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March 2012
I came across these creepy April Fool masks from 1930 on eBay. Or rather, it's an auction for an article from 1930 about April Fool masks.

I've never heard of mask-wearing being part of April Fool's tradition in any country. But I'm sure it would freak people out if you showed up somewhere, such as work, wearing one of these things. Especially that pig mask.

Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 21, 2012
Comments (1)
Jarno Smeets claims to be a mechanical engineer from the Netherlands who's attempting to build a machine (Human Birdwings) to let people fly with flapping wings like a bird. It's not human-powered, per se. As you can see in the video, Jarno flaps his arms, and his arm motions are read by a Nintendo Wii controller and an Android smartphone which interprets them into mechanical commands. That's the theory, anyway.

Is this fake? It seems to be. Wired did some digging into Smeets' background, and basically everything he said he did before the human birdwings project (attending Coventry University, working at a variety of jobs) is fake. No one has heard of this guy. Plus, the human birdwings site is registered anonymously, which is always a suspicious sign.

So the question is -- who's really behind the human birdwings site? Is this a viral marketing campaign?
(Thanks Joe and Alejandro!)

Jarno Smeets — Mystery Man

Update (3/22/2012): More details about the human birdwings hoax emerged today. Turns out it was a "media art project" put together by Dutch filmmaker Floris Kaayk in collaboration with production company Revolver. "Jarno Smeets" was a fictional character. They admitted the hoax on the Dutch TV show Wereld Draait Door. link:
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 21, 2012
Comments (4)
The traditional explanation is that you taste the wine to make sure it's not corked, but this explanation never made a lot of sense to me. First of all, wine doesn't get corked all that often — I've received corked wine maybe three times in years of eating at restaurants. Second, you could figure out it was corked after it was poured. Why the necessity to taste it first? And third, waiters go through the tasting ceremony even if it's a screwtop bottle or plastic cork, which means the wine isn't going to be corked.

But I recently came across an alternative explanation in Benjamin Walker's Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man:

'tasting' used to be the common preliminary rite in ancient times. Generally the first drink was taken by the chief of a tribe because he had to be served first as the representative of the god. It also symbolically lifted the taboo that prohibited drinking on ordinary occasions, and neutralized the mana that inheres in sacramental drinks. It was also an assurance to guests that the drink was not poisoned.

Even today in western society the man ordering a bottle of wine for his companions, or offering wine to guests, often has the first sip from his glass and then has the other glasses filled. This is a survival of the old 'tasting' custom, by which the host 'approved' the drink, and ensured that it was free from poison. In Moslem countries the ruler had an official taster, and only after he had tried the sultan's food and drink in his presence without ill effects, did the latter partake of them himself.

I have a hunch Walker is right — that there's nothing very rational about wine tasting in restaurants. It's just long-established ritual. But, of course, there are all kinds of odd customs and superstitions associated with wine, so that shouldn't be too surprising.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 20, 2012
Comments (9)
This auction managed to generate some attention from the internet — enough to get it pulled from eBay. Try as anyone might, no one could see the image the seller claimed was there. And the guy wanted $88.40 just for shipping. Apparently the auction was really just a thinly veiled anti-Mormon diatribe. Link:

Categories: Pareidolia, Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 19, 2012
Comments (1)
For over three years, Eternal Earth-Bound Pets has been offering peace of mind to Rapture believers. Should the Rapture come, and the devout are whisked away up to Heaven, this service will take care of their pets that are left behind — for a small fee of $135 per pet.

But now Bloomberg News is reporting that the business was all just a hoax concocted by Bart Centre, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, in order to promote his book, The Atheist Camel Chronicles. Bloomberg quotes him as saying:

The entire thing was a hoax. What we call on the Internet a poe, a spoof, a parody, a complete fiction. It was all a fiction from the very start. I never had any intent to accept contracts for our service or payment for our service and I never did... I was so concerned that people would actually pay me for the service that I eventually disabled the payment button.

