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November 2009
A few days ago a fork appeared in the middle of a Pasadena road. It's located, appropriately, at a fork in the road, where Pasadena and St. John avenues divide. From the Pasadena Star News:

It turns out the fork is an elaborate - and expensive - birthday prank in honor of the 75th birthday of Bob Stane, founder of the Ice House comedy club, who now owns the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena...
The wooden fork, is "expertly carved and painted," to look like metal, Stane said. "It's anchored in 2 1/2-feet of concrete and steel. It's not a public danger - unless someone drives into it."

(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Art, Places, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (6)
Clive Coleman tells the story for BBC Radio 4 of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. It was an 1892 case of fraudulent advertising. The case against them is "seen by some as the birth of modern consumer protection":

The carbolic smoke ball was a peculiar device marketed as a cure for various ailments including influenza. It consisted of a rubber ball, filled with powdered carbolic acid. You squeezed the ball sending a puff of acidic smoke right up a tube inserted into your nose. The idea was that your nose would run and the cold would be flushed out.
The company making the ball advertised it in the Pall Mall Gazette offering a £100 reward to anyone using it correctly who then contracted influenza. They deposited £1,000 in the Alliance Bank in Regent Street to show the money was there.
Categories: Advertising, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (3)
The new movie The Fourth Kind tries to blur reality in the same way that movies such as Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project have successfully done. But according to io9.com, The Fourth Kind doesn't manage to pull it off convincingly:

Alien abduction flick The Fourth Kind bills itself as containing "actual footage" from case histories. But this footage is so poorly faked that it insults the audience's intelligence...
The movie stumbled out of the gate by hanging most of its fear power on a fundamental dishonesty. There is no "archival footage." There are no "actual case studies." Instead, we get badly-acted, blatantly fake documentary footage which fuzzes out whenever anything alien happens...
I'm not against fake documentaries. I loved Paranormal Activity, which was effective because the actors seemed so effortlessly real. Nothing felt stagey or artificial about that movie's "documentary" evidence.
What pushes Fourth Kind from the merely bad into the actually insulting was the filmmakers' insistence that the documentary evidence was real. Actors from the "documentary" portions of the movie are uncredited, and many media outlets are still reporting that the footage is real.

I'll probably see it anyway (on dvd). My standards for horror movies are pretty low.

(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (4)
Random banner ad. (via Reddit)

Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (2)
BlueBeat music is being sued for illegally selling Beatles songs. Their defense: the songs are not Beatles songs, but rather "psycho-acoustic simulations."

BlueBeat's lawyers claim that the Website is "entirely lawful and does not constitute piracy" and that the plaintiffs are not likely to succeed. Also, the plaintiffs are well aware that the defendants "developed a series of entirely new and original sounds that it allows the general public to purchase" and that "copyright protection does not extend to the independant fixation of sounds other than those contained in their copyrighted recordings."

Link: consumerist.com

(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Music
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (0)

The title of this image, which has been circulating widely online since at least 2009, is a joke. The building shown is not really the corporate headquarters of Viagra.

Of course, Viagra isn't a company. It's a drug manufactured by Pfizer, Inc. But the joke wouldn't work if the photo was titled "Pfizer's Corporate Headquarters."

However, this isn't even Pfizer's headquarters. The building is actually the corporate offices of Swagelok Northwest, located in Portland, Oregon at 815 SE Sherman St. The company manufactures valves and fittings for gas and fluid systems.

The topiary outside the building is real, as can be seen on Google Maps. Therefore, this is a case of "real picture, fake caption."

Categories: Photos/Videos, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (7)
Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.
The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod. Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each.
Link: NY Times

The high price is probably part of the marketing psychology that helps sell these things. Buyers figure that, at that price, they must work.
(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Military, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (4)
I wrote about Greg Packer, aka the phony Man on the Street, in Hippo Eats Dwarf:

In 2003, media critics noticed that the same man kept popping up time after time in “man on the street” interviews. Greg Packer, a highway maintenance worker from upstate New York, was quoted by The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the London Times, and other publications. He also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. But he was always described as nobody special, just a random person.

Apparently Packer is still going strong. The Philadelphia Daily News admits that they were the latest paper to fall for his act.
(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (1)
Most counterfeiting takes something that is nearly worthless and turns it into something perceived to have value. Mr. Daws did just the opposite. He took value — approximately $100 worth of gold — and turned it into something perceived as nearly worthless, one cent. “It’s there, but if people don’t realize it, it’s the same as not being there,” he said. Of the 11 copper-plated gold pennies he made as part of his series, only this one was sent into the wider world...

