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November 2007
The rumor going around online is that in one of the previews for the new Disney movie Enchanted, you can hear someone say "Get the f*ck outta here."

The preview in question shows the Prince attacking a bus. The exclamation can be heard around 30 seconds into it, as the bus driver is walking out of the bus.

The first time I listened to it, it definitely sounded like "Get the f*ck outta here." But when I listened to it again, it sounded more like "Get that bus outta here." Basically, it seems to me it could be interpreted either way. Who's to say what the correct way of hearing it is.

I haven't seen the movie, but I assume this scene must occur in the theatrical version as well. It will be interesting to see if the ambiguous phrase makes it into the DVD version, or if it will be edited out. (via Cinematical)
Categories: Entertainment, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 29, 2007
Comments (16)
I came across an interesting article, published in the New York Times on June 11, 1950, that discusses a series of experiments examining how likely it is that college students will bluff their way through exams. For instance, when Professor Samuel Fernberger, of the University of Pennsylvania, gave his students their final exam, in one of the questions he asked them to define "psychoterminality." It was a meaningless term, but the students didn't know that. According to the NY Times:

Only two students honestly stated they did not know what the term meant. Six left the question blank. But the other twenty-one handed in expositions, ranging from one-half to three pages long, in which they solemnly described it as, among other things, "automatism," "vitalism," "hypnosis" and the "behavior of the lower animals." It was astonishing because, of course, Dr. Fernberger had just coined this mythical word for the occasion.

Professors Ernst F. Thelin and Paul C. Scott of the University of Cincinnati conducted the most thorough investigation of bluffing. They gave 147 college students a test that included numerous trick questions. For instance, they asked the students to indicate the authors of nonexistent books or to define made-up words:

Bluffing was defined by the investigators as "pretending to have greater knowledge than is actually possessed." Some bluffing was done by all students, varying from 5 to 81 per cent. Freshmen bluffed most; seniors least. The average bluffing score of the men (45.8 per cent) was slightly higher than that of the women (43.4 per cent).

Finally the article refers to a study that examined other members of society. An investigator visited bakery shops and asked for "scroofles":

Instead of saying they'd never heard of this mythical product... a surprising number of bakers bluffed they were just out of 'scroofles,' or were not baking 'scroofles' currently because of the lack of demand.

My hunch is that all the figures for the prevalence of bluffing would be even higher today than they were in 1950. But today we'd be more likely to call it bullshitting than bluffing.
Categories: Psychology
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 29, 2007
Comments (17)
Back in 1994 Linda Katz created a website which she named the Prairie Tumbleweed Farm. At the time it was just a joke. She didn't really have a tumbleweed farm. She had dreamed it up as something to do while teaching herself web design. But it turned out that there really are people out there who want to order tumbleweeds. For instance, movie studios or people hosting wild-west parties. And they started to place orders for tumbleweeds with Linda. Now, according to Yahoo! News, Linda is earning over $40,000 a year selling tumblweeds. I find this quite inspirational, and I've been racking my brains trying to think of ways to duplicate her success. But the only idea I've been able to come up with so far is to start a San Diego Street Trash Farm. I don't think it would enjoy the same success. (Thanks to Cranky Media Guy for the link).
Categories: Business/Finance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 29, 2007
Comments (8)
Here's a story I missed last month, even though it occurred right here in my backyard (figuratively speaking). FoxSports.com took the lead in disseminating it, but versions of it, such as the one below (from the Seattle Times) appeared in many papers:

The San Diego Chargers moved their practice operations to Arizona during last week's devastating fires in Southern California, depriving special-teams coach Steve Crosby of a genuine Kodak moment back home.
As Jay Glazer reported at FoxSports.com: "Crosby received a call from his wife informing him that she walked outside to assess the damage and get this she found a hippopotamus in their swimming pool! A hippo!
"She called the authorities, who came and tranquilized the animal and removed it."
The Crosbys live near the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Turns out there was no escaped hippo lounging in Steve Crosby's swimming pool. The San Diego Wild Animal Park doesn't even have hippos (though the San Diego Zoo does). Crosby claims that it was a locker-room joke that somehow got mistaken as real news.

He should have said there was a hippo in his pool eating a dwarf.
Categories: Animals, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 29, 2007
Comments (1)
Ocean's 11 Conman
"It was one of the most audacious jewel thefts in history. In the middle of a crowded room, the famed Star of the Empress Sisi was stolen from its high-security case and replaced with a replica." (Thanks, Joe)

Turkey Mystery
Turkeys mysteriously show up in a town, and then wander away. "After entertaining residents of Harborview Drive on Thanksgiving morning, 15 turkeys departed - in single file - about 1 p.m. Thursday and have not been seen since, residents said Friday."

