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May 2008
The Brazilian government released some dramatic pictures of one of South America's last remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes. It says it took the pictures to prove that the tribe existed, because there apparently were some people who doubted this.

When I saw the pictures, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Stone Age Tasaday from the Philippines. The Tasaday were a tribe that was discovered in 1971. Unlike the Brazilian tribe (who are seen shooting arrows at the helicopter taking their picture), the Tasaday were entirely non-violent. They were often called the "Gentle Tasaday." In fact, it was said that they didn't even have a word in their language for "enemy" or "conflict".

But the Tasaday were outed as a hoax in 1986. It was alleged they were actually local farmers who had been paid by the Marcos government to dress up as a Stone Age tribe. Recently, however, the tribe's reputation has been rehabilitated. The consensus among academics now seems to be that the Tasaday were, in most respects, a "real" tribe living in Stone-Age-like conditions.

The problem with calling any tribe "uncontacted" is how you define contact. I doubt there's any tribe in the world that is truly isolated. There's usually some kind of contact (trade, intermarriage, etc.) with neighboring tribes, and so bits and pieces of the modern world find their way to the tribe.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri May 30, 2008
Comments (14)
He looks too big to be real, but apparently he genuinely is a giant cow. His name is Chilli, and he lives at the Ferne Animal Sanctuary in Somerset. From the Daily Mail:

Chilli dwarfs most horses, is the same height as a small elephant and casts a shadow over his cattle companions who are about 5ft in height
"He now stands at 6ft 6ins from the floor to the top of his shoulder and he is massive when he holds his head up.
"We have made an application to Guinness Book Of Records and we are quite confident he will get it."

Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri May 30, 2008
Comments (21)
If you need a reminder of the human race's capacity for stupidity, consider this story, from SanLuisObispo.com:

Pillers, Keiffer and friend Elliot Tuleja were drinking at a house in Grover Beach on Jan. 18 when Tuleja passed out. Pillers and Keiffer decided to play a practical joke on him...
“They were drinking, and one of the guys passed out. So (the other two) said, ‘Let’s do something. I’m going to look for rotten fruit to (put) up in his socks.’
“The other guy found a bottle of cologne and poured it onto his pants. The one guy said, ‘That’s funny,’ ” Gran said. “The other guy said, ‘That’s not funny. If you lit it on fire, that would be funny.’ ”
One of the men then allegedly lit Tuleja’s groin area on fire where they had poured the cologne. Tuleja woke up, and all of the men attempted to extinguish the blaze. Tuleja suffered second-degree burns on his testicles and third-degree burns on his inner thighs, Gran said. Tuleja did not believe his friends intended to harm him, Gran said.

I'm labeling this a "prank gone wrong," though I can't imagine how it could have gone right. Pillers looks just like I imagined he would in his mugshot.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu May 29, 2008
Comments (5)
Ai Robotics claim to have developed the "Perfect Woman." Her face is shiny and her movements jerky, but she does housework. From perfect-woman.com:

The company AI ROBOTICS was founded 2 years ago by Etienne Fresse and Yoichi Yamato, both robotics specialists working on developing cutting-edge technologies. During the last 3 years the two founders have dedicated all their time and energy to their project “robot woman LISA” which thanks to the support of numerous foreign investors will be presented to the public on June 11 2008. The company’s philosophy is to enhance the conditions of human life and to give as many people as possible access to new technologies. The company AI ROBOTICS is based in Kobe, Japan.

Also:

Lisa can cook you a meal based on what is in the fridge (visual recognition). She can go shopping, do household work or give you a hydraulic massage, but she can also play chess and video games (over 390 are available) and even learn to do certain sports...
We have designed Lisa to be a true companion. She is there to serve you. She dresses herself and recharges herself automatically. You can talk to her about news, travelling, culture and music. Lisa has an IQ of 130. She is even able to satisfy your desires in the bedroom. For this we have cooperated with a renowned sexologist whose expertise has been integrated into Lisa’s configuration.

Check out this video of "Lisa" on YouTube:



I would call Lisa "creepy" rather than "perfect." I would also call her "an actress pretending to be a robot" rather than a "robot."

