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February 2008
A video on youtube discusses a recent study that claimed to find all kinds of harmful microorganisms, including fecal bacteria, on the lemon wedges restaurants place in drinks. Microbiologist Anne LaGrange reported that when she tested some lemon wedges "it was like they had dipped it in raw sewage."



Apparently the problem is that restaurant workers often handle the wedges with their bare hands and they cut the lemons with knives they may have just used to cut meat.

David Emery of About.com has analyzed the claims in this video and finds them to be basically true. There was a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health in December 2007 which found significant microbial content on a high percentage of lemon slices from twenty-one different restaurants.

However, David also notes that health experts don't consider dirty lemon slices to pose much of a risk to public health. But if you're freaked out by the idea of germs, you might want to say no when your waiter asks if you want lemon in your drink.
Categories: Food, Gross
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 29, 2008
Comments (10)
The "Rick Rolled" prank involves tricking someone into clicking a link that takes them to a video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up."

A new variation of this is to "Flick Roll" someone. You trick them into viewing this image on Flickr:



Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 29, 2008
Comments (9)
Maxim recently published a review of the Black Crowes' new album, Warpaint. It didn't like it much, giving it only 2.5 stars out of 5.

There was just one problem. The album hadn't been released yet, and advance copies hadn't been made available. So how had the Maxim reviewer heard the album? Turns out he hadn't. Maxim explained to the Black Crowes that the reviewer made an "educated guess." Maxim later released this statement: "It is Maxim's editorial policy to assign star ratings only to those albums that have been heard in their entirety. Unfortunately, that policy was not followed in the March 2008 issue of our magazine and we apologize to our readers."

Nothing new here. As I point out in Hippo Eats Dwarf, reviewers are notorious for not listening to albums or reading books before they review them. As the Scottish reverend Sidney Smith famously remarked, "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so."

The Kirkus review of Elephants on Acid had me wondering if the reviewer had actually read the book. It was a pretty good review (the reviewer described the book as "One of the finest science/history bathroom books of all time"), so I didn't want to make a fuss, but in summarizing the contents of the book the reviewer gave this description:

Some of the many highlights: a 1931 test to determine whether it's possible for a chimp to raise a human baby; a 1977 examination on the validity of scratch-'n'-sniff paper; a gentleman who, in 1928, proved males could be multi-orgasmic to the tune of six ejaculations in 36 minutes;

That's all completely wrong. The 1931 experiment was to see if a chimp could be raised as a human, not the other way around. The 1977 experiment had nothing to do with scratch-n-sniff paper; it involved pretending to transmit smells over TV sets. And the multi-orgasmic male experiment occurred in 1998, not 1928. But like I said, the reviewer seemed to like the book, so I'm not complaining.
Categories: Music
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 27, 2008
Comments (8)
Back in January 2006 I posted about a "Who Wants To Die" Talking Elmo book. When the book's buttons were pressed, the book said, "Who wants to die?" It was supposed to say, "Who wants to try to go potty?" (I'm not sure which is worse.)

Now another Elmo is in the news for making bizarre death threats. TBO.com reports:

A Lithia family says a cuddly, programmable Elmo doll revealed its dark side yesterday after fresh batteries were installed.
Instead of singing songs or reciting the favorite color of its 2-year-old owner, James Bowman, the doll started making death threats, the family says.
With a squeeze of its fuzzy belly, the Sesame Street character now says, in a sing-song voice, "Kill James." "It's not something that really you would think would ever come out of a toy," said Melissa Bowman, James' mother. "But once I heard, I was just kind of distraught."

This is how the robot war begins.
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 27, 2008
Comments (11)
Donna and Frank Pascariello have a tree on their property that has a light patch on its bark. Of course, the patch MUST represent a religious figure of some kind. This is the rule whenever trees display any kind of discoloration. However, in the case of the Pascariello's tree, no one is sure exactly which religious figure it is. Jesus? Mary? A saint?

