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February 2008
When 38-year-old Debbie Wolf is stressed out or thinking deeply about something that troubles her, electrical devices around her often stop working. "Experts" call this "Street Light Interference Syndrome" (SLI). Those who suffer from this problem are SLIders. At least, that's the term paranormal-author Hilary Evans coined. The Daily Mail reports:

"It has never been full on whammy all day, but it happens frequently, such as when I'm excited."
Miss Wolf says she once blew a series of street lamps while riding by on a motorbike.
And she uses a wind-up alarm clock because her reaction on waking up in the morning "scrambles" digital ones.

The Daily Mail tested her powers by sitting her alongside a flashlight, mobile phone, and a radio, and asking her to make them stop working. Predictably, her presence had no effect on the devices.

Debbie Wolf explained that "she has to be in the right mood for her powers to work." I figured she would say that. It's the amazing power of cognitive dissonance at work.
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 05, 2008
Comments (16)
Cranky Media Guy sent me an interesting link to an article published last December in the New York Times about the artist Richard Prince. He's described as a pioneer of "appropriation art." What this means is that Prince takes photographs of other photographer's photographs, and then displays them as his own. For instance, he had an exhibit at the Guggenheim about cowboys, which basically consisted of photographs of Marlboro ads. The guy who actually took the images for the Marlboro ads, the photographer Jim Krantz, visited the exhibit and was like, "Hang on, those are my photographs!"

In the thumbnail, you can see Krantz's original photograph on top, and Prince's rephotograph of it on the bottom.

Prince doesn't try to hide what he does. And art critics love his work. According to the NY Times: "one of the Marlboro pictures set an auction record for a photograph in 2005, selling for $1.2 million." That's good money for a photograph of someone else's photograph.

It raises the question, is this really art, or is it just mindless copying? To which the answer, as always, is that art is whatever art critics say is art (and whatever the courts allow artists to get away with).

Generally I take a very liberal attitude about copyright. I think it's necessary that people are allowed to copy works of art in order to be able to comment upon them, criticize them, or develop them into something new and different. But what Prince is doing looks more to me like glorified scrapbooking than creating original art.

It also reminds me of the scam that art museums try to use to establish perpetual copyright to the works in their collection. They take photographs of all the paintings they own that have passed into public domain. Then they claim that, while the original might be in the public domain, their picture of it is copyrighted -- and then they demand exorbitant fees from anyone who wants to reproduce it.
Categories: Advertising, Art
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 05, 2008
Comments (26)
Rory Emerald is a serial prankster who's modus operandi is placing fake classified ads claiming to have found bizarre items. Some of the things he's claimed to have found include "Laura Bush's gold cigarette case and lighter, a two-headed kitten, Eva Peron's inauguration gown and diamond scepter, Leonardo da Vinci's original paint brushes and palette, an ice sculpture of SpongeBob SquarePants and a life-size wax figure of Herman Munster." I posted about him two weeks ago when he claimed to have found H.G. Wells' time machine, but he's back in the news, in two different cities.

He made headlines in the Monterey County Herald for an ad claiming to have found Doris Day's pearl necklace and the pillows from the movie Pillow Talk. Simultaneously, there's an article about him in the Yuma Sun, describing how he placed an ad claiming to have found an original Babe Ruth uniform on Madison Avenue.

Emerald says that he never tries to make any money from his fake ads. For him, they're purely a form of artistic expression.

I suspect we'll be hearing more of Emerald. He seems to have a talent for getting himself in the news.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 05, 2008
Comments (12)
Bob (aka Cranky Media Guy) sent me a link to an article about "Scientific Hoaxes" scanned from the Dec. 1931 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine. I love old popular-science magazines like this. They're a great source of strange information.

Unfortunately whoever scanned this article missed two pages, so you skip from a discussion of the Central Park Zoo Escape straight into a discussion of the Cardiff Giant. Nevertheless, the image of a "petrified foot" on the front page caught my curiosity. The caption reads: "A water-worn stone was once offered to the Smithsonian Institute as a petrified foot. Note the striking resemblance."

The article offers no more information about this unusual gift to the Smithsonian. So I did some research in the Google News Archive and was able to find a reference to the petrified foot in a July 18, 1908 Washington Post article titled "Nature as a Faker":

To the Smithsonian Institution not long ago somebody sent from the Bad Lands of Nebraska what purported to be a fossil ham. It did in very truth look like a ham, and, to render the verisimilitude complete, the bone was actually sticking out at one end of it. Nevertheless, an investigation showed that the alleged bone was in reality a "vaculite" -- an extinct mollusk's shell, rodlike in form -- and the rest of the "ham" was a mere accidental agglomeration of stony stuff.

