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April 2008
Many British papers have reported the humorous story of a young woman who called the operator trying to order a cab, but instead had a cabinet delivered to her home. Her problem was too much Cockney, and too little Queen's English. From Ananova:

the Londoner, 19, wanted a taxi to take her to Bristol airport, and first used the Cockney rhyming slang "Joe Baxi". When the operator told her she couldn't find anyone by that name, the teen replied: "It ain't a person, it's a cab, innit." The operator then found the nearest cabinet shop, Displaysense, and put the girl through. She then spoke to a bemused saleswoman and eventually demanded: "Look love, how hard is it? All I want is your cheapest cab, innit. I need it for 10am. How much is it?" The sales adviser said it would be £180 and the girl gave her address and paid with a credit card. The next morning, an office cabinet was delivered to her South London home.

Two things make me suspicious of the story. 1) It sounds a lot like the classic "lost in translation" urban legend. 2) It originated from a Displaysense press release, which means that it's probably the invention of a press agent.
Categories: Literature/Language, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 15, 2008
Comments (14)
The latest viral video going around shows Kobe Bryant jumping over a moving Aston Martin. Is it real? I doubt it, though I can't definitively prove it's fake.

Think about it. Why would he risk his career by trying to jump over a car? That's what special effects are for.

A better quality version of the video can be seen at Bryant's website.


Categories: Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 11, 2008
Comments (47)
Hudson Pace writes: "I was scraping out a baking tin when I discovered this Face of Jesus on the bottom! I thought of putting it on Ebay, but then I thought, I don't need the money, so why not cut out the middleman and send the picture straight to the Museum of Hoaxes? Hope you like it."

Very nice. Thanks, Hudson. And it's made me think that I really should create a Pareidolia Gallery to better categorize all these image-bearing baking tins, trees, pieces of toast, etc.

Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 09, 2008
Comments (20)
Paul Collins has an interesting article in New Scientist about the Mundaneum, a mid-twentieth century effort to create a vast, interlinked archive, like a "proto-internet," using index cards. But what caught my eye was the first paragraph:

UNLIKELY as it sounds now, the hottest thing in information technology was once the index card. In the US, for instance, the War Department struggled with mountains of medical files until the newfangled method of card filing was adopted in 1887. Soon hundreds of clerks were transcribing personnel records dating back to the War of Independence. Housed in Ford's Theatre in Washington DC - the scene of Abraham Lincoln's assassination a generation earlier - the initiative succeeded a little too well. Six years into the project, the combined weight of 30 million index cards led to information overload: three floors of the theatre collapsed, crushing 22 clerks to death.

It's like the old urban legend about a library sinking because the engineers forgot to include the weight of the books in their calculations. Though I'm not sure that the weight of the index cards was the cause of the collapse of Ford's Theater. The wikipedia article about the Ford's Theater disaster (I was surprised to discover there is a wikipedia article about such a now obscure event), notes that workmen had removed part of the theater's foundation and had failed to shore up the building above it. Thus, it came crashing down.

So the Ford's Theater disaster may not be a real-life example of the sinking-library urban legend. But I'm sure there's an example somewhere of a library that collapsed because of the weight of its books.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 09, 2008
Comments (17)
Backyard Phenomena has posted an interesting speculation about why some witnesses report receiving telepathic messages from Bigfoot:

If we skip the old "they're crazy" idea, then perhaps we can look to science for an answer...strange-but-true science. A newly declassified report released by the U.S. Army under the Freedom of Information Act describes technologies which can induce similar effects to those reported by some Bigfoot witnesses (and some UFO witnesses). What is the technology in question?
Microwaves.

Some military experiments have shown that microwaves can be used to make a person hear sounds inside their head. So Backyard Phenomena suggests that, "If Bigfoot and UFOs go together, as I believe they do, then their alien handlers could use microwave technology to confound or control witnesses via seeming telepathy."

Me? I'm sticking with the "they're crazy" explanation.
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 09, 2008
Comments (3)
The image shows the silhouette of a woman turning round and round. (She seems to be naked, but I'd say it's safe for work.) The text says:
Which way is the woman turning? Clockwise or anticlockwise? After a while, you will be amazed to find that not everyone will agree about which way she is turning! Even more amazingly, some people find that when they ask her, in their mind, to "change", the woman in the image responds by changing direction!

I stared at the spinning woman for a while, but I could only see her turning clockwise. I kept asking her in my mind to change direction, but she wouldn't. Can other people actually see her turn anti-clockwise? Apparently so. One guy analyzed the image frame by frame to find out how the illusion works. But I'm not seeing it.