Late this summer, when Ms. Reed was paying for groceries at the C-Town supermarket in Greenpoint, she noticed the penny because the gold color had started to peek through.
Link: NY Times

I'm going to start checking any pennies I get more closely!
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (3)
I'd never heard of Mischief Night before, but then it seems to be local to northern England. From the BBC:

Depending on where you live, it lands sometime around Halloween and Bonfire Night. And opinions vary on whether it is a chance for harmless fun or an excuse for anti-social behaviour.
Like many native traditions, its exact origins are unknown, but Mischief Night is thought to date from the 1700s when a custom of Lawless Hours or Days prevailed in Britain...
Since the 1950s, Mischief Night appears to have died out in all areas of the UK except northern England, and it is not at all clear why.
What is known is that it was exported to the United States, and recently re-imported as trick or treat, now popular across the UK.
Categories: Celebrations
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 03, 2009
Comments (12)
I find it interesting that the history of photo fakery in communist countries is all about removing unwanted political figures from photos, whereas the history of photo fakery in capitalist countries is largely about removing unwanted cleavage, nipples, wrinkles, etc.

From The Sun:

TELLY hottie Kelly Brook's ample cleavage has been deemed too bun-tiful for transport chiefs. London Underground's new poster campaign for the 29-year-old's stint in West End play Calendar Girls has been doctored to feature bigger buns - to cover up the stunner's 32E assets. In the original racy shots, Kelly's famous chest peeked out of the iced buns she held. But Tube bosses feared the shots would get commuters hot under the collar and edited them three times before agreeing on the tamer version.


Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 03, 2009
Comments (4)
From the BBC:

Argleton appears on Google Maps as a small town furnished with amenities, but it does not actually exist, apart from a field and a few trees.
Some people have described the place, nestled between Aughton and Ormskirk, as a "phantom town" that only ever appears on the online search engine.
Google said: "While [most information] is correct there are... errors."
Roy Bayfield from nearby Edge Hill University became so intrigued by the description that he decided to walk there.
He was greeted by a gate, a field and cluster of trees but no houses, businesses, pubs or even a phone box.
"It is strange," Mr Bayfield said, "especially because chiropractors, nurseries and even dating agencies are listed under Argleton.

Hmm. I wonder if it's a copyright trap (or Mountweazel). It reminds me of Agloe, New York. (Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 03, 2009
Comments (3)
Late for Halloween, but still an interesting three-minute diversion. On this Good Morning Yahoo video, a zoo educator from Connecticut's Beardsley zoo debunks some Halloween animal myths:
  • Can the horned owl turn its head all the way around? (No)
  • Are tarantulas deadly? (No)
  • Do bats get caught in your hair? (No, but they do fly close to people's heads to catch mosquitoes.)
  • Are black widows deadly? (No, but they do have strong venom)
  • Do scorpions glow in the dark? (Yes)
(Thanks, Big Gary!)
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 03, 2009
Comments (2)
There's a full moon tonight (had a great view of it here in San Diego). This has inspired WSAW in Wisconsin to phone up a local Professor and quiz him about the "lunar effect":

A common superstition says accidents, natural disasters, and bizarre crimes increase during a full moon.
One Psychology professor says there is no scientific evidence to support a connection between the moon and our moods.
The UW-Marathon County Professor has worked in the Psychology field for more than 20 years.
He says for centuries, our culture has relied on the urban legend known as "The Lunar Effect" to explain the unexplainable.
The Professor says the lack of scientific proof doesn't mean the urban legend isn't true.
"It's probably not the type of things studied by scientists because they may not take it seriously," says Asst. Prof. Marlowe Embree.

Actually, I think there have been quite a few scientific studies of the lunar effect. At least, Google Scholar pulls up a bunch.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 03, 2009
Comments (9)
From First Coast News:

Notre Dame law students were sent an e-mail from Notre Dame officials on Friday stating a person identifying himself as Gary Stearley is posing as a law student and is not actually enrolled at the university... Gary Stearley has been involved in fake identity scams before and Notre Dame police suspect this is the same person...

Stearley was arrested back in 2001 in Jacksonville, Florida for impersonating a physician's assistant, as well as trespassing and stealing at several hospitals. Stearley also been spotted before in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Virginia, Georgia, Texas and Washington, D.C. Allan Klein and Justin Baker lived with Stearley and say he left the home Sunday morning with his laptop and a few belongings. The roommates say they are shocked and had no idea that Stearley was hiding something. Stearley had been living with them for about two months. He told them he'd graduated from the University of Michigan and had been accepted to Notre Dame Law School. "There must be thousands of dollars worth of Notre Dame textbooks, in his room, like it's almost like he believed that he was a student," said Baker.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 03, 2009
Comments (2)
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