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December 2008
Respected academic journal wants to decorate its cover with elegant classical Chinese poetry. Journal editors -- who can't read Chinese -- don't realize they're actually placing an ad for a brothel on the cover. Embarrassment and retraction of cover follows.

The journal was the MaxPlanckForschung journal. The text apparently advertised "burlesque acts by pretty-as-jade housewives with hot bodies for the daytime visitor"... emphasizing their "enchanting and coquettish performance". The editors insist they did have a Chinese speaker check the text before they used it, but whomever they used either didn't speak Chinese that well or had a mischievous sense of humor.

Well, at least they didn't tattoo the text on their biceps.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 10, 2008
Comments (9)
Some guy named Bill Veall claims to have discovered the world's largest rock sculpture. It's somewhere in the Peruvian Andean mountains, and it's in the shape of a "sacred lamb". He says he found it by using satellite imaging techniques to search for ancient shapes and formations. I guess that rules out any possibility he's just seeing what he wants to see. (sarcasm)

From Sky News: "Mr Veall, who studies the relationships between astronomy and archaeological monuments, has faced a series of doubters who claim he doctored the images to create an elaborate hoax."

Big red flag indicating the skeptics may be right: Veall won't release the coordinates of the site. He says, "If I gave you the co-ordinates of the site, a million people would find it immediately... But we want to secure and preserve the site until we can get a scientific team to have a look at it."
Categories: Art, History, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 09, 2008
Comments (25)
Each week Adobe -- the creator of Photoshop -- will give you five images to test if you can differentiate between the real and the fake. I got them all right! WooHoo!
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 09, 2008
Comments (3)
Black Dog Syndrome is defined as "the propensity of dark-coated animals to be passed over for adoption [at animal shelters] in favor of their lighter counterparts."

Reasons why the syndrome may exist: the age-old association of light with good and dark with evil; "Black dogs often don't photograph well. Facial features disappear, and animals can appear less expressive"; "black dogs sometimes fade away into the kennel shadows".

And apparently black cats face the same problem as black dogs.

However, there's debate over whether this syndrome is real. Many shelter and rescue leaders insist it's real, but skeptics note that the statistics don't seem to back up this perception. The general manager of the LA Animal Services Department notes: "In the last 12 months... 27% of the 30,046 dogs taken in by his department were predominantly or all black. Of those that were adopted, 28% were predominantly or all black." Link: LA Times.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 08, 2008
Comments (10)
If you do a search on the web for information about rhinotillexis (aka nose picking) you'll soon run across references to Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, described as an Austrian lung specialist, who is quoted as saying that nose-picking combined with nasal mucus eating is a healthy habit:

"With the finger you can get to places you just can't reach with a handkerchief, keeping your nose far cleaner.
"And eating the dry remains of what you pull out is a great way of strengthening the body's immune system.
"Medically it makes great sense and is a perfectly natural thing to do. In terms of the immune system the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected, and when this mixture arrives in the intestines it works just like a medicine.
"Modern medicine is constantly trying to do the same thing through far more complicated methods, people who pick their nose and eat it get a natural boost to their immune system for free."

Bischinger is referenced in the Wikipedia article about nose-picking as well as in a Damn Interesting article on the same subject.

The problem is that this quotation from Dr. Bischinger doesn't come from a medical journal article. Instead, it traces back to an Ananova article (never a good sign), and before that to a news wire article that did the rounds in March 2004.

I had to wonder, does Dr. Bischinger even exist, or was he the creation of a bored journalist?

Well, he does exist. I couldn't find any medical articles authored by him, but after some searching I did find his contact details listed at the arztverzeichnis website. He is an Austrian lung specialist. Based on a posting on the Improbable Research site, it looks like Bischinger was first interviewed by a German-language magazine, Tirol, and then the quotation was noticed and circulated by a news wire reporter.