In fact, I'm thinking it might be a joke designed to get people to stare at the image for hours, desperately trying to will the woman to change direction. But she never will. (Thanks, Nirmala)
Categories: Psychology
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 09, 2008
Comments (42)
More tree pareidolia. But this time, it's not the Virgin Mary. It's a naked lady. In theory, it could be a naked Virgin Mary, but no one has made that claim.

The tree, which is over 100 years old, stood on a corner in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It was going to be cut down. After its branches were removed, local residents noticed the woman. It wasn't enough to save the tree. They chopped it down anyway, but the owners are planning on making a statue out of the wood.
Categories: Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 07, 2008
Comments (12)
I'm guessing there's at least one guy like this in every company. The Mainichi Daily News reports:

A tax inspector has resigned after being punished for telling bosses that relatives had died in order to claim compassionate leave on 11 occasions, officials said...
His bosses discovered the scam when he told them in September last year that his grandmother's funeral was being held at a funeral hall, which was found not to exist.
It was learned that he'd taken 10 more days off between 2004 and 2007, falsely claiming a relative had died each time. Moreover, it emerged that the man also went home on 11 other occasions in 2006 and 2007 by faking business trips.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 07, 2008
Comments (5)
Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi, a priest in Florence, is being investigated for fraud for performing "fake exorcisms." From the Catholic News Agency:

Prosecutors alleged that Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi would “stage shows” before crowds of more than 400 people at the House of the Sainted Archangels, an organization he founded.
According to prosecutors, the priest’s associates would “pretend to be possessed by demons” and Father Bazzoffi would allegedly exorcise them using obscure rites.
The priest would then offer to heal members of the audience who were sick and solicit donations to his organization.
“During Mass, the priest spoke in Aramaic, and strange things happened. I do not know if it was group hysteria or our suggestibility, but I remember one old woman screaming in a man's voice while five big guys held her down,” one witness told police, according to the Telegraph.

So as long as he can prove that his associates really were possessed by demons, he should be able to beat the charges.
Categories: Religion, Scams
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 07, 2008
Comments (7)
The novel Charm has already sold more than 100,000 copies. It debuted at No. 13 on the New York Times best-seller list. However, its author, Kendall Hart, isn't real. Hart is a character on the ABC soap opera "All My Children." As this NY Times article puts it: "It has Kendall’s name on the cover but the name of the actual writer is being kept secret."

This is why writers get depressed. They work hard to produce good books, which end up in remainder bins. Meanwhile, people flock in droves to buy a book just because it has the name of a soap opera character slapped on the front cover.

These kind of books spun-off from TV shows seem to be increasingly common. I think Lost has produced a few of them, which have also sold well.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 07, 2008
Comments (8)
Pictures have been circulating showing an expanded observation deck that is supposedly going to be added to the Eiffel Tower, transforming it into something resembling a giant mushroom. An article in the Guardian stated:

Serero Architects of Paris has won the competition to redesign the structure's public viewing platform and reception areas. The winning design (above), which will be 276 metres (905ft) above the ground, will not require any permanent modification of the existing structure. It will double the capacity of the public viewing area on the tower's top floor...
The design is already causing controversy, with critics questioning the wisdom of tinkering with the famous silhouette and spending money on upgrading a tourist attraction which attracts 6.9 million visitors a year.

But it turns out that the Eiffel Tower is not going to have an expanded observation deck, nor did Serero Archictects win a competition to redesign it. The Eiffel Tower management company has completely disavowed such a project, saying, "This is a hoax. We have no idea where this came from. The whole thing is preposterous." Meanwhile, Serero has posted an explanatory note on its website:

Our project for a the temporary extension of the Eiffel tower is an unsolicited proposal to the Eiffel Tower management company. We are confirming that the SETE did not organized a competition on this topic, in contrary with what was announced in the press. This project has been a victim of disinformation ( notably by the article published in The Guardian) which contributed to discredit our proposal. Many blogs and daily newspapers did present wrongly the project as the winner of a competition organized and approved by the Société d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 04, 2008
Comments (4)
Some more reports from April 1st: the good (or at least midly amusing), bad, and plain ugly.

The Good
List Universe posted the Top 10 Bizarre Genetically Modified Organisms. I saw this today, without realizing it was an April Fool's Day joke, and it had me going for a while. My favorite on the list was the paper tree which "grows square leaves that, when dried, are already usable as writing paper." • ThinkGeek wrote about a strange new Nintendo Wii game: Super Pii Pii Brothers. The point of the game: "A series of toilets are presented on screen and the challenge is to tilt your body to control a never-ending stream of pee." • The Norwegian energy company Statkraft released a video announcing they had developed a way to generate power from starlight. • WestJet announced that it would be converting overhead compartments on its planes into sleeper cabins. (Not that bad an idea.)