Centre also explains that he's revealing the hoax now because, "the State of New Hampshire’s Insurance Department has asked me to discuss my ‘insurance’ offering... and provide them with all the names of NH clients who have signed on and paid for my pet rescue post rapture service."

It's a shame. I thought the service sounded like a good idea, and a perfectly reasonable business proposition. If someone believes the rapture is on its way, why shouldn't they pay to have their pets taken care of post-rapture?

Categories: Animals, Religion, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 17, 2012
Comments (2)
This might be in the running for the stupidest pareidolia ever. Floridian Guerda Maurice was watching the Bachelor on TV when she saw a design she wanted to take a picture of. (A design? I have no idea what she means by that.) So she picks up her phone and takes a picture of the TV screen. Later she looks at the picture she took and sees "Jesus picture". That is, there was a reflection on the screen that she thought looked like Jesus. She was so excited that she made a locket out of TV Screen Jesus. Link: (Thanks, Bob!)

Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 15, 2012
Comments (2)
In my article about the origin of April Fool's Day, which I wrote a few years ago, I noted that the first explicit reference to April 1st being a day for pranks can be found in a poem written in late-medieval Dutch (around 1561) by Eduard De Dene. The title of the poem is "Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach." Marco Langbroek kindly translated this for me as: "Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April."

But it recently occurred to me that although I knew about the poem, and had the title translated, I had never seen the full text of the poem itself. And in fact, I don't believe the poem has ever been translated into English. To me, this seems like a glaring omission in our knowledge of the history of April Fool's Day.

So I've tracked down the poem, which originally appeared in De Dene's work Testament Rhetoricael. I found it on the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren. I've copied it below, but the version on the dbnl includes a few extra footnotes.

I'm hoping the internet can do its magic and help me get this poem translated. Any Dutch speakers out there? Marco? I'm guessing the language in the poem may be a bit of a challenge even for native Dutch speakers.

Categories: April Fools Day, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 15, 2012
Comments (12)
Add this to the list of bizarre and dubious claims made by the manufacturers of audio and computer cables. The manufacturer of the Xbox 360 Elite HDMI 2.5m Basic Cable claim that their product includes "anti-virus protection to reduce virus noises." I'm glad someone is finally doing something about those awful virus noises! (via reddit)

Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 14, 2012
Comments (5)
If you're declared dead on twitter, it doesn't mean much anymore — especially if you're Justin Bieber. But if a major bank declares you dead, that can really screw up your finances if you happen to still be alive. This happened to Arthur Livingston (who lives, oddly enough, in a town called Prosperity).

Bank of America reported him dead. Livingston only found this out when he tried to get a new mortgage. But no one would loan him money because he was supposed to be dead. It cost Livingston thousands of dollars to sort out the mistake. Bank of America has apologized, but of course, it hasn't offered him any compensation for its screw-up. Link: ABC News.
Categories: Business/Finance, Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 14, 2012
Comments (0)
Ken Dobson of Chiseldon was sawing logs with a chainsaw for firewood when he saw the face of ET staring back at him from the log he just cut. Dobson doesn't say anything about believing the face to be a message from extraterrestrials. (So by American standards he's clearly nuts! Isn't it obvious this is a sign from ET?) Nor does he have plans to sell this on eBay. Instead he wants to have a professional slice more pieces from the log to see if he can get a couple more faces out of it to give to his sons. Link: BBC News. (Thanks, Hudson!)

Categories: Extraterrestrial Life, Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 13, 2012
Comments (0)
Apparently it's because the original architects didn't factor in the weight of all the tourists who visit it.

Well, no. Not really. According to the BBC, the real reason is that, "The building's foundations require a steady stream of moisture from the Yamuna River to retain its strength - but the river is slowly drying up." But the headline immediately reminded me of the urban legend of the sinking library.

Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 13, 2012
Comments (3)
M.L. Nestel, writing for, reports that Tide detergent has become the hot new item targeted by thieves. He calls it a "Grime Wave." Nestel writes:

Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid.
According to Nestel, Tide has become a form of currency on the street, where it's known as "liquid gold." People trade it for drugs. A recent drug sting turned up more Tide than cocaine.