I think it looks like a generic ghost.
Categories: Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 27, 2008
Comments (15)
At the beginning of January I ordered a seat cushion from a company called Amerimark. I got the cushion. It was fine. I'm sitting on it now. But a little over a month later I was looking at my credit card statement, and I noticed that in addition to the charge for the cushion, Amerimark had posted a second charge three weeks later for $3.99. I had no idea what the additional charge could be for. I asked my wife about it. She didn't know either. But I figured it must be postage, or something like that, so I didn't think any more about it. After all, it was only $3.99.

But today I was looking at my credit card statement online, and I noticed that Amerimark had recently posted a third charge to my account, this time for $29.99. Now I decided to call Amerimark to find out what these charges were for. I reached a customer service rep who told me I had subscribed to their "Passport to Health" program.

Suddenly I remember. I had received a sales call from Amerimark back in mid-January trying to get me to sign up for their "Passport to Health" program. I told them I wasn't interested and thought that was the end of it. But they had my credit card information since I bought the cushion from them, so apparently they signed me up for it anyway.

The customer rep told me that the charges were in error and that he would cancel them immediately.

But after I hung up with him, I decided to google Amerimark, and I discovered I'm not the only person who has been "mistakenly" signed up for the "Passport to Health" program. They're pulling this scam on a regular basis.

"Passport to Health" appears to be a program that offers no (or very few) benefits, except the benefit of getting charged $29.99 every month (the first month is only $3.99). The really slimy part is that many of their customers are elderly people who may be less likely to look carefully at their credit card statements, so they never notice they're being charged $29.99 every month.

For instance, 800notes.com has an entire message board full of people complaining that they were ripped off by Amerimark. One person describes how they've been "charging my 87-year old mother $29.99 a month for 'Passport To Health' that she supposedly signed up for in April '07 when they called to 'make sure her Amerimark mail order arrived safely.'"

In addition, Tom from California has posted a report on ripoffreport.com describing how he was subscribed to the "Passport to Health" program after his wife bought a pair of shoes from Amerimark.

I didn't trust Amerimark to actually credit back what they had billed me, so I called my credit card company (Bank of America) to contest the charges. While I was on the phone with the billing dispute department, I described how Amerimark was scamming elderly people, and I urged Bank of America to do something, like stop accepting charges from Amerimark. But the service rep just gave me the run-around and didn't promise to do anything.

So I'm posting about it here to help spread the word. Hopefully if someone is considering making a purchase from Amerimark, they might come across this post and decide to shop elsewhere.

In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out who else I can report Amerimark to. The FTC? Better Business Bureau? I want to bring this company down.

Update: I checked out AmeriMark's listing on the Better Business Bureau's site. It turns out that the BBB has already received a lot complaints about them (I filed one more), and particularly about their Passport to Health program. The BBB page about AmeriMark notes:

Many complaints processed by the BBB concern confusion over the company's membership renewal policy in the Passport to Savings program and the Passport to Health program (formerly known as Family Health Network program). Many consumers claim they are not aware that the company automatically bills their accounts for the renewal fee unless they notify them to cancel. Many of these consumers complain that they were not aware that they had been enrolled in the program. The company has responded to these complaints by canceling the membership and issuing refunds. In January 2005, the Cleveland BBB met with company representatives. The company has indicated its willingness to work to correct the cause of consumer misunderstanding concerning enrollment and cancellation of these programs.

Apparently AmeriMark's meeting with the BBB didn't have much impact on the company, because they're still working the same old scam.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 26, 2008
Comments (64)
Local 6 News in Orlando recently conducted a test to see how quickly people would respond to a crime. They arranged for an undercover police officer to pretend to be a burglar trying to break into cars and homes in plain view of bystanders. The results:

most bystanders ignored or just watched the crime -- and some even helped the thieves...
people were ready to help the mystery man break into a car.
A third test had the fake burglar enter a home through a window and then go out the front door. During the staged crime, some golfers gave a friendly wave and a technician ignored the incident.

