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March 2008
A few weeks ago a story was going around about a street in London where the lampposts had been padded in order to protect text-messaging pedestrians. Neo posted about it in the forum. The story sounded pretty ridiculous, and sure enough it turns out to have been a publicity-stunt hoax. The padding was placed on the lampposts by a pr firm, and it was only there for a day and a half. The Press Gazette reports:

Journalists across the world reported that Britain’s first “safe text” street had been created via the creation of a pilot scheme which could be extended across the country. But locals in Tower Hamlets have said that the padding – put in place by a PR firm working for directory company 118188 – were only on a few lampposts and only there for a day and a half.
Data from a study of more than 1,000 people for 118118 and charity Living Streets was used to claim that 6.5 million people in Britain were injured while sending messages in the last year. And in separate research – based on the amount of complaints the charity had received in the past year – Brick Lane was labelled as the most dangerous street in the country for texting.
The phone directory company said in a press release, written by PR firm Resonate, that “safe text” rubber pads, similar to ones used on rugby posts, were being put on lampposts in the street to minimise harm. It claimed the “trailblazing” scheme would be monitored before it was decided whether to expand it to other parts of the country.

I have to admit, I accepted it as real news when I first saw the story. I should have known better.
Categories: Places, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 18, 2008
Comments (4)
Donate your sperm and get a ticket to a music festival. That's the deal offered by Sperm for Tickets.

Or rather, that was the deal. If you visit their site now, they state that the response far exceeded expectations, so they're temporarily calling a halt to the invitation.

But I'm pretty sure the offer never was for real. Not that the idea of giving tickets in exchange for sperm is that outlandish. Instead, it's the delivery method that seems bogus. The site claimed donors could send their sperm via mail:

we have set up an alternative method for donations by using specially developed donation containers combined with a fast courier network to offer a mail system. The patented container is a new discovery that was made by our research and development team, which allows samples to to stay fresh for up to 3 days. We offer a worldwide courier service using DHL and UPS that guarantee delivery times.

Yeah, right.

The SciencePunk blog has traced the site to a Dublin-based marketing firm called Area52. Evidently it's some kind of publicity stunt.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 17, 2008
Comments (1)
Recently the national bank of Ethiopia discovered that much of the gold in its possession was fake. It was simply gold-plated steel. It found this out after it sent a shipment of gold to South Africa, which promptly sent it back.

Theo Gray, writing for popsci.com, points out that it's incredible that a national bank fell for a fraud like this, since simply by picking up the gold bars someone should have noticed that they were too light to be real -- gold being much heavier than steel.

Gray then considers a potentially very useful question: how could you create a fake gold bar that would be convincing enough to pass the pick-up test? The solution he comes up with is to use tungsten, which is about as heavy as gold, but much cheaper:

start with a tungsten slug about 1/8-inch smaller in each dimension than the gold bar you want, then cast a 1/16-inch layer of real pure gold all around it. This bar would feel right in the hand, it would have a dead ring when knocked as gold should, it would test right chemically, it would weigh *exactly* the right amount, and though I don't know this for sure, I think it would also pass an x-ray fluorescence scan, the 1/16" layer of pure gold being enough to stop the x-rays from reaching any tungsten. You'd pretty much have to drill it to find out it's fake.

Gray notes that it would cost about $50,000 to produce a fake gold bar in this way. But the bar, if accepted as real, would be worth around $400,000 -- which would be a pretty good return on your investment.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 16, 2008
Comments (15)
Stephanie Pain has an interesting article in this week's New Scientist about Dr. James Barry, a nineteenth-century British doctor who may have been a woman. She writes:

MYSTERY, intrigue, romance... the story of Dr Barry has them all. The tale is so compelling it's been told countless times, yet no one has ever solved the central mystery: who was Barry, the pint-sized physician with the sandy curls and squeaky voice? The doctor was both caring and quarrelsome, dainty yet dashing. He fought for better conditions for the troops, shot a man in a duel and faced a court martial, yet still made it to the top of his profession.
Barry had sprung from nowhere to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1809, and might have returned to obscurity if he hadn't fallen victim to the epidemic of dysentery that swept London in the summer of 1865. He had no known relatives, so the job of preparing his body for burial fell to Sophia Bishop, the charwoman at Barry's lodgings. When the funeral was over, Bishop dropped a bombshell: the distinguished army doctor was a woman.

The debate about Barry's gender has been going on ever since 1865. Short of exhuming the body, there was no good way to settle the debate. But new evidence was recently found which indicates, pretty conclusively, that Barry was a woman. The evidence consists of letters from 1809 in which Barry's family solicitor identifies Barry as "Miss Bulkley."

