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April 2012
Accipiter already posted about this in the forum, but the story is odd enough that it deserves to be on the front page.

Back in 2007, two teenage twins from North Tyneside, Alexander and Thomas Hunter, began selling a stock newsletter in which they recommended stocks supposedly selected by an AI robot named Marl. Investors could also pay to get advice through a variety of websites run by the twins, daytradingrobot.com, doublingstocks.com, and equitypromoter.com. Or would-be millionaires could get a version of Marl to run on their computer at home. The brothers advertised that "The longer Marl is allowed to run on a computer… The More Advanced He Becomes!"

The reality: Marl didn't exist. It was the twins who were picking the stocks. The home version of Marl simply displayed whatever ticker symbols the brothers told it to. And often they would pick companies that had paid for that honor. Links: Yahoo! Finance, BBC News

The brothers' websites no longer are up, and they were never archived by the wayback machine. But here's a few of their banner ads that I managed to find:



Categories: Business/Finance, Scams
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 23, 2012
Comments (0)
Marcus Atkinson, skipper of a Loch Ness tourist boat, noticed something strange on his sonar fish finder: a long, snake-like object at a depth of 75 ft. (In the image, the green line to the left of the number 25.) So he quickly snapped a picture of the sonar screen with his mobile phone. The picture recently won him bookmaker William Hill's Best Nessie Sighting of The Year Award.



Of course, the scientists have to throw cold water on the excitement of all the Nessie fans. Dr Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, says:
The image shows a bloom of algae and zooplankton that would exist on what would be a thermocline. Zooplankton live off this algae and reflect sound signals from echo sounders and fish finders very well. They will appear as a linear “blob” on the screen, just like this. This is a monster made of millions of tiny animals and plants and represents the bulk of life in the Loch.

Links: express.co.uk, dailymail.co.uk.
Categories: Cryptozoology, Nessie
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 23, 2012
Comments (1)
In December 2008, two doctors published a study in the journal BMJ investigating what they called the "urban legend" that there's a link between Welsh rugby and papal deaths. Specifically, that "every time Wales win the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and two Popes died."

They found that there was indeed a "borderline significant (P=0.047) association between Welsh performance and the number of papal deaths but no significant association between papal mortality and performance of any other home nation."

But despite this weak association, they nevertheless dismissed the theory of the pope-rugby link as "nothing more than an urban myth, based largely on two Welsh grand slam wins in recent memory."


This year, Wales won a grand slam again, but the pope didn't die. Perhaps this should have put the special theory of papal rugby to rest. But a recent letter in BMJ cautions us not to dismiss the theory too quickly. If Coptic Popes are added into the mix, the pope-rugby link appears to become quite robust:

The authors have correctly stated the null hypothesis based on the saying “every time Wales win the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and two Popes died.” However they have only included Roman Catholic Popes in the outcome measures thus altering the statistical analysis to create a potentially false reassurance.

This year saw the death of the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III , on the very day that Wales won the grand slam. He was pope for 41 years and succeeded Cyril VI, who died in 1971, in the same month that Wales won the grand slam again. Coptic Popes are the heads of the ancient See of Alexandria and directly follow on from Mark the evangelist, thus having a legitimate claim to the title. Since the researchers sought to test the possibillity that there was a link between Welsh grand slam rugby victories and the death of a Pope it is crucial that this new information be brought to the attention of your readership. The relationship between these deaths and the sporting events may not be fully understood, however I believe that the original research has created a false reassurance and may be putting the lives of other Popes at risk.
Categories: Death, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 23, 2012
Comments (0)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Outraged homeless muppets to converge on Goldman Sachs

NEW YORK, April 21, 2012 -- Homelessness is a great American tragedy. Our financial system and government have let us down and we, together, must take a stand to change the way the system works. With over 11 million homes underwater and millions in foreclosure, people are frightened, distressed and angry.

Although not a cure, Mobile Homeless Homes (MHH) offers a temporary solution -- low cost alternative living spaces for the millions of upside-down, underwater or foreclosed homeowners who have lost their houses due to the banking crisis that caused the real estate collapse. The MHH centerpiece is a camouflage, stealth, mobile home made from a series of connected plastic garbage cans, propelled by a tricycle, that will be undetectable by authorities. It blends into any urban environment.

Designed by artist Joey Skaggs, this Trojan house has been created to focus attention on the disastrous effects of government deregulation on the welfare of the general public and to underscore the fact that people are not powerless to create change; that people should not be afraid to use their First Amendment rights to denounce actions they believe are unethical and criminal.

On Monday, April 23, 2012 beginning at 11:00 a.m. at 287 Spring Street (between Varick and Hudson) in New York City, Skaggs will parade his Mobile Homeless Homes prototype down to Goldman Sachs. He will be accompanied by his troupe of costumed muppets including the Fresh Juice Party band, performing their original ""Mobile Homeless blues"" ballad (lyrics). They will head from Spring Street to West Street and then down West Street to Goldman Sachs at 200 West Street. Other targeted sites will be announced at a later date on the MHH website.

Goldman Sachs has been selected as the destination for the MHH debut as it is one of the primary companies responsible for causing the housing crisis. The muppets are there to help hold them accountable, because Goldman Sachs employees commonly have disrespectfully referred to their clients as muppets. The word muppet in British slang is a derogatory term commonly used to mean idiot or loser.