These results aren't surprising. Psychologists have long been aware of the "unresponsive bystander" effect. Witnesses to medical emergencies or crimes often do nothing, either because they assume someone else will do something, or because they fail to correctly interpret the situation.

In Elephants on Acid I describe an experiment that was conducted at Columbia University in 1968. Subjects were led to believe they were participating in a group discussion over an intercom system, with each participant sitting in a separate cubicle. Suddenly they heard one of the other participants having an epileptic seizure. The seizure was fake, but the subjects couldn't know that, and most of them did nothing to help, because they assumed someone else would help.

Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 26, 2008
Comments (13)
I received an email from Maria in Sweden who reports that when her mother recently passed away she became the owner of a painting by Pierre Brassau, the monkey artist. (See the article about Pierre Brassau in the hoaxipedia. To sum up the story: in 1964 a Swedish reporter placed some paintings drawn by a monkey in an art show, claiming they were the work of an avant-garde French artist, Pierre Brassau. After critics praised the paintings, he revealed the hoax.) Apparently Maria's mother had received the painting in 1970 as a gift and had kept it ever since.

This is the first time I've ever seen one of Brassau's paintings, despite having searched for pictures of them in the past.

Maria seems to be interested in selling the painting. She's already contacted an auction house. I wouldn't mind owning it, but I'm sure it's worth far more than I can afford. I know that one of his paintings sold for $90 in 1964, which is at least $600 in today's money (or maybe as much as $1600 depending on how you calculate the rate of inflation).

Update: Maria tells me that it will be auctioned off at Bukowskis auction company. Strike that. It's no longer going to be auctioned at Bukowskis.
Categories: Animals, Art
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 25, 2008
Comments (9)
Angela emailed me to ask if it's true that St. Patrick's Day has been moved this year, from March 17 to March 15. Yes, it's true. At least for the Irish.

The problem is that Easter falls unusually early this year, which means that the traditional date for St. Patrick's Day, March 17, is going to land in the middle of Holy Week (the week immediately preceding Easter). To avoid this, Church authorities have ordered that religious celebrations for St. Patrick's Day occur instead on March 15th in Ireland.

Similarly, in Chicago organizers have moved the annual parade an entire week earlier, to avoid conflicting with Palm Sunday.

I assume that non-Catholics who celebrate St. Patrick's Day can continue to do so on the traditional date. I look forward to St. Paddy's Day as an excuse to have corned beef with cabbage, washed down with a pint of Guinness. Maybe I'll celebrate it on the 15th and the 17th this year.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 25, 2008
Comments (8)
When someone wants to rent a midget, I'm apparently the first person they contact. I say this because I receive A LOT of email inquiries from people wanting to rent midgets, such as this one I got yesterday:

do you know any midget strippers that would do a wake up at a bachelor party

or this one from a few weeks ago:

Do you know if I could get 2 male midgets at my Lounge for a party this Friday Jan 25th in Chicago IL.  I would appreciate a response.

It's my fault. I posted about a rent-a-midget service years ago, and ever since then the emails from people seeking midgets to rent have continued to trickle in, usually at the rate of about one a month.

I also receive many inquiries from people who want to buy tapeworms for the purpose of dieting, who want to know if I sell marzipan babies, who are looking to buy a fake sun roof, or who want to join the Nigerian navy.

I'm really missing out on good business opportunities by not offering these services.

Once upon a time I was receiving emails almost daily from people seeking fake doctor notes, but no longer. Apparently someone has usurped my position as the preferred source of information about this product.
Categories: Business/Finance, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 25, 2008
Comments (7)
The following video shows kids (maybe in Brazil, I'm guessing) performing extreme freestyle soccer tricks. The tricks are pretty cool, but of course they're fake. The flips may be real, but the soccer ball must have been digitally inserted into the shots. The video is a viral ad for a new playstation game, FIFA Street 3. It reminds me of that Nike ad featuring Ronaldinho that was going around two years ago.

