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December 2007
Blogissues.com has posted a list of the Top 15 Hoax Websites. And guess which site comes in at #11? Cranky Media Guy's Tom's Girl hoax! Congratulations, Bob!

One of these days I need to post my own list of the top hoax websites. It's one of those things I've been meaning to do for ages, but haven't gotten around to it.

Also, virtualhosting.com has a list of the Top 20 Hilarious and Creative Internet Scams. Some of their choices seem highly debatable. For instance, they include the question of whether, during the final episode of The Sopranos, "the man standing at the counter was Nikki Leotardo, Phil’s nephew who had been on the show before and who could have been out to kill Tony." How does that count as a creative internet scam? But it's their list. They can put whatever they want on it.
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 12, 2007
Comments (6)
There seems to be a flurry of art hoaxes in the news recently. Here's three of them:

Fake Faun
The Art Institute of Chicago has admitted that a half-man, half-goat ceramic figure, once believed to have been sculpted by Paul Gauguin, is probably a fake. Instead, it was probably made by the Greenhalgh family who made the work in their garden shed.

Fake Warhol Brillo Boxes
Stockholm's National Museum of Art has stated that 105 "Brillo Boxes" attributed to Andy Warhol were actually created after his death.

Fake Terracotta Soldiers
A German museum has been hosting an exhibit of China's "Terracotta Army," but has now been forced to place signs outside the exhibit warning visitors that the pieces may not be authentic.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 12, 2007
Comments (0)
Recently Doris Alman received a postcard inside a plain white envelope. The postcard was sent from her mother and father, vacationing in Flagstaff, Arizona, to her grandmother in Audobon, Iowa. It had been mailed on Sept. 24, 1968. The envelope that held the postcard had a one-line return address: Lost Postcard Rescue Department. It had been mailed recently from Brooklyn, New York.

Doris Alman says she has no idea who could have mailed the old postcard to her. Whoever it was did some good research, because Alman no longer has the last name as her parents.

The U.S. Post Office says that there is no such thing as a "Lost Postcard Rescue Department" associated with the postal service. Nor was the envelope the postcard was sent in an official Postal Department letter. (If it were, it would have been stamped with a Postal Department stamp.)

So apparently there's a random prankster out there sending old, non-delivered postcards back to people. The Globe Gazette reports:
Douglas Wick of Hedemarken Collectibles in Bismarck, N.D., deals in postal history, including postcards.
“It isn’t uncommon at all to find postcards,” he said. “They tend to get saved a lot more frequently than things you receive in an envelope. Postcards get saved because of the picture.”
Wick, who has operated his postal history business for 20 years, said he hasn’t heard of the Lost Postcard Rescue Department either.
“It isn’t likely a private business simply because there is an expense involved in sending the envelope,” said Wick. “To me this sounds like some kind of weird practical joke.”
Alman says she doesn’t know anyone who would have access to the card.
And she doesn’t know anyone who has been to Brooklyn lately to drop it in a mailbox.
“It’s just very puzzling to me,” Alman said with a grin. “I’ve actually laid awake nights wondering who could have sent it to me.”
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 10, 2007
Comments (7)
Last month a rumor began to circulate alleging that Santas were being banned from saying "Ho, Ho, Ho" because "Ho" is a slang term for a prostitute. As is often the case with such rumors, there was an event that triggered the rumor, but that event had been twisted and blown out of proportion in the course of being repeated.

What really happened was that Westaff, a firm in Australia that trains Santas for appearances in shopping malls, had cautioned its trainees that many small children are initially scared by Santa. So they told the Santas-in-training "to try techniques such as lowering their tone of voice and using 'ha, ha, ha' to encourage the children to come forward and meet Santa." They never banned their Santas from Ho, Ho, Ho-ing.

Westaff's words of caution transformed into the Ho-Ho-Ho-Banned rumor. And as the rumor spread details were added, such as a claim that two Santa trainees had quit the course in disgust.