The absence of google ads on the perfect woman site suggests to me that it's some kind of art project. The site is registered to Etienne Fresse, so he, at least, might be real. (via dvice.com)
Categories: Sex/Romance, Technology, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu May 29, 2008
Comments (18)
I'm very late with this one, but I thought it was worth including on the front page. I'll defer to David B. who posted about it a few days ago in the forum:

A Swedish artist, Erik Nordenankar, recently made more that a few waves by claiming to have drawn the biggest picture in the world, a portrait of himself constructed of a single line 110 thousand km long.
Nordenanker said his amazing drawing had been sketched out, not in ink or paint, but by the movements of a special briefcase fitted with a GPS tracker. This case, he claimed, had been given to DHL along with a precise itinerary detailing the exact coordinates the package was to be taken to. Once it had completed its world-spanning round-trip, Nordenanker simply downloaded the route from the device’s memory and set about publicising his achievement.

Nordenankar now has a notice at the top of his website acknowledging the drawing was a hoax: "This is made as my graduation project in Advertising and Graphic Design at Beckmans College of Design. I think it's possible to realise the project for real, but due to my extremely limited budget (about 20 000 SEK = 3 370 USD) that was not possible. Therefore, I have realised the idea in a fictional way."


Some other links: An article in The Telegraph, Wired's article about the hoax, and Nordenankar's youtube video.

The question I have is, What is the world's largest drawing? I've found two possible candidates, after searching the Google News Archive:

1) In 1991 thousands of volunteers drew on an 800-pound, 7-mile-long-when-extended roll of paper. According to a July 11, 1991 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the plan was to completely roll out the paper and take an aerial photo of it when it was done, but I can't find any articles indicating if it was ever completed.

2) According to a Feb 4, 1996 article in the LA Times: "In a project cooked up for the Los Angeles bicentennial, [the artist Tom Van Sant] and a crew set up mirrors in the shape of an eye across a 1 1/2-mile stretch of the Mojave Desert to overexpose sensors in a satellite passing overhead. The result was the world's largest drawing." But again, I can't find any pictures of Van Sant's drawing.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Thu May 29, 2008
Comments (4)
There are many theories about the true identity of Shakespeare. A new one (at least, new to me) is that Shakespeare was actually a Jewish woman named Amelia Bassano Lanier. This argument is made by John Hudson, author of a forthcoming biography of Bassano (who was the first woman to publish a book of poetry in England). Haaretz reports:

The theory rests largely on the circumstances of Bassano's life, which Hudson contends match, much better than William Shakespeare's did, the content of "Shakespeare's" work. But Hudson has also identified technical similarities between the language used in Bassano's known poetry and that used in "Shakespeare's" verse. And he has located clues in the text - recently noted Jewish allegories and the statistically significant appearance of Amelia Bassano Lanier's various names in the plays - that he says point to her as the only convincing candidate for the author of Shakespeare's work.

Hudson offers a summary of his theory in an article he posted on Jewcy.com, "Shakespeare's Plays Were Written By A Jewish Woman." Hudson also maintains a site, darkladyplayers.com, where he goes into more details about his theory.

If it turned out that Shakespeare really was a woman, that would top Pope Joan for Most Outrageous Case of Gender Concealment Ever. However, I'm sure that mainstream Shakespeare historians are going to resist accepting Hudson's theory.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed May 28, 2008
Comments (11)
I returned last night from Virginia, where I spent Memorial Day Weekend with my parents. Their dog, Falcon, never ceases to amaze me. He's huge. Every picture of him looks surreal, as if it's been photoshopped to increase his size, but he really is that big. At 200 lbs, he's heavier than I am. You don't sit with him on the couch, so much as you try to squeeze in beside him.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed May 28, 2008
Comments (10)
On May 9, money.co.uk published a story alleging that a 13-year-old kid in Texas had stolen his dad's credit card and used it to rent a motel room and some prostitutes. The cute/quirky part of the story was that the kids simply played Xbox with the "$1,000 a night girls." The story quickly spread throughout the media, appearing in The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, and Fox News, among others. But a few days later it was exposed as a hoax, since the police had no record of such an incident. David B posted about it here in the forum.

Online marketer Lyndon Antcliff admitted he had posted the story on the website of his client, money.co.uk, as an experiment in "linkbait." He said, "It's been a lesson in the power of social media and the power of people suspending their disbelief. [Traditional news organizations] are always banging about how inaccurate blogs are, but in this case, it was the opposite."

The story of the hoax and its exposure now has got a second wind, and is doing the rounds again, on account of some suggestion that google may punish linkbaiters by lowering their page rank. This doesn't sound like a good plan to me. Linkbait (or, more simply, hoaxes) may have publicity as a motive, but can also serve other, more socially useful purposes (i.e. exposing the pompous and gullible). Plus, once hoaxes are exposed, they become genuine news stories. So why try to artificially suppress their visibility?