However, Barry's motives still remain unclear. Did she pose as a man purely for economic reasons? Or was she a transsexual who felt that her true identity was as a man?
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 12, 2008
Comments (19)
The "I Can Has Happy" blog has posted a list of animal candidates. That is, animals (and one plant) who have been nominated as political candidates.

The list includes Tião, a "bad-tempered chimpanzee" who was a candidate for mayor of Rio de Janeiro in 1988; Junior Cochran, a black lab who is mayor of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky; Bosco, a black Labrador-Rottweiler who was mayor of Sunol, California for ten years; Molly the Dog, who is currently running for President of the United States; and Boston Curtis, the mule who was elected Republican precinct committeeman in Milton, Washington. (I've got an article about Boston Curtis in the hoaxipedia.)

But my favorite is the cat Katten Mickelin, who was leader of the Swedish Ezenhemmer Plastic Bags and Child Rearing Utensils Party. I just like the name of that party.

The one plant on the list is a potted ficus tree that Michael Moore tried to place on the ballot in the 2000 New Jersey congressional race.
Categories: Animals, Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 12, 2008
Comments (4)
A "creepy gnome" was recently captured on film by teenagers in Argentina. The Sun reports:
Teenager Jose Alvarez - who filmed the gnome - yesterday told national newspaper El Tribuno that they caught the creature while larking about in their hometown of General Guemes, in the province of Salta, Argentina.
He said: “We were chatting about our last fishing trip. It was one in the morning.
“I began to film a bit with my mobile phone while the others were chatting and joking.
"Suddenly we heard something - a weird noise as if someone was throwing stones.
"We looked to one side and saw that the grass was moving. To begin with we thought it was a dog but when we saw this gnome-like figure begin to emerge we were really afraid."
Jose added that other locals had come forward to say they had spotted the gnome.
He said: “This is no joke. We are still afraid to go out - just like everyone else in the neighbourhood now.
"One of my friends was so scared after seeing that thing that we had to take him to the hospital.”

This smells like a prank to me. Kind of a like a smaller version of the Winsted Wild Man. Why did the teenager just happen to be filming with his mobile phone? He and his friends probably got a local dwarf to dress up in a pointy hat and hop sideways. Either that, or there's a little person down in Argentina who likes to scare people. (Thanks to Scott Lunsford for the link)
Categories: Gnomes
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 11, 2008
Comments (18)
My sister forwarded me this photo. It comes with the caption:
Ottawa last weekend...this is NOT a fake photo.  he has been building it for a
while.



Well, if the caption says it's not fake, then it must be real! smirk

But seriously, I'm labeling this one undetermined. It could very well be real, but on the other hand, I can't locate its original source. So who knows!

Similar photos:
Car buried in snow
Road through the snow

Update: It's real. The tower is the creation of Luc Guertin who lives in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans. The Globe and Mail reports:
He began in November with a normal shovel, lifting the snow and packing it down, then carefully squaring it off, just as he has done for years in the backyard to create snow banks around his rink every bit as upright and resilient as arena boards. He then switched to a shovel with a longer handle, and then longer still...
Guertin is now hoping for more snow, at least one more big wallop that will provide him without enough cold raw material to complete the turret he is now thinking of constructing at the end closest to the road.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 11, 2008
Comments (10)
According to the website dnaindia.com, 50 people in the Kottayam district of India have lost their vision after gazing into the sun for hours trying to see an image of the Virgin Mary:
Though alarmed health authorities have installed a signboard to counter the rumour that a solar image of Virgin Mary appeared to the believers, curious onlookers, including foreign travellers, have been thronging the venue of the ‘miracle’. St Joseph’s ENT and Eye Hospital in Kanjirappally alone has recorded 48 cases of vision loss due to photochemical burns on the retina...
There are quite a few people still seeking the miracle, despite the experiences of their unfortunate predecessors and strict health warnings against gazing at the sun with the naked eye. “The patients show varying degrees of severity. They are mostly girls in 12-26 age group. Our youngest patient is 12 and the oldest 60. Most of them were looking at the sun between 2 and 4 pm, when UV1 and UV2 rays are harshest,” Dr James Isaac said.

If people feel compelled to see an image of the Virgin Mary in something, it seems much safer to stick with things like grilled cheese sandwiches or tree stumps.
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 11, 2008
Comments (1)
In the city of West Hartford there's a statue of the lexicographer Noah Webster. For years, it was a tradition among local high-school students to place a condom on the statue's pointing finger. But then someone removed the finger.