The ho, ho, ho rumor has been widely debunked, but it's still circulating around. Here's a recent sighting of it in UIC's Chicago Flame:
Westaff sent a memo out to encourage Santas to say "ha ha ha" because "ho ho ho" may scare children or offend women. Unless a woman is a "ho," she most likely won't be offended by the phrase.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 10, 2007
Comments (6)
Authors love to read reviews of their books, especially positive ones. So, as an author, it's difficult to resist the temptation to periodically check out the Amazon page for your book, to see if readers have posted any new reviews of it. However, in Hippo Eats Dwarf I pointed out the danger of taking such reviews too seriously because so many of them are posted either by friends of the author -- or by rivals. In fact, I actually invited people to post fake reviews of Hippo Eats Dwarf. (You need to go to the early reviews to find the fake ones -- they're obvious when you see them.)

Inviting people to post fake reviews seemed appropriate for Hippo Eats Dwarf, since that book is all about fakery, but it didn't seem to fit for Elephants on Acid. So I never asked anyone to post a review. But when I last checked Elephants on Acid's Amazon product page, I discovered that a fake review had found its way on there anyway. Or rather, a spam review. But the identity of the person posting the spam surprised me. Here's the latest review of Elephants on Acid, posted by "DISINFO CEO":



The review follows the tried-and-true formula of comment spam. A meaningless platitude, followed by a plug for the product the spammer is trying to promote, which in this case is a book by Mark Pilkington. But if you check out the page for Pilkington's book, you'll discover that DISINFO CEO has posted a review there as well -- and in that review he pretty much reveals that he's the publisher of Pilkington's book!



In other words, someone who appears to be the CEO of the Disinformation Company is leaving comment spam on Amazon -- on the page for my book! I've never had any contact with the Disinformation Company, but I am aware of them and had always thought they published some interesting stuff, which is why it really surprised me that THEY, of all companies, would do something that tacky. The irony here is that DISINFO CEO, on his profile page, claims his nickname is "DeathToSpammers".

The possibility that DISINFO CEO is actually someone with no affiliation to the Disinformation Company crossed my mind, but what would be their motive to do this?

I clicked the link to flag DISINFO CEO's review of my book as inappropriate, since I think it's obviously spam. If Amazon agrees, the review may no longer be there by the time you read this.

Update: Amazon has deleted the spammy review. An irony is that I actually thought Pilkington's book sounded really interesting, so I ordered it -- but I ordered it from a used bookstore, so the Disinformation Company won't get any money from the sale. Ha!
Categories: Literature/Language, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 07, 2007
Comments (6)
If you saw a wallet lying on the ground, what would you do? A lot of people might, out of curiosity, pick it up to examine it. They might even walk away with it. But if they did, they could find themselves surrounded by police and facing arrest.

This happened to Carlos Alayo who picked up a wallet he saw laying on a New York City subway platform. When he went to get on the train, police stopped him. WNBC.com explains:
The 32-year-old had been ensnared in Operation Lucky Bag, an initiative from the New York City Police Department to lay decoys -- shopping bags, purses, backpacks or wallets -- around the subway system under the watchful gaze of officers who wait to see what passersby will do. The decoys often contain real credit cards issued under pseudonyms to the police department. Theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a felony that could lead to jail time.
Police said that Operation Lucky Bag led to 101 arrests last year. Those individuals had a combined total of 761 prior arrests last year, said police spokesman Paul Browne.
"A person who takes or finds property which is lost or mislaid has a legal obligation to make efforts to return the property to its owner, which can include delivering the property to police," Browne said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has complained about Operation Lucky Bag, suggesting that there must be better uses of police time. I didn't even realize it was illegal to take a wallet laying on the ground. I would try to find out who it belonged to and return it to them, but I wouldn't have thought it was illegal not to do this.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 06, 2007
Comments (13)
In the summer of 2004 pranksters used herbicide to trace the outline of a giant phallus in the football field located inside Harman-Geist Stadium in Northeastern Pennsylvania. When the grass died, the phallus became visible.

Maintenance crews did their best to hide the phallus by painting it green, but eventually the paint wore away. And now the prank has succeeded in reaching an even wider audience, thanks to satellite technology.

Overhead satellite imagery of the stadium -- and giant phallus -- has shown up on google maps. You can see it for yourself by searching for the address "300 N. Cedar St., Hazleton, Pa." and then zooming in to see the stadium.