One day, quite recently, a young man walked into the National Museum at Washington and presented to the anthropologist in charge a petrified foot. It was received with many thanks, though recognized at a glance as a water-worn fragment of rock which had accidentally assumed a shape resembling a foot.

Such chance imitations as these frequently occur in nature. Another one, deposited in the same institution, was supposed by the finder to be a petrified oyster. It looks as if on the half shell: all its parts are wonderfully distinct, and there is even a small pearl in it seemingly. Yet it is not an oyster at all.

Nineteenth-century newspapers were full of reports of animals and body parts found petrified in their entirety, perfectly preserved, which reflected a popular misunderstanding about the process of petrifaction. Soft tissue is almost never petrified, because it decays long before the petrifaction process can occur.
Categories: Pareidolia, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 04, 2008
Comments (12)
Dave, the forecasting pig
"'Darke County Dave,' a local hog, will opine -- or oswine -- on America's economic outlook on Friday, the Ohio treasurer's office said. In his inaugural outing, Dave will choose between a trough of sugar or one of sawdust to gauge the the economy's future course at the event in Greenville, Ohio, northwest of Dayton." (Thanks, Gary)

How to say "Mr. Rose Apple Nose" in Thai sign language
"Sign language interpreters in Thailand have run afoul of some ruling party supporters by holding their noses to refer to the new prime minister." Big Gary comments: "Here's another of those 'awkward translation' stories, this one apparently true. I didn't know what a 'rose apple' is, so I looked up a description. Frankly, I don't see a resemblance between the pictures of the fruit I could find and the Thai PM. I remember that when Helmut Kohl was Chancellor of Germany, the opposition called him 'The Light Bulb' because his head resembled one. It seemed to me that his real name, which could be translated 'Helmet Cabbage,' was silly enough."

Woman marries five men
"Officials arrested Shauna Keith last week. They said the 27-year-old woman married five men, all members of the military. She is also accused of having five social security numbers."
Categories: Future/Time, Literature/Language, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 01, 2008
Comments (8)
A few days ago papers reported a weird news item about Charleston mayor Danny Jones who used a picture of himself in Charleston magazine to ID himself before boarding an airplane.

Turns out that "impromptu IDs" are a perennial urban-legend theme. The Legends & Rumors blog has collected a long list of them.

The examples include a case of a porn star who showed a nude picture of herself in a magazine to ID herself while cashing a check, as well as a nineteenth-century case of a man who used his name written on his shirt flap as ID in a bank.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the story about Mayor Jones is false. But it does make it a little more questionable.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 01, 2008
Comments (8)
Last year the Daily Mail ran an April Fool's Day article in which it claimed that Brits would have to pay a "carbon offset" tax if they wanted to barbecue in their backyards:

IT IS one of the timeless rituals of the new globally-warmed great British summer: firing up the barbecue and slinging on a steak. But people who choose to burn charcoal may have to think twice as councils now have swingeing new powers to force homeowners to buy 'carbon offsets' before they light up or face a Pounds 50 fine. The measures, which have been approved by the Climate Change Unit of the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs, are likely to severely curtail the number of barbecues Britons enjoy this summer...

A spokesman for B&Q said last night that they were looking at producing new 'green' barbecues to cut down CO2 emissions. One idea is to harness the warmth created by rotting compost, but these would require a chef to start cooking days in advance. So-called 'friction barbecues' powered by a guest on a stationary exercise bike are also being examined.

Yesterday, in a case of an April Fool's Day joke almost becoming reality, the European Union announced that it was considering banning patio heaters in order to protect the environment:

Fiona Hall, a Liberal Democrat MEP, has led the calls for the ban, which is expected to be endorsed by the parliament in Brussels.
"Patio heaters are scandalous because they are burning fossil fuels in the open sky, so producing vast quantities of CO2 with very little heat benefit," she said.
But the proposal has been attacked by publicans, who say bars and pubs need the heaters for customers driven outside by smoking bans.

The two aren't exactly the same (barbecues vs. patio heaters), but pretty close. Here in Southern California we love our patio heaters. The slightest chill in the air prompts us to fire them up, so we can continue sitting outside. It would hurt to have to give them up.
Categories: April Fools Day, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 01, 2008
Comments (15)
In this video some guy, who calls himself One Man Sho, sings gibberish while performing various actions such as knocking over wooden blocks and drinking a glass of orange soda. Then the video plays in reverse to reveal that he was actually singing the national anthem backwards.

It would be possible to fake this. For instance, you could dub over the voice, though I imagine it would be a technical challenge to match the dubbed voice to the movement of his lips. Or you could sing gibberish and then dub over the reversed portion of the video. So I downloaded the video to check that the second half really is the first half played in reverse. It is.

So I'm concluding that the video is real. This guy actually memorized how to sing the national anthem backwards. An impressive, but odd talent.

Categories: Music, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 01, 2008
Comments (13)
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