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January 2008
Some surgeons (particularly Robert White) believe that "total body replacement" might be a viable option for people suffering from incurable diseases such as cancer. Just cut off the patient's head and attach it to a healthy body.

In the meantime, photo editors have long been using "total body replacement" for a more mundane purpose: making their subjects look better. Recently, the campaign office of congressional candidate Dean Hrbacek admitted that their candidate had been a victim of this technique. The brochure they mailed out to voters showed Hrbacek posing in a suit. But in reality, only the head belonged to him. Not the body (which happened to be significantly slimmer than his own body).

The campaign office defended the use of the fake photo by claiming that Hrbacek didn't have time to pose for a real picture since he had been so busy meeting voters. (Yeah, right.)

I've got more about the photographic technique of total body replacement in the hoaxipedia.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 21, 2008
Comments (3)
I'm a Mac user, and I recently decided to upgrade to the new operating system, OS X Leopard. I thought it would be relatively simple to upgrade. But it wasn't. I've spent the last two days stuck in front of my computer working out all the kinks. So I thought I'd post a warning to help any other people in a similar situation avoid the mistakes I made.

My big mistake was apparently my choice to simply upgrade the existing system. It took an hour or two to complete the installation process, but then, instead of seeing an improvement, the performance of my computer slowed to a crawl. It was like swimming through molasses. I kept getting an endlessly spinning beach ball whenever I tried to do anything. A few times the finder froze. I have a relatively new computer -- an intel mac mini -- so the hardware should have been able to handle the upgrade. I was thinking, "Wow, this new system sucks!"

After some slow searching on the internet, I discovered that other people had been reporting the same problem. The solution was that instead of simply upgrading the system, you had to do a clean install. This meant wiping out everything and starting new. So that's what I decided to do. The problem was, this meant backing everything up first -- something I should have been doing on a regular basis anyway, but hadn't been.

So I spent an entire day backing stuff up, doing a clean install of the system, and then reinstalling everything.

Long story short, I'm back in business, and the new operating system works really well. But it took me two solid days of messing with this to get it to work.

Obviously the experience of others may vary. But I'd definitely recommend doing a clean install right away, and not even thinking about choosing the "upgrade" option. But now that the system is working correctly, I do like it.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 19, 2008
Comments (14)
Here's a Bigfoot theory I haven't heard before. Apparently there are some in the Mormon church who hypothesize that Bigfoot may actually be Cain, condemned to walk the earth forever. Matt Bowman provides some scholarly elaboration on this theory on the Mormon Mentality blog.

Apparently the Bigfoot-Cain connection traces back to a story told by an early leader of the Mormon church, David W. Patten. Patten claimed that in 1835 he encountered Cain walking along the side of the road. He wrote: "He walked along beside me for about two miles. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark."

Hmm. That sounds kind of like Bigfoot. At least, that's what some Mormons have apparently concluded in recent decades. Bowman writes: "Cain’s identification as Bigfoot has provided Mormons with a way to assimilate the claims of folktale with new conceptions of what Cain, the embodiment of evil, should be like."

So if Bigfoot is Cain, maybe Nessie is really the snake from the Garden of Eden. wink
Categories: Cryptozoology, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 15, 2008
Comments (27)
Following up on last week's post about the confrontation between US and Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, the mysterious threat that the U.S. ships received -- the one in which they heard someone say "I am coming to you... You will explode after... minutes" -- is now being attributed to the "Filipino Monkey."

The Filipino Monkey is apparently a prankster who interjects obscenities and threats into ship-to-ship radio communications in the Persian Gulf. Or rather, it's many pranksters. The name "Filipino Monkey" now serves as a generic term for rogue radio operators in the Middle East.

I became intrigued by the Filipino Monkey phenomenon, so I did some research into it and posted what I found in a brief article in the Hoaxipedia.

Apparently the "Filipino Monkey" dates back to around 1984 during the Iran-Iraq War. It was probably originally one person, but he soon spawned many imitators.

It's a surreal prank, to say the least. You have heavily armed military ships engaging in tense standoffs, and during these very serious situations you suddenly have an idiot bursting on the radio with exclamations such as, "Come and get my ba-NAAAAAAN-a!"
Categories: Military, Pranks, Radio
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 15, 2008
Comments (9)
Last week this story was EVERYWHERE. A pair of twins in Britain, who had been adopted into different families, met and fell in love... without realizing they were twins. They then got married, only to discover the terrible secret they shared. Their marriage was promptly annulled.

When I first read about this, it sounded pretty fishy to me -- very much like an urban legend being reported as news -- but on a cursory reading of the story I also got the impression that there were officials involved who knew about the case but couldn't disclose the identity of the twins. So I accepted the news as true. I think the paragraph in the BBC report linked to above that got me was this one:

Mo O'Reilly, director of child placement for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the situation was traumatic for the people involved, but incredibly rare.