West Hartford resident Nan Glass, who's written a book about the statue, says that "One myth about the finger is that it was broken off by high school students, or that it was broken off by police officers who were tired of taking condoms off of it."

It may never be known who removed the finger, but Webster didn't have to remain permanently fingerless. A replacement digit was added last year. And with the return of the finger has come the return of the condom prank. Courant.com reports:
Town historian Tracey M. Wilson says she heard that a condom was found on the finger earlier this month. Police, though, said they can't confirm reports of any pranks on Webster recently.

I'm sure West Hartford students won't need much encouragement to fully embrace this tradition once again. (via Legends & Rumors)
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 11, 2008
Comments (3)
Do casinos pump extra oxygen into the air in order to make gamblers feel more energized? I've heard this rumor quite often. The Betfirms.com blog uses some common sense to debunk it:

According to my Captain at the local Fire Department, “pumping oxygen into a casino would be a tremendous fire hazard that would greatly increase the flammability of all other objects. Any small fire, anywhere in the hotel, would be fanned and magnify itself by pumped oxygen.” As for the risk/reward opportunity, no casino would ever entertain the thought.

That makes sense. It wouldn't be good for a casino to encourage fires to spread, especially since people like to smoke a lot while gambling.

Betfirms.com traces the legend back to Mario Puzo's book, Fools Die, in which Puzo described a fictional Las Vegas Casino, Xanadu, that pumped in oxygen.

But casinos definitely do pump in smells, which they believe encourage people to gamble more. (They tend not to identify the smells, because they don't want to give away trade secrets.) In Elephants on Acid I described a 1991 experiment conducted on the gaming floor of the Las Vegas Hilton, in which it was found that gamblers exposed to a pleasant odor spent 45% more money at the machines than those who were not exposed to the odor. A lot of retail stores have also bought into the "smell sells" theory. Though I think it's more marketing hype than reality.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 10, 2008
Comments (9)
Here's a recent example of what I call the "gross things found in food scam." The Post Tribune reports:
Tiffany Vance of Merrillville and her dinner date, Christopher Egnatz of St. John, tried to make a scene Tuesday night after dining at Applebee's, but it didn't play out as the pair had planned.
Servers at the crowded restaurant let the couple walk out on a $57 meal after Vance loudly complained she had found worms wriggling in her salad after the two had almost finished eating, a police report states.
But Vance left behind her purse, with a plastic container of maggot-like bee moth worms inside it, when she and Egnatz left.
A waitress searching for identification in the purse also found the container, and called police. As a police officer was taking a report at the restaurant a few minutes later, Egnatz returned, looking for the purse.

Egnatz later confessed.
Categories: Food, Scams
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 10, 2008
Comments (5)
Lawmakers in Malawi have decided to crack dawn on quacks peddling phony cures for AIDS. The "cures" generally involve having sex with a virgin, an albino, or a disabled person. The legislation is only in draft form right now, but if passed it will require traditional healers to register with the health ministry.

I'll have to ask my sister what she knows about this, since she's been in Malawi for the past four years working on promoting AIDS education. That's why I visited Malawi last year. I had a great time there. I would definitely encourage anyone to visit, but if you plan on driving around the country, make sure you have a four-wheel drive. And if you're brave, you might even try the local specialty: mouse on a stick.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 09, 2008
Comments (9)
The New York April Fools' Committee has announced that, once again, the city will host a parade on April 1st. But for those planning to attend, please note that "the parade route has changed temporarily due to construction in Washington Square Park. This year the parade will detour east across Fourteenth Street to Union Square where the post-parade festivities will begin."

This year, floats will include Michael Vick "taking bets on his Dog Fight Float with caged, snarling pit bulls," as well as "a dazed Britney Spears looking for the Halloween Parade."

Inquiries about the parade can be directed to the Committee Chair, Joey Skaggs.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 09, 2008
Comments (4)
Pretending to hold the sun is one of the most popular tricks in amateur photography, because it's so easy to do and the results can look pretty cool. Teen/Nerd has collected together some of the best examples of the "holding the sun" trick from Flickr. A few are reproduced below.


Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2008
Comments (3)
Trifter.com has collected examples of foods that have either been made to look like Viagra, or have been renamed after it. The list includes Viagra Gelato, Viagra ice cream, Viagra spam mousse, Viagra cake, and Viagra musubi.

The Viagra spam mousse seems particularly appropriate, since the drug is such a favorite topic of spammers.


Categories: Food, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2008
Comments (2)
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