An interesting thing I noticed. One of the streets leading to the stadium is called Shaft Rd., which seems very appropriate.

The organization that does the satellite imagery says that it plans to resurvey that region in early 2009. Until then, the football-field phallus will remain on google maps.

Categories: Places, Pranks, Sports
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 06, 2007
Comments (2)
Ever since humans first made it into space, there have been rumors of sex-in-space experiments. Such rumors are doing the rounds again, and this time it's the Russians who are the focus of them. Russian officials decided they should go on record to deny them:

"There is no proof ... that on any mission cosmonauts had sex," the deputy head of the Institute of Bio-Medical Problems, Valery Bogomolov, told a news conference in Moscow.
"Cosmonauts, too, are regular people, but ... I have not heard about any sex in orbit," he said.
The Russian scientist referred to an experiment conducted by the institute, which researches space health issues by simulating flight conditions on a mission to Mars.
Six cosmonauts, including a woman, had spent two weeks isolated in a zero-gravity capsule, Bogomolov said, but "there were no complaints over the absence of sex."
Speculation over sex in space has been rife since a woman first joined the team of three boarding the cramped Soyuz rocket to the international space station in 1982.
In 1991, US sweethearts Jan Davis and Mark Lee married shortly before their joint space orbit, fuelling rumours in the United States.
The Russian institute appeared to be responding to a document widely circulated on the internet about an alleged 1996 experiment carried out by the US space agency NASA.
The experiment allegedly tested 10 different positions, including the help of elastic bands and other fastening devices, for optimal zero-gravity reproduction.
"We do not have such experiments in our country," Bogomolov said.

I like that last line. Apparently the Russians have no problem with experiments involving two-headed dogs or human-ape hybrids, but they draw the line at sex-in-space research.
Categories: Science, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 06, 2007
Comments (7)
Alek Komarnitsky is back with his web-controlled Christmas lights. These are the lights that started out as a hoax, but have transformed, by popular demand, into something real. Alek writes:

There are three live webcams and X10 powerline control technology system so web surfers can not only view the action, but also *control* the 17,000 lights. Heck, you can even inflate/deflate the giant Elmo, Frosty, Santa, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Homer Simpson – D’OH! wink

While people around the world (157 countries last year) enjoy seeing the lights ON, environmentalists will be happy to know that they can turn the lights OFF with a click of the mouse. Better yet, this is the 4th year I'm using 100% Wind Energy and even though that is "clean" energy, I even did a Carbon Offset contribution for the 0.61 Tons of CO2 for the ~MegaWatt-Hour of power consumed; that's about the same as *one* cross-country airline trip. Finally, by providing viewing via webcam, you don't need to burn fossil fuels by driving around to see christmas lights - Al Gore would be proud!

He encourages visitors to his site to make a donation to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 06, 2007
Comments (1)
SellMyDna.com offers to help you sell a sample of your DNA to a research company, New Line Genetics, who will then obtain a patent for it. They pay $5000!

Better yet, you can even sell your friend's DNA, because once a cell leaves their body, it no longer belongs to them. From their website:
SellMyDNA.com does not condone the patenting of other’s DNA without their permission. However, what better way to surprise your loved ones for a birthday or holiday event than giving the gift of $5,000 and the knowledge that their genetic material is helping to enhance scientific research!

However SellMyDna.com is not a real company, as you can find out if you dig deep enough into it's site and come across the disclaimer: "these sites are a satirical “what if” pertaining to something that, for all intents and purposes, could be a reality in the not-so-distant future."

Wired's science blog reports that SellMyDna.com was created by Anthony Martin, whose myspace profile states, "I am striving to make the world a better place and usher in the new era of human evolution with the use of accelerated genetics techniques."
Categories: Science, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 05, 2007
Comments (0)
Stewart Bright lived with Marjorie Hervey, founder of the Hervey Foundation for Cats, a charity for injured cats. But when Bright and Hervey had a falling out, "Bright accused Ms Hervey of needlessly killing kittens and emailed about 600 supporters of the charity with an attached picture showing a hand with a gun pointing at a kitten with its front paws up as if surrendering."