To conclude: I don't know if nose-picking and booger-eating is good for you. All we can say is that in the opinion of one Austrian doctor it is healthy. However, Dr. Bischinger doesn't appear to have conducted an actual medical study of the habit.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 05, 2008
Comments (7)
In 1966, before becoming a regular on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and before launching his perennial campaign for the US Presidency, comedian Pat Paulsen got into newspapers by pretending to be a "cranial painter". From the March 6, 1966 Mansfield News Journal:

USING HIS HEAD -- Artist Pat Paulsen, who shuns more traditional means of painting, demonstrates how he produces masterpieces -- with "cranial painting." The 35-year-old San Franciscan, now appearing at the Ice House in Glendale, Calif., smears paint on his beard. top: really gets down to heavy work, center, and winds up, bottom, with as much paint on his kisser as on the canvas.

Another, slightly better quality of Paulsen cranial painting, is below.

Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 05, 2008
Comments (6)
Hudson Pace sent this interesting clipping. He writes:

Here's a hoax (see attached). Presumably done with double-exposures, but it would be nice to know how many people he fooled and why he did it.
It's from 'The Encyclopedia of Modern Wonders for Boys', published by Collins apparently in the 1930s. Googling 'Herbert Winck' gives one reference to the same pictures in 'The Wonder World Encyclopedia' from 1936, also published by Collins. As you'll see from the caption, the pictures fooled at least one person.

I assume the pictures were created via double exposure, in the same way spirit photographs are usually made. As for Herbert Winck, I can't find out anything more about him. But searching the google news archive for articles about invisibility machines, I did come across a March 3, 1937 article in the Chicago Tribune about an Italian inventor who supposedly created something that sounds very similar to Winck's machine. The article was syndicated. A similar version also ran in the Washington Post.

Expert in Physics Insists He's No Magician

Rome, March 2 -- (AP) -- Prof. Mario Mancini, who makes people disappear by "purely scientific principles," insisted today he was not a magician -- and "I do not use mirrors." Mancini, 33 years old and former professor of physics at Breda academy here, made his wife and sister disappear before the eyes of an Associated Press correspondent at his home in Milan. He would not explain beyond saying: "It is simply a scientific instrument which nullifies the rays reflected by opaque bodies."

Uses Wooden Box.
A huge wooden box, of practically cubical shape, the sides of which were about eight feet long, occupied nearly half the drawing room where the professor held his demonstration. The side toward the observer apparently was open but in reality was closed by a sheet of transparent glass. The professor's wife and sister entered the box through a side door and seated themselves in chairs. While Prof. Mancini dangled his legs over the side of a table on which the electrical controls were placed the two subjects inside the box talked to each other and those in the room.

Outlines of Women Vanish
The professor pressed a button illuminating the box inside. Simultaneously there was a distinct buzzing sound. After a few moments the outlines of the two women and the chairs became more and more indistinct until they disappeared completely. The voice of the two still could be heard, however. After another moment the controls were reversed and the two subjects and chairs came back into clear view.
Categories: Magic, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 04, 2008
Comments (7)
It's been a while since I've done a pareidolia roundup, so a few of these are a couple months old.

Virgin Mary in Salsa Stain
"Elvia Alvarez was recently using her blender to make salsa in her kitchen. Some of the salsa splattered onto the wall, creating what Alvarez says is the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since this happened. Alvaraz says it's a sign that people need to be nicer to each other." Funny. I thought it was a sign she needs to be more careful when making salsa.

Jesus in Guitar
Employees at International Music and Sound in Ludington, Michigan are seeing the face of Jesus in the grain of a guitar. The guitar, which is made out of maple wood, is manufactured by the Washburn Company.

Jesus on Doggie Door
Roger Bowman was about to put his dogs down. But then he saw that the face of Jesus had formed on their doggie door, so he changed his mind. Now he's decided to sell the divine doggie door on eBay. Bidding is currently at $1185. No word on what will happen to the dogs once the door is gone.

Celestial Smiley Face
Astronomers have been abuzz about a rare alignment of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon that creates a giant smiley face in the night sky. Is no one going to say it looks like Jesus?