Apparently, thieves brazenly go into supermarkets, load up shopping carts full of Tide, and then dash out the front door, into waiting getaway cars.

Nestel's story has been picked up by lots of other news outlets. So far I can only find one, NPR, which is doubtful about it. Their reporter, Jacob Goldstein, asks, "is this for real, or is this a ginned-up trend story?"

If it is a ginned-up trend story, where did Nestel get the idea for it? One source is an article that ran in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press on Feb. 16, about Patrick Paul Costanzo, who's been accused of stealing $25,000 worth of Tide from Walmart. It wasn't the only thing he was stealing, but it was the most unusual. Police Lt. Matt Swenke was quoted as saying, "Obviously, somewhere in our Twin Cities area there was a market for that (detergent). No one can use that much detergent."

Patrick Costanze, accused Tide thief

And back in Dec. 2011, the (Maryland community news) reported the theft of $15,000 worth of Tide from a local Safeway. But again, this article noted that Tide was just one of a number of common consumer products that were being stolen in large amounts. Other products popular among thieves included razor blades, infant formula, and diapers.

So there's two legitimate sources for Nestel's story. In other words, he's not making this up out of whole cloth. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say there's a crime wave targeting common household products, rather than a crime wave targeting Tide specifically.

Update: Looks like the Great Tide Crime Wave was a ginned-up trend story, as many suspected. According to an article on, theft of Tide has long been a problem in the retail industry, and there's nothing new about this. Nor has the problem been getting worse recently.

Lt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department explains that thieves steal Tide, because it's a widely recognized brand-name household product, and then they sell it to small retail stores for half-price. This has been going on for ages.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 13, 2012
Comments (6)
Apparently it's true that the internet never forgets. Seven years ago I posted about a company claiming to rent midgets for parties. In that post I didn't say I was renting midgets. I simply said there was a business claiming to rent them. In fact, I thought the idea sounded so odd that I had some doubts about whether the business was real. (And I probably shouldn't use the term 'midget.' I think 'little person' is now the preferred term.)

Anyway, soon after making that post, I started getting email queries from people interested in renting little people. In 2008 I first noted I was getting these strange emails, and I'm still getting them today, at the rate of about one every two months. Here's the latest I received, from a dental office in Atlanta:

Would you have a leprechaun available for Friday morning, March 16 for about 10 minutes in Atlanta? I’d like a little person dressed as a leprechaun to do a little walk through to kick off our meeting on Friday – it starts at 8:30am.

I don't know what there is in that seven-year-old post that makes people think I'm running a little-person rental service. Check back in another seven years to find out if I'm still getting the emails.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 12, 2012
Comments (4)
Perhaps everything tastes like chicken because the chicken you get in supermarkets has a little bit of every other animal in it. This is a BBC documentary, but I'm sure what they talk about holds true for every other country in the world.

Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 10, 2012
Comments (0)
Infant learning and development is a field full of dubious theories, because there are so many desperate parents willing to try anything that might give their kids a slight edge-up in life. So the stage is set for Baby Yoga, aka "dynamic baby gymnastics," aka 'swinging your baby around your head.' Its practitioners claim that if you're not doing this, then you're depriving your child of an important developmental opportunity.

Check out the video below which shows Elena Fokina demonstrating some Baby Yoga moves. Warning: if the sight of kids being swung energetically around might disturb you, then you probably want to skip the video. Previous videos of Baby Yoga posted on youtube have been banned because they caused such an outcry. (See this BBC News story from Feb 2011).

Anticipating that this video might also get removed from youtube, here's a few screenshots of Elena in action.

According to the video, the practice of Baby Yoga originated in Russia -- its founder being Igor Borisovich Charkovsk, who also advocates the health benefits of dunking kids in water over and over again. More info:

As one would expect, mainstream pediatricians warn that swinging your kid around like a rag doll could be very dangerous if you lose your grasp on the kid.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 09, 2012
Comments (6)
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