However, Google hasn't actually said it will punish linkbait, but Wired's article about the hoax suggests the possibility. They write, "We didn't get an official response from Google about how the search engine might treat fake content that's used as a marketing tool, but search quality guru Matt Cutts implied that the company frowns upon this sort of practice." (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sat May 24, 2008
Comments (16)
There are many rumors about casinos. One I posted about earlier is the belief that casinos pump in oxygen to encourage people to gamble more. (It's not true). Another rumor focuses on the carpets in casinos, which are often noticeably ugly. The theory is that there must be some diabolical reason why they're so ugly.

David Schwartz, a historian of gambling, writes, "Casino carpet is known as an exercise in deliberate bad taste that somehow encourages people to gamble." He's collected an extensive gallery of photos of casino carpets.

There are four main theories to explain the carpets:

1) Colorful carpets better hide the stains (blood, vomit, etc.)

2) The carpets have subliminal themes and messages in them that encourage gambling. Schwartz (again) writes, "Many of the carpets use flowers and wheels, both suggestive of a cyclical life: flowers bud, bloom, and then die, and their beauty is only ephemeral. The wheel was famous to the Romans (note its prominence at Caesars Palace) as a symbol of the relentless capriciousness of fortune. Could both be subtle reminders to casino patrons that life and luck are fleeting, and one should eat, drink, and be merry before the morrow brings a swing in fortune?"

3) The ugliness of the carpets encourages people to look away from the floor and up at the gambling tables.

4) The intricate patterns are designed to conceal chips that gamblers accidentally drop. The High On Poker blog writes, "Rumor has it, casinos make lots of money with a machine not traditionally on the casino floor: the vacuum. The rumor goes that every night/morning during clean-up the vacuums pick up all sorts of chips that have fallen on the casino floor. The kaleidescope vomit [pattern] with its reds ($5 chips) and greens ($25 chips) would serve as a perfect way to fool patrons into losing their dropped chips."

I think theories 1 and 4 are the most convincing. I've accidentally dropped chips on a casino floor, and it is hard to see them amid the swirling patterns. (via High On Poker)
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri May 23, 2008
Comments (24)
Todd Davis, CEO of LifeLock, claims his company offers such a high level of identity-theft protection that he's willing to advertise his own social-security number. (It's 457-55-5462.) He's that sure no one is going to be able to steal his identity. Many criminals are quite happy to take him up on the challenge. From Yahoo! News:

Davis acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that his stunt has led to at least 87 instances in which people have tried to steal his identity, and one succeeded: a guy in Texas who duped an online payday loan operation last year into giving him $500 using Davis' Social Security number.

Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear was recently involved in a similar situation. He published his bank account code, claiming it was impossible for people to use it to steal money from him. Someone promptly used it to create a direct debit from his account.

The bigger issue, says attorney David Paris who's participating in a class-action suit against Lifelock, is that the company charges people $120 a year for an ineffective service: "Paris noted that LifeLock charges $10 a month to set fraud alerts with credit bureaus, even though consumers can do it themselves for free."

I get a couple calls a month from my credit card company trying to sell me their identity theft service. The last time they called (about two days ago) the telemarketer launched into her sales pitch and then suddenly yawned loudly in my ear. I appreciated the sentiment but hung up on her. I always hang up on telemarketers. Anyway, it seems to me that identity-theft services are a waste of money. I'd rather be careful and hope nothing happens, rather than guarantee I'll lose money by paying it to a protection company while still being at risk of identity theft.
Categories: Advertising, Scams
Posted by Alex on Thu May 22, 2008
Comments (11)
The image to the right is available for purchase on webshots.com. The photographer is listed as Adam Jones. It's titled "Grand Teton and Wildflowers, Wyoming."

The image has become quite popular and has slowly been circulating around the internet. One person on the webshots message board writes:

What a wonderful blend of colours and God’s creation. At the present time I live in Beijing and in the smog I often look at this picture and remember how beautiful the world can be.

But the image has met with skepticism from professional photographers. Ralph Nordstrom of ralphnordstromphotography.com writes in his blog:

This photograph is not possible. First of all, I have photographed at this same location in the Tetons. It’s the famous Ox Bow bend in the river and I can vouch for the fact that there are no wildflowers growing anywhere around there, especially in such profusion. Second, the ‘wildflowers’ presented here are anything but wildflowers. Rather, they are a photograph from a lush domestic garden superimposed on the otherwise beautiful photograph of Mt. Moran and the river.

