engage with colleagues having a much wider vision of the world. The SMN offered the ideal vehicle. Involvement since the early 1990s with like minded people from diverse backgrounds with their `no blinkers` interdisciplinary approach now seems so natural and indeed the obvious way to progress.
My research area is in the field of non-locality of Consciousness. The emerging new models describing an active Aether can begin to account for many phenomena such as Healing, Synchronicity, Psychometry etc, currently not even considered in mainstream Science. The open mindedness implicit in the SMN philosophy is what Science should truly be about.
I'd wager that Ecowatts's miracle tube never makes it to market as a working device. (Thanks to Russell Jones for the link)
Categories: Free Energy
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 18, 2007
Comments (25)
A website called Is My Baby Gay offers to inform you of your child's sexual preferences for a fee of only $19.99. They direct customers to print out a circle on a piece of paper. You're then supposed to apply the tongue of your baby to the center of the circle for 15 seconds. You mail this piece of paper to the "Is My Baby Gay" testing center, and they promise to get back to you with an answer within two weeks. If they turn out to be wrong, they promise that they'll refund 150% of your purchase price.

At first I thought this had to be a joke, but apparently they really will take your money. They've set up a paypal payment system to do so. Which transforms this from a joke into something more like a scam. [Note: I didn't actually try to pay them anything, so perhaps at the last minute they decline to take your money... but somehow I doubt it.]

On their front page they've included a phrase which is apparently their legal escape clause: "Results are intended for entertainment purposes only."

I'd like to think that no one would actually take this site seriously and mail in their baby's saliva sample. But there's probably someone out there dumb enough to think this might be for real.

Even dumber would be someone knowing there is no such thing as a saliva test for sexual preference, but paying $19.99 anyway just for the fun of getting some bogus results.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 18, 2007
Comments (17)
Cranky Media Guy forwarded me this article on Ananova.com about a Czech speedway rider who suffered a concussion during a race, was knocked out, and woke up speaking perfect English, with a posh British accent... even though he barely spoke a word of English before. His command of English only lasted for 48 hours, at which point his memory returned, as did his native Czech, and his English disappeared.

CMG is skeptical. He says, "The Foreign Accent Syndrome mentioned in the last paragraph is a real phenomenon but that's very different from a guy who doesn't speak a language suddenly acquiring the ability to speak it, which I can't see could be possible."

But I'm not so sure. The story has been reported in a number of newspapers, and in the version on metro.co.uk, one of the rider's friends is quoted as saying, "Before his crash, his use of the English language was broken, to put it mildly."

Which means that he did know some English. It's very possible he knew more than he realized. Perhaps he woke up dazed, heard people around him speaking English (because the race was in England), and his brain went into English mode. It could happen. However, I'd be interested in knowing just how well he could carry on a conversation in English.
Categories: Literature/Language, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 17, 2007
Comments (9)
An image showing a "suicidal teens welcome" sign in the window of an armed forces career center has recently been circulating again.



The image is at least six months old. And no, it's not real. The sign is a reference to an episode of The Simpsons in which a similar sign was shown in the window of an army recruiting center.

The only question is whether the image is photoshopped, or did someone surreptitiously stick the sign in the window of the recruiting center and then snap the picture?

I would say it's definitely photoshopped. The hoaxer probably created an image of the sign, pasted it into the image of the armed forces center, and then decreased the opacity of the sign so that it blended into the window. Using this technique, it took me about 10 seconds to add the Museum of Hoaxes banner beneath the "Suicidal Teens Welcome" sign.

Categories: Military, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 17, 2007
Comments (8)
A real-life version of the "killer in the backseat" urban legend has been reported. Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand gives the following description of this classic tale in his Encyclopedia of Urban Legends:
"Would-be killer lurks in back, detected by motorist or gas-station attendant." In all versions, the intended victim is a woman. In the versions in which another motorist spots the assailant, the driver notices that the car or truck following her keeps blinking his lights or shifting them to the high beam. When she reaches home -- still followed by the blinking vehicle -- the other driver rushes to her car and pulls out the lurking stranger. In the gas-station versions, the driver is asked by the attendant to come into the office because of some problem with her credit card. The attendant then locks the office door, tells her about the threat from behind, and calls the police.
In the incident that was recently reported, a 23-year-old woman reported finding an intruder lurking in the back seat of her SUV as she drove home from a class at Calhoun Community College. From The Decatur Daily News:
McNatt said she arrived for her 4:30 p.m. class at Calhoun, parked behind Harris Hall and locked her SUV.
She remained on campus until about 9 p.m. She used her secret code to unlock the SUV.
As she drove, she talked on her cell phone to her brother.
"When she got on the river bridge on Interstate 65, a white male sat up in the very back of her vehicle," McNatt said. "He said he wanted her to take him somewhere."
The woman's brother heard a scream and then lost the phone connection with his sister.
Nothing happened to the woman. She simply parked the car, got out, and the guy walked away. Police are investigating the incident. It seems harsh to be suspicious of someone who's been through a scary event like this, but it's hard not to be a little skeptical about whether this really happened, given how closely it parallels the urban legend.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 14, 2007
Comments (9)
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