The Bad
A New Zealand radio station claimed that the Foo Fighters would be playing at an Auckland venue. Hundreds of people took the day off work. Some even booked plane tickets to make it to the concert. Sorry, no concert! • Two Los Angeles DJs pretended that a two-year-old was being tattooed in their studio. When the (fake) child began to scream, some listeners called the police. It was not only a stupid joke, it wasn't even original.

The Ugly
An Australian woman called emergency services to tell them her baby had fallen off the bed and stopped breathing. When the ambulances arrived, there was no sick baby. It was her idea of a hilarious April Fool. • But the absolute worst story from April 1st:
"Aswin, 19, a first year student of a private engineering college went for a swim in the Malankara reservoir near here along with friends. Soon after he entered the water, Aswin was seen struggling to stay afloat but his friends who watched him drowning from the banks of the reservoir mistook his cries for help to that of an April fool prank, the police said. By the time they realised their mistake, it was too late for the student. His body was later fished out from the reservoir by Fire Force with the help of local people, the police said."

Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 03, 2008
Comments (9)
Happy April Fools!

I'm not going to attempt to catalog every April Fools prank that happens. Other sites have that covered, such as aprilfoolsdayontheweb.com and wikipedia. But I'll list a few of what I think are the better ones:

• The BBC has captured footage of flying penguins. As reported by telegraph.co.uk: "Camera crews discovered a colony of Adélie penguins while filming on King George Island, some 750 miles south of the Falkland Islands."

YouTube UK has rickrolled its visitors. Clink on any of the featured videos and you'll be sent to the infamous Rick Astley video.

• Google Australia has debuted gDay technology "enabling you to search content on the internet before it is created."

Update: A few more April Fool's Day hoaxes from this year.

Nestle announced they were changing the name of the Butterfinger candy bar to "The Finger," in order to give the candy "a shorter, more contemporary name."



Guinness ran ads in some British newspapers announcing a new drink, Guinness White, available for a limited time only. (As a Guinness drinker, I had to include this one.)

A Russian newspaper, Noviye Izvestia, reported that maternity hospitals had been ordered to play the national anthem every time a baby was born, in order to foster patriotism. Given some of the bizarre laws in Russia, this seemed believable to a lot of people. When reporters queried government officials about it, even they weren't sure if it was true or not.

Hillary Clinton challenged Barack Obama to a "bowl off." She said, "today I am challenging Senator Obama to a bowl-off. A bowling night right here in Pennsylvania. Winner take all. I’ll even spot him two frames. It’s time for his campaign to get out of the gutter and allow all of the pins to be counted. And I’m prepared to play this game all the way to the tenth frame." I think Obama should take her up on the challenge.

Virgin Airlines announced in Australian papers that they were introducing a "no chair fare." Half-price tickets for anyone willing to stand for the duration of the flight. They said that about 1000 people responded to the ad and tried to buy a ticket.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 01, 2008
Comments (18)
Someone pasted part of my April Fools list into an email, and this is circulating around Europe. It has the subject line: Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time.

Whoever is responsible for doing this, used my email address in the "From" field. I know this because I'm being swamped by bouncebacks from people who are not in their office, or whose server is rejecting the message.

I'm hoping the email doesn't have a virus attached to it, but my fear is that it does. There's a link at the bottom of the email inviting people to "Read all the other Doaxes," and this link leads to a suspicious-looking document hosted on secure.filesanywhere.com.

I just want to say, to anyone who might have received this message, that I have nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, I'm also powerless to stop it.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 01, 2008
Comments (4)
From Pakistan comes a report of an elaborate stunt that seems to have been an early April Fool's day prank... though it didn't happen on April 1st, so it can't count as one. Around 300 people were conned by fake margarine salesmen into showing up for what was supposed to be a free breakfast. From the Pakistan Daily Times:

Around 300 students were fooled on Sunday into going to Model Town Park for a free breakfast supposedly arranged by a well-known margarine brand. On arrival however, students found there was no breakfast or officials of the margarine brand. Students of three private schools received the invitation cards several weeks ago from unidentified people posing as officials of the margarine brand, who came to the schools to distribute the cards... the people posing as officials of the margarine brand seemed authentic, as they wore badges and stickers carrying the brand name.

Sounds like a harmless enough prank, though officials are taking it seriously, noting that "terrorists can call students to some place and harm them." So watch out for terrorists posing as margarine salesmen.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 01, 2008
Comments (5)
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