FEMA not the only agency to hold fake press conferences
Apparently Immigration and Customs Enforcement does it too. (Thanks, Gary)

The EPFX Quack Medicine Machine
Its inventor, William Nelson, claims it can diagnose and destroy disease. The FDA says it's a fraud. And it's just one example from the growing field of "energy medicine." (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Animals, Health/Medicine, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 27, 2007
Comments (4)
I'm not sure what to make of this video. Is it true or false?

It describes how to charge an iPod with an onion. The instructions are that you first poke a hole in the onion, then you soak it in an electrolyte solution (Gatorade). Once the onion has soaked up enough of the Gatorade, you simply push the usb adapter of your iPod's power cable into the onion, and according to the guys who made the video "your iPod will power up and it should begin charging."

I'm sure that the onion would generate some electricity. It's the part about sticking the usb adapter directly into the onion that surprised me. Somehow it just seems too easy. And I don't want to potentially ruin my iPod by testing it out.

Categories: Food, Photos/Videos, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 27, 2007
Comments (25)
Researchers from UC Irvine and the University of Padua in Italy have found that doctored photos can alter our perceptions and memories of public events. The researchers showed subjects either an actual or an altered photo of one of two historical events, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing and the 2003 anti-war protest in Rome. The Tiananmen Square photo was altered to include a crowd, and the Rome photo was altered to show riot police and a masked protester. LiveScience reports:

When answering questions about the events, the participants had differing recollections of what happened. Those who viewed the altered images of the Rome protest recalled the demonstration as violent and negative and recollected more physical confrontation and property damage than actually occurred. Participants who viewed the doctored photos also said they were less inclined to take part in future protests, according to the study.

Elizabeth Loftus, who designed the study (and whom I write about in Elephants on Acid), warns that doctoring photos in this way is "potentially a form of human engineering that could be applied to us against our knowledge and against our wishes, and we ought to be vigilant about it."

Big Gary says, "The Ministry of Truth already knew this."

Incidentally, I'm sure that everyone who came on the 2006 Museum of Hoaxes Trip to Loch Ness remembers when Nessie suddenly appeared right behind our boat. If you don't, here's a picture to jog your memory:

Categories: Photos/Videos, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 27, 2007
Comments (7)
On his Art of the Prank blog, Joey Skaggs recounts how he was recently contacted by CBS TV, who were recruiting pranksters for a reality TV show, tentatively called "Pranksters." The concept of the show is that "comedians compete for a chance at their prank show." Kind of like HGTV's Design Star, except with pranksters. CBS wanted to know if Joey would be interested in participating. His comment:
Do they not see the irony in what they are trying to do? They are asking pranksters — people who have dedicated a large portion of their brain cells to coming up with ways to secretly confound, obfuscate and obliterate all semblance of authority in their lives — to submit their best pranking efforts to a committee of lawyers, producers and network executives for approval and then to be judged by some panel of “experts”?

Joey initially contemplated using his tried-and-true strategy of getting a friend to pretend to be him. But after he realized that any involvement with the show would give CBS the "irrevocable, unlimited, perpetual, worldwide, royalty and payment-free license to use and reproduce my materials in this program" he decided to wash his hands of them altogether.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 26, 2007
Comments (2)
A perfect prank should be funny, but it should also make a statement and actually make the world a better place. I figure the prank recently revealed to have been perpetrated by the Untergunther, a French "cultural guerrilla" group, comes pretty close to fulfilling that definition. Members of the Untergunther secretly repaired a clock in the Pantheon, a Paris landmark. The clock had been broken for decades -- until one day it was mysteriously working again. The Guardian reports:
For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon's unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid "illegal restorers" set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building's famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

Instead of thanking them, the Centre of National Monuments, which felt embarrassed by the prank, decided to bring legal action against the group. The court recently cleared the charges against them.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 26, 2007
Comments (9)
I'm on the road up to Lake Tahoe for Thanksgiving, but here's a few quick links I've been meaning to post.

Online hoax leads to girl's suicide
The case of Megan Meier is attracting lots of attention, both online and offline. Megan believed that a young guy on MySpace was interested in her, but when Josh started to send her nasty messages, she committed suicide. Later it was discovered that "Josh" was a fake alias created by adults in Megan's neighborhood. A bizarre case, and one that underlines how important it is for kids to learn to be skeptical about information (and people) they find online.

Man Accused of Posing as a Lawyer
Cranky Media Guy writes, "I love the lawyer's "explanations" of his client's behavior."

Belly Dancer Indicted Over Fake Degree
"A high-profile belly dancer has been indicted for allegedly fabricating her university diploma, a prosecution official said Tuesday in the latest fake-degree scandal to hit education-obsessed South Korea." Since when has it become important for belly dancers to have advanced degrees?