Categories: Advertising, Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 25, 2008
Comments (19)
First there was the Hitler Diary hoax. Now we may be witnessing the Hitler Disney hoax.



William Hakvaag, director of a Norwegian war museum, claims to have found sketches (shown above) of various Disney characters drawn by Adolf Hitler. He says that he found the paintings hidden inside another painting signed "A. Hitler" that he bought at an auction. Hakvaag feels 100% confident that the drawings are authentic Hitlers. The Telegraph reports:

Mr Hakvaag, who said he had performed tests on the paintings which suggested that they dated from 1940, said: "I am 100 per cent sure that these are drawings by Hitler. If one wanted to make a forgery, one would never hide it in the back of a picture, where it might never be discovered." The initials on the sketches, and the signature on the painting, matched other copies of Hitler's handwriting, he claimed.
"Hitler had a copy of Snow White," he said. "He thought this was one of the best movies ever made."

If these are genuine, I assume they'll be worth a lot of money, since they'll appeal to collectors of both Disney and Nazi memorabilia. What a combination! But I'm very skeptical that they're genuine. The Nazi memorabilia market is notorious for being flooded with fakes. And even when Hitler was alive, forgers were creating fake works of art attributed to him. (Thanks, EBE)
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 25, 2008
Comments (9)
I know there are some weird motorcycles out there, but even so, I'm going to vote that this is fake, even though I don't see any obvious evidence of photoshopping. I just don't think it would be possible to steer a bike like this. Especially not on a highway. (via bcmacsac1's flickr page)



Update: I should have known better. I should have known that just because something looks incredibly stupid is not a reason to doubt its reality. And the discovery of more pictures of this long-handled motorcycle has convinced me that it is, in fact, real.

Apparently such bikes are called "ape hangers". The motorcycle shown in the pictures is an extreme example of one. I'd guess it was designed more for show than for serious riding. Thanks to everyone whose comments convinced me of my error, particularly BlueMoon for finding the additional photos.


Categories: Photos/Videos, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 25, 2008
Comments (16)
Recently strange ads for a drug called "Obay" began appearing around Toronto. The ads were pretty obviously satirical, but who was responsible for them? The Church of Scientology was an early suspect, since they're well known for their anti-psychiatry stance. But it turned out they had nothing to do with the ad campaign.

The Torontoist tracked down the real culprit. It's an advocacy group called Colleges Ontario, which represents twenty-four colleges in Ontario. The Torontoist writes:

Rob Savage, Colleges Ontario's Director of Communications, called Torontoist moments ago to confirm that Colleges Ontario is indeed behind the ads, and the organization just sent out a press release with information about a media launch event next Monday at (fittingly) Centennial College that promises to reveal "the news behind Obay and its side effects on Ontario’s Post-secondary Education." Torontoist will be there.

Categories: Advertising, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 22, 2008
Comments (7)
What we can say with certainty is that Robert Irvine is the host of the Food Network's show Dinner: Impossible. I've watched this before and found it entertaining. Though Irvine comes across as pretty arrogant.

However, many other facts about Irvine's career have now been called into question. For instance, in the past Irvine has claimed that he was knighted by the Queen, that he owns a castle in Scotland, that he cooked at the White House, and that he created the wedding cake for Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

None of this, it turns out, is true.

A Food Network spokeswoman says, "It's unfortunate if Robert embellished the extent of his culinary experiences. We are investigating the matter and taking the necessary steps to ensure the accuracy of all representations of Robert on Food Network and foodnetwork.com."

I'm sure that'll be the extent of the Food Network's reprimand of him, since his show is too popular to cancel.

Links: sptimes.com; Daily Mail. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for the heads up about this.)
Categories: Celebrities, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 22, 2008
Comments (6)
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