That's pretty damning evidence, though not in the way Bright hoped. The picture was recently entered into evidence in court to prove that Bright was guilty of sending phoney emails, and also needed a psychiatric assessment.
Categories: Animals, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 05, 2007
Comments (6)
Tickle Me Counterfeit
Authorities are warning consumers to be on the lookout for fake Tickle Me Elmos showing up on store shelves this Christmas. How can you tell the difference between the real and the fake? For a start, the fake Elmo is called "The Laughing Doll." Also, oddly enough, the fakes are more expensive than the real thing.

Phony Doo-Wops
Doo-wop groups from the 1950s and '60s, such as the Drifters, Coasters and Platters, are complaining that they're going broke. They can't compete against all the phony groups pretending to be them who perform for less.

Underwater Scottish Gnomes
At the bottom of Loch Fyne can be found a secret garden inhabited by 40 gnomes. Apparently underwater gnome gardens are popping up all over the world. I last posted about one at the bottom of Wastwater in the Lake District.

Ingenious Disguise
After police pulled Robert Sadlon over for a broken taillight, Sadlon fled the scene on foot. He later reported his truck as stolen. The same cop who had pulled him over went to his house to investigate. There he found Sadlon, who now claimed to be a different man. He had disguised himself by shaving his mustache and changing his clothes.

Climate Change Culture Jamming Hoax
It appeared that a group of major corporations, including Chrysler and Dow Chemical, had gotten together to pledge to eliminate all their emissions in the next 50 years. It turned out that the pledge was an elaborate hoax engineered by a grassroots activist group called the International Rising Tide Network.
Categories: Gnomes, Law/Police/Crime, Music, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 04, 2007
Comments (0)
Last week Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao released the first photograph taken by the Chang-e 1 lunar probe. The picture showed the surface of the moon. Wen declared, "Chinese people's dream of flying to the moon for more than 1,000 years has started to materialize."

But then people on the internet started to point out that the picture looked an awful lot like a NASA picture from 2005. In fact, the two photos looked almost identical. So now the Chinese lunar probe programme is defending itself against charges of fakery.

To be fair to the Chinese, the two photos aren't entirely alike. The shadows are different, and the Chinese photo shows an extra crater. So the similarity is likely a result of the fact that both photos happen to show the same part of the moon. But it's nice to see that China has just as many conspiracy theorists as America does, ready to doubt anything produced by their government space program.

Below are the Chinese (left) and American (right) moon pictures side by side (from the Telegraph). The red circle indicates where the Chinese picture shows an extra crater.

Categories: Photos/Videos, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 03, 2007
Comments (14)
Pie in Santa's Face
"A 22-year-old University of Montana student was charged with assault Friday for shoving a pumpkin pie into Santa Claus’ face at a shopping mall while a teen sat on his lap."

Save the Park
Four students in the UK created a hoax website as a social experiment to test the influence of the media. Their website, savethepark.co.uk, claimed there were plans to build a 220,000 tonne waste incineration plant in a South London park. Within a few weeks their site had received thousands of hits, and they had been contacted by a newspaper. They claim that their experiment, "showed how rumours can spread and how easy it is to get information out there that isn't true." But also that, "we are still a community and we can still stand together."

Venezuelan Toilet Paper Shortage
"Venezuelans have been buying large amounts of toilet paper on rumours it could be the next hard-to-find thing amid shortages of products like milk and meat."

Death by Cell Phone Report Disputed
It turns out that the death of a South Korean man was not due to an exploding cell phone, as many media outlets recently reported. Instead, police are attributing the death to a co-worker who backed into him with a drilling vehicle, and then tried to frame the cell phone. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Death, Pranks, Technology, Urban Legends, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 03, 2007
Comments (4)
Here's another example of a retailer creating a misleading display for their product. It's not technically a lie, but it certainly could confuse a shopper who didn't pay close attention. The image has been circulating around the internet recently. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I first saw it.

Related Post: Deceptive Sign.

Update: The image was first posted on Consumerist.com, emailed to them by "William" who saw it at a Toys R Us. (Though I figured out that I first saw it via this reddit link, which didn't offer any explanatory details.)
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 03, 2007
Comments (11)
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