Let's Marry Before Hanging Up
The latest prank from Pakistan: "The latest spin for the emergency helpline (Rescue 15) operators is prank calls from girls, who first report a ‘crime’ and then ask operators to marry them over the telephone." What are kids going to dream up next?
Categories: Death, Law/Police/Crime, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 21, 2007
Comments (25)
The students of Ohio State are in mourning after a hawk killed Whitey, an albino squirrel that was widely known around the campus. A facebook page has been created to honor Whitey's memory. It currently has over 2100 members. The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper, reports:
Whitey's life was cut short at around 2 p.m. Friday when a hawk spotted his white fur coat from above and flew in for the kill. Several students walking through the South Oval witnessed the aftermath of the attack, the proud hawk looming over its prey...
After about five minutes, the hawk flew away with its talons fastened to the squirrel's lifeless body. The hawk made it as far as the other side of the South Oval when Whitey's weight forced the predator to land. In some nearby shrubbery the hawk sampled his prey before flying away.

This reminded me of the Killer Hawk of Chicago, which got Chicagoans upset back in 1927 because it was killing pigeons outside the Art Institute. A lot of people had doubts about whether the Killer Hawk of Chicago was actually real, or whether it was the invention of a paper trying to drum up sales. But it sounds like Ohio State's Whitey-killing Hawk is real.
Categories: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 19, 2007
Comments (7)
Here's a case that could be described as what you get when you cross Mythbusters with the Darwin Awards.

A 16-year-old boy living in the Tampa area heard a legend that a pipe that ran under the U.S. 301 bridge was filled with gold. Other people told him that it was actually an ammonia pipe leading to a fertilizer company. So the kid decided to test it out for himself and find out what the truth was:
The anhydrous ammonia that flows through the pipeline from the port to fertlizer companies in Polk County is highly caustic. It causes burns on contact and can cause respiratory distress. The teen was burned when he drilled into the pipeline.
The cousins who were with him told the boy not to break into the pipeline and had turned to leave when they heard a noise as he breached the pipe, Carter said. The boys then went home. When the injured teen's symptoms worsened, he told his mother what had happened, and she called an ambulance.

I bet he next sues the county, claiming they should have put a sign up warning people not to drill into the pipe in search of gold.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 18, 2007
Comments (9)
When a Russian woman recently gave birth to quintuplets, it made news around the world. But BBC viewers who watched the footage of the babies might have thought something was a little odd. Why were the babies crying, even though they had respirators in their mouths? It turns out the cries were dubbed in:
The BBC has admitted that it added the sound of crying to a report yesterday on the birth of a set of quintuplets. It is the latest in a series of rows over fakery to hit the corporation in recent months...
Footage of the infants was distributed by the hospital, but it was silent. Yet when the BBC ran the story on its website, the images were accompanied by the sound of babies crying, even though the quintuplets had respirators in their mouths...
Other television networks broadcast the clips without the sound of crying...
A BBC spokesman said: "We received the film without sound and, although we do not believe viewers were materially misled, we should not have added sound to these pictures."
Categories: Birth/Babies, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 18, 2007
Comments (7)
Jose Halloy, a biologist at the Free University of Brussels, created little robot cockroaches that he programmed to behave in ways similar to real cockroaches. For instance, he could program the robo-roaches to prefer a light or dark shelter. The interesting part is that when he coated these robot roaches with roach pheromones, other roaches seemed to accept them as one of their own, and even would follow their lead:

Halloy initially programmed the robots to have the same darkness preference as the cockroaches, and they joined the cockroaches at whatever shelter the majority chose to rest in. Next, Halloy programmed the robots to prefer the lighter shelter. About 60% of the time, the robots tipped the group's preference in favor of the light shelter. "This is a true example of automated leadership," says David Sumpter of Uppsala University in Sweden. "Instead of the robots rounding up the cockroaches like sheepdogs, they lead through social attraction."

This reminds me of something. I'd like to go on record as stating that I completely deny the rumor that the real Alex drowned in Loch Ness some years ago, and that I am merely a "robot Alex coated with pheromones." Though, of course, if I were a robot Alex coated with pheromones, I would deny it, wouldn't I?
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 18, 2007
Comments (3)
Here's a case for the Streater sisters to tackle. Scotsman.com reports that:

FAKE fishmongers are continuing to operate in Edinburgh, targeting residents in Newington and Fairmilehead in the past week, according to Trading Standards.

It seems that these scam artists are wrapping Vietnamese catfish in polystyrene and cling film, then labeling it as "monkfish fillet," and using high-pressure sales techniques to get random people on the street to buy the phony fish. Up to three of them might surround a customer at a single time. Reportedly, "a person in Newington paid £90 for fish, while another paid almost £400 to the individuals."

This is a dastardly crime! Imagine just walking along the street and suddenly being surrounded by fishmongers. It would be enough to break anyone's will. The police report that the individuals "are believed to be trading from a white van with 'Sarrillion' printed on the side."
Categories: Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 16, 2007
Comments (5)
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