To me, this sounded as if Mo O'Reilly actually knew about the case first-hand. Unfortunately, I didn't read the article closely enough. Apparently the only person who knew about the case was Lord Alton who used it as an example during a House of Lords debate on the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill. Lord Alton had heard about the case "from a judge who was involved." In other words, the source is a FOAF (friend of a friend), one of the classic signs of an urban legend.

Jon Henley of the Guardian summarizes the situation:

Here's the thing: it all came from a single remark more than a month ago by the vehemently anti-abortion Roman Catholic peer and father of four, Lord Alton, in favour of all children having the right to know the identity of their biological parents.
He had heard about this particular case, he said, from the judge who handled the annulment. Or perhaps (he later admitted) a judge who was "familiar with the case". Britain's top family judge, Sir Mark Potter, has never heard of the story. And, as the excellent Heresy Corner blog notes, the whole thing is statistically improbable, procedurally implausible (for 40 years, adoption practice has been to keep twins together) and based on the equivalent of a friend in the pub saying, "Hey, I heard the most amazing story the other day."

So it looks like this piece of news needs to be categorized as an urban-legend-reported-as-news until proven otherwise. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Birth/Babies, Journalism, Sex/Romance, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 15, 2008
Comments (15)
Nuclear Reactor in Garage
A 22-year-old man was boasting on an amateur science blog that he had built a mini-nuclear reactor in his garage. His boasts earned him a visit from federal authorities who determined that he didn't actually have a nuclear reactor. But he did have some kind of strange experiment going on that, had it continued, "would have been a cleanup issue." (Thanks, Joe)

Dead Man Cashing Check Scam
"Two men were arrested on Tuesday after pushing a corpse, seated in an office chair, along the sidewalk to a check-cashing store to cash the dead man’s Social Security check." (Thanks, Gary)

Facebook President Hoax
A Facebook application allowed people to pretend to run for "Facebook Worldwide president." A Frency guy got all his friends to vote for him, and when he won told the French media that he was the new president of Facebook. Many members of the French media apparently believed him.

Romance writer accused of plagiarism
Nora Roberts is claiming that fellow romance novelist Cassie Edwards is guilty of plagiarism. It seems that Edwards was lifting passages from old reference works in order to flesh out her historical romances. This actually seems to me like a fairly minor misdemeanor compared to some of the stuff that goes on nowadays. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 15, 2008
Comments (2)
Last week quite a few papers ran this story:

BERLIN -- The owner of a small German computer company has fired three non-smoking workers because they were threatening to push demands for a smoke-free environment.
The manager of the 10-member IT company in Buesum, named Thomas J., told the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper he had fired the trio because their non-smoking was causing disruptions.
"I can't be bothered with trouble-makers," Thomas said. "We're on the phone all the time and it's just easier to work while smoking. Everyone picks on smokers these days. It's time for revenge. I'm only going to hire smokers from now on."

Turns out, the story was a hoax. Stephanie Lamprecht, the reporter whose name appeared on the byline, said that her source -- some guy named Thomas Joschko -- just made it up: "He said it was a joke and worth the trouble. He said he's a chain-smoker himself and said he was tired of smokers being hassled so much."

From what I understand, it's not clear that Thomas Joschko even owns a business. He's just a guy who picked up a phone and told a reporter a wild story, trusting that the reporter would do minimal fact checking before running it.

This was the same modus operandi of Joseph Mulhattan, one of the most prolific hoaxers in America at the end of the nineteenth century. He would invent bizarre stories and wire them to papers, which would invariably print them. It's nice to see that the same tricks still work.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 15, 2008
Comments (5)
Back in 2000 a graphic design magazine called Dot Dot Dot ran an article about a subversive artist from the 1950s called Ernst Bettler. Design Observer summarizes the article's central tale:

In the late 1950s, Bettler was asked to design a series of posters to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfäfferli+Huber. Aware of reports that P+H had been involved in testing prisoners in German concentration camps less than 15 years before, he hesitated, and then decided to accept the commission. "I had the feeling I could do some real damage," he said later.

And indeed he did. He created four posters featuring dramatic, angular black and white portraits juxtaposed with sans serif typography. Alone, each poster was an elegant example of international style design. Together, however, a different message emerged, for it turned out the abstract compositions in the posters contained hidden letters. (The one above, for example, displays the letter A.) Hung side by side on the streets, they spelled out N-A-Z-I. A public outcry followed, and within six weeks the company was ruined.

Pretty soon references to Bettler's stunt began appearing elsewhere -- on websites such as AdBusters and, and in Michael Johnson's textbook Problem Solved. But a couple of years later a blogger named Andy Crewdson became curious about the story and did some research. He discovered that not only did Ernst Bettler not exist, Pfäfferli+Huber didn't either.