Jesus Face in melted chocolate cookie
"Lois Preira, of Ullswater Road, was enjoying a cookie and a cup of tea when she noticed a face in the melted chocolate on the plate." Whose face could it be? Why Jesus, of course!

Obama on Toast
Some guy claimed that the face of Barack Obama "miraculously appeared" on a piece of wonder bread he was toasting, the day after Obama was elected president. Even more miraculous, he managed to sell the "Hope Toast" on eBay for $205.

Jesus or Shakespeare on Banana Peel
Theresa Smith writes: "I was at work getting ready to eat my banana... I peeled it and happened to look at it and noticed a face on the peel! But what I saw was just half the face.. once I put the peel back onto the banana I couldn't believe what I saw! It's Jesus on the banana! It could be Shakespeare too depending on your point of view."

Buddha in Wasp's Nest
Cambodian Buddhists in Rochester, Minnesota noticed that a wasp's nest built in the eaves of their temple looked like Buddha. One monk, Moeun Ngop, said that the wasps were trying to communicate Buddha's message. Would that message be, it's time to hire an exterminator?

Virgin Mary in Hospital Window
Back in September, crowds gathered outside Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts to see what looked like the image of the Virgin Mary in a second-story window. But one of the Sisters of Providence, who dropped by to check it out, was actually kinda skeptical. She said it might be nothing more than "the illusions which light and shadows can cause."
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 03, 2008
Comments (12)
Pranksters at Cambridge University recently succeeded in placing a Santa hat on top of two seemingly inaccessible roof spires. Ten firemen and three fire engines spent an hour getting them down. From the Daily Mail:

The culprit currently remains a mystery, but it is thought to be a student playing a practical joke. It is also not known how anyone managed to scale the buildings, particularly the spire of Humility, which is thought to be impossible to climb. One suggestion is that the person used the famous book The Night Climbers of Cambridge, originally published in 1937, which offers a guide onto the roofs of the city's ancient buildings.

I hadn't previously been aware of the Night Climbers book. Here's what Wikipedia says about it:

The Night Climbers of Cambridge is a book written under the pseudonym "Whipplesnaith" about nocturnal climbing on the Colleges and town buildings of Cambridge in the 1930s. "Whipplesnaith" is apparently a pseudonym for Noel Howard Symington, although the book is the work of several contributors. One of them, Eric Wadhams, a choral scholar at King's, either took or was featured in most of the photographs...
The book is now highly sought after, especially in Cambridge itself where it is still regarded as one of few "guidebooks" to the routes onto the roofs of the town's ancient buildings.

The book may be highly sought after, but if you do a search of used bookstores on, quite a few copies of it are available. Plus, the entire book (with pictures) can be read online.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 02, 2008
Comments (8)
Here's an entertaining example of complete bs. An Arabic TV station interviews a man who claims to be the "Incredible Hulk" of Egypt. He says that he has the strength of 30,000 men! He never sleeps! He has sex 15 times a day with his four wives! And he's so strong that the government doesn't allow him to work, for fear that he might accidentally hurt someone.

But the only evidence of his strength that he offers is his ability to tear a coin in half. This, of course, is a well-known magic trick.

Categories: Body Manipulation, Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 02, 2008
Comments (7)
Time magazine offers a roundup of what it describes as "the biggest pranks in geek history" -- limited to pranks perpetrated by MIT and Caltech students.

The usual suspects are there: the great rose bowl hoax, Caltech relettering the Hollywood sign, etc.

Except, uh, some of the items in the list clearly aren't pranks. For instance, creating a program that allows DVDs to play on any operating system may be a useful hack, but it's not what I would consider a prank. And I don't think MIT student Star Simpson intended to cause a security scare when she wore her "socket to me" sweatshirt to Logan Airport.

One more complaint: Time omits one of my favorite Caltech pranks -- the sweepstakes caper in which they hacked a McDonald's sweepstakes by creating a computer program to flood it with millions of entries.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 02, 2008
Comments (0)
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