It's a bit sad to think of that guy in smoggy Beijing staring longingly every day at a fake photo. (via How could I be so dumb)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Thu May 22, 2008
Comments (14)
When students at McKinney High School recently received copies of their yearbook, they noticed that many of their photos had been altered. From dallasnews.com:

The problem photos are obvious. One girl's arm is missing. Another girl is missing her clothing – and was left with a blurred chest. Multiple students have the same body and clothes. Some shirt colors were changed, while patterns and wording on other shirts were wiped out. At least 34 students had someone else's body. Officials from Lifetouch National School Studios Inc., the Minnesota-based photography company, said someone at the company made the alterations in an attempt to comply with the school's photo guidelines...
Sophomore Brielle Anderson said she's pretty sure her head is on a boy's body. "I paid $80 for a cropped picture of my head on someone else's body," she said. She noted that she's also missing a few inches of hair. Chelsey Rephan, a sophomore, said one girl in the yearbook had her clothing digitally rubbed out.

I'm pretty sure the school's photo guidelines didn't specify digitally disrobing students. Sounds more like there's a rogue employee at Lifetouch Studios. (via J-Walk)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu May 22, 2008
Comments (9)
RaptureCheck.org allows you to check the probability that the rapture has happened -- just in case you look out your window, see no one there, and get worried. Right now the rapture is listed as "Getting Close." Here's how it determines the imminence of rapture:

I made an assumption that the people who would regularly check RaptureCheck would be dispensationalist Christians concerned about the rapture. I further assumed that many, if not most, of these people would be raptured when and if the rapture occurred. RaptureCheck tests for the 100 most recent accesses from unique IP addresses of the above image. The rate at which the accesses are increasing or decreasing determines what it displays.

If I understand this correctly, it means that the more unique visitors rapturecheck.org receives, the less likely the site is to think that rapture has occurred. This logic seems questionable. After all, if rapture does occur, and all the sinners start checking rapturecheck to find out what's going on, the visitor rate will increase dramatically, causing the site to think that the rapture hasn't occurred.

Rapture Check is the creation of Cindi Knox, who writes that she's also a member of the band Terrycloth Lobster, "the greatest band you've never heard" (because it doesn't exist).
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed May 21, 2008
Comments (6)
Smithsonian Magazine has an article about the Museum of Fakes, located in southern Italy. (Thanks, Joe.) It's like a real-life Museum of Hoaxes, but devoted exclusively to art fakes. Thanks to a special arrangement with the Italian police, it has become the repository for all counterfeit works of art confiscated in Italy (and there are a lot of them). Its director, Salvatore Casillo, is a sociologist who has spent 20 years studying counterfeits. My favorite detail in the article:

Casillo says that counterfeiting is a group effort involving a chain of corruption that ends at the unscrupulous seller's door. He tells of an instance when the Carabinieri went to the home of a collector to recover a fake Schifano. The owner insisted his was the real thing because the artist had been present at the purchase. As proof he showed the police a picture of himself with the painting, shaking hands with the man he identified as Schifano, who turned out to be an impersonator hired by the corrupt art gallery owner.

Related link: The Museum of Forgery, "a virtual institute dedicated to promoting an appreciation of the aesthetics of forgery."
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed May 21, 2008
Comments (3)
A chimney is all that remains of the cabin that used to be the home of the manager of the Forest Service tree nursery in Pike Forest. It's considered a historically significant remain. That didn't stop pranksters from refashioning it, with the help of some paint, into a monument to SpongeBob Squarepants. From gazette.com:

Some people might find humor in a 10-foot tall likeness of the cartoon character SpongeBob Square-Pants painted onto a crumbling chimney in the middle of the woods. U.S. Forest Service officials certainly don't.
"I didn't chuckle," said Al Kane, a Forest Service archaeologist. "I kind of started crying." ...
As for solving the SpongeBob mystery, officials have no leads. Someone took a long time doing it and had the foresight to bring four colors of paint, officials said. It's a short walk from the nearest road. Asked if he had any suspicions about the kind of person who would paint a giant SpongeBob here, Healy said, "I don't know enough about them to know.
"Apparently they are SpongeBob fanatics."
Categories: Places, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed May 21, 2008
Comments (11)
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