Eye Magazine has the entire story.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 14, 2008
Comments (4)
This story sounds suspiciously like an urban legend being reported as news. It could, of course, be true, though the source (a Polish tabloid called Super Express) makes it difficult to fact check:

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish man got the shock of his life when he visited a brothel and spotted his wife among the establishment's employees.
Polish tabloid Super Express said the woman had been making some extra money on the side while telling her husband she worked at a store in a nearby town.
"I was dumfounded. I thought I was dreaming," the husband told the newspaper on Wednesday. The couple, married for 14 years, are now divorcing, the newspaper reported.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 14, 2008
Comments (6)
I wonder how many women are going to respond to this craigslist ad? The scary thing is that the guy's probably completely serious.

Categories: Cryptozoology, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 14, 2008
Comments (6)
The image to the right shows what is supposedly a guerrilla marketing campaign by Jontex, a Brazilian brand of condoms owned by Johnson & Johnson. The campaign involves a cardboard cutout that can be positioned beneath the door of a bathroom stall. The Brazilian phrase translates to, "You do not know when it can be necessary."

But strangely, Johnson and Johnson is denying responsibility for the ad. Or, at least, the folks who run the Johnson and Johnson blog claim it's not their company's campaign:

By talking to some people at the Johnson & Johnson operating company in Brazil I discovered that the “ad” (which you can see here to the right) was not one of theirs, and was in fact a hoax.
My guess is that someone in Brazil developed these fake ads in an attempt to poke fun at the often racy nature of the advertising for prophylatics.

It seems like a lot of work for someone to create as a hoax. It could either be a subviral campaign (an ad campaign that a company creates but then denies responsibility for), or a "spec ad" (a speculative ad created by an agency to show a potential client what they're capable of).
Categories: Advertising, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 11, 2008
Comments (3)
In 1964 North Vietnamese forces supposedly attacked a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson used this incident to obtain approval for the Vietnam War from Congress.

But on Tuesday the National Security Agency declassified documents revealing -- to almost no one's surprise -- that the Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened.

Also on Tuesday, by an odd coincidence, the US military released video of an incident in a different Gulf... the Persian one.

The video shows Iranian speedboats approaching US warships. Then (separately) a heavily accented voice says over the radio, in English, “I am coming to you. … You will explode after … minutes.” (The video is on youtube)

The incident inflamed tensions between the two countries, but now it's looking like there are problems interpreting exactly what was happening in the Persian Gulf video.

As the US military admits, the audio and video weren't recorded together. And skeptics have been wondering why, if the audio did come from the Iranian speedboats (as the military implied) there was no sound of wind or water in the background.

It's starting to look more like the threatening audio was from some random guy with a radio on land.

Iran, for its part, is saying that the incident was just "a routine contact which happens all the time in the crowded waters of the Gulf." Not that I find anything the Iranian government says to be very credible. It's hard to know what to believe.
Categories: Military
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 11, 2008
Comments (4)
One of these might be fake. Can you guess which?

Update: My apologies. Apparently quite a few people didn't realize I was being sarcastic when I said "one of these might be fake." I thought it was pretty obvious both of them were fake. (Note that I didn't say 'only one is fake'.)

To make up for it, here's a third view from an airplane window, and this one is definitely real. This photo was taken on July 13, 2004 aboard an AirTran flight from Atlanta to Orlando with 110 people on board. The left engine cowling came off soon after take off, but the plane managed to turn around and land safely.

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 11, 2008
Comments (41)
Elliot has posted five new articles in the hoaxipedia. His theme was fictitious countries. Or rather, countries of an ambiguous legal status.

The Principality of New Utopia
An island "country" in the Caribbean established in 1999 by Oklahoma businessman Howard Turney, who prefers to be known as HSH Prince Lazarus.

The Dominion of Melchizedek
A South Pacific island country, that happens to be entirely underwater. It was founded in 1987 by California father and son Evan and Mark Pedley.

The Kingdom of Redonda
A tiny uninhabited island near the Caribbean island of Montserrat that the British science-fiction author M.P. Shiel claimed as his kingdom.

Principality of Outer Baldonia
A tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia that Washington lawyer Russell Arundel claimed, in 1950, to be his principality.

Principality of Sealand
Billed as the world's smallest country, it's actually an anti-aircraft installation in the North Sea that was abandoned by the British in 1956 and subsequently occupied by pirate radio stations.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 10, 2008
Comments (14)
Jerome Angus Graham III, a 25-centimeter-tall garden gnome, has been all around the world. But he hasn't been to Antarctica. Nor apparently, has any other gnome. But that's about to change. Jerome is heading to Antarctica, thanks to an invitation from Belgian travel firm Asteria Expeditions. Jerome will become "the first gnome to set foot on the frozen continent." The adventures of Jerome can be followed at also reports that last year Jerome become politically active when he launched a petition against a Belgian brand of pate called "Gnome Pate": "However, he closed the petition once the pate's producers - a firm called "The Hobbit" - provided proof that the pate was vegetarian and contained no gnome parts, his website explained."
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Gnomes
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 09, 2008
Comments (3)
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