"I'm not a bank regulator. I'm not a legislator. I'm not a politician. I'm an artist. I believe it's my responsibility to do what I can to bring attention to the issues and inspire our lawmakers to make the critically necessary changes to protect the public from greed and fraud," says Joey Skaggs.

The MHH performance has been designed to be a fully legal public expression of individual rights. With the current rash of arrests of Occupy Wall Street protestors and the forcible removal of personal belongings from people sitting peacefully in parks, Skaggs says the MHH procession will be on the move at all times, except when waiting for street lights to change. And, since Mayor Bloomberg just the other day kissed Ms Piggy and announced that the Muppets (of Sesame Street fame) are now the official New York City family ambassadors, it might prove embarrassing if the police arrest Ms. Piggy as she exercises her First Amendment rights.

For more information, contact:
Joey Skaggs, 212-254-7878
info@mobilehomelesshomes.com
http://mobilehomelesshomes.com (coming soon, check back)
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 21, 2012
Comments (3)
If you happen to be a young woman in Namibia, watch out for a middle-aged Indian man who may try to strike up a friendship with you. Before too long, he may whip out his breast-sucking turtle. It happened to Lina Sames (link: informante.web.na):

Sames, a domestic worker, related how the mysterious man suddenly produced a live turtle, no bigger than the average grown up's hand and pressed the reptile against the victim's right breast. "It proceeded to suck, while at the same time growing bigger. I was then forced to drink blood from the turtle," a traumatized Sames said.

And this has happened before!

The folklore surrounding the breast-sucking turtle first surfaced late last year, after a young woman was lured with the promise of a shopping spree into breast-feeding a turtle on the northern outskirts of Windhoek. Although she was rumoured to have been admitted to Windhoek state hospital and later died, this could not be verified.

The story resembles what folklorists call the "bosom serpent" legend. Bosom serpent legends usually involve a woman ingesting the eggs of a serpent (or other scary creature) and then later giving birth to it (or having the creature somehow emerge from her). In the tale of the Namibian turtles, the women aren't giving birth to the turtles, but they are mothering them in a horrifying way. So like a bosom-serpent legend, the tale of the Namibian breast-sucking turtle seems to emerge out of fears and fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood. Why the stories are focusing on a turtle, of all things, I have no idea.

Categories: Animals, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 21, 2012
Comments (1)
Interesting article in tehelka.com about Tarksheel, the Punjab Rationalist Society, which is a chapter of the larger Indian Rationalist Society. Its members try to combat superstition by using logic and skeptical inquiry. After reading the article, it sounds like they have an uphill struggle ahead of them. Some highlights:

The head of the Indian Rationalist Association, Sanal Edamaruku, spent close to 23 hours in a studio in New Delhi last year, while a sadhu invited by the news channel pranced around, muttering a curse that would supposedly end Edamaruku's life on air. This April, he faced the ire of the Organisation of Concerned Catholics when he unravelled a 'miracle' at a church in Mumbai. Edamaruku discovered that the droplets of water trickling from a statue of Jesus Christ in Vile Parle were, in fact, from a nearby drainage system, and is currently facing arrest for 'blasphemy'.

And also:

THE LION'S share of cases on Tarksheel's investigative roster involves 'possessed' women. Rora says the easiest way to discourage women from moving around freely or mingling with the opposite sex is to instill fear in the form of supernatural repercussions from an early age. The myths that proliferate in villages are centred on feminine virtue and its containment. Oft-repeated ones include djinns love women with open hair, or those who wear perfume, or new brides. Walking under a peepul tree at midnight or when everyone is asleep in the afternoon is a sure way to get possessed.
Categories: Paranormal, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 20, 2012
Comments (2)
Montreal-based artist Maskull Lasserre has designed shoes that make footprints in the ground as you walk along, instead of shoe prints. He's got a human-footprint shoe, but also a bigfoot-print shoe. He's quoted as saying:

'Living now in the city, I found a strange kind of loneliness seeing only human shoe prints in the puddles and snow. 'This project was my way of introducing a sort of mysterious possibility to the urban landscape, for those who happened upon it. 'But I admit that I just couldn't resist making a Bigfoot track.'

It doesn't seem that the shoes are available for purchase because each shoe is hand-carved. He shows them at art exhibitions, but he does sometimes wear them around himself. (link: metro.co.uk)



Categories: Art, Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 18, 2012
Comments (0)
The Chicago Tribune tells the story of the detective work conducted by conservator Barry Bauman that led to his exposure of a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln as a fraud. Lincoln (and, by association, his wife) is one of those historical figures who's like a magnet for hoaxes. Other hoax magnets would include George Washington and Hitler.

Anatomy of a fake Lincoln
Chicago Tribune

...The original portrait, painted perhaps in the mid-1860s, is of a still-anonymous woman. She wore a crucifix around her neck — Mary wasn't Catholic and never would have worn one, so it had been painted out — and had a floral brooch over which was painted the Lincoln brooch.


Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 18, 2012
Comments (1)
Many people thought this was too weird to be true, but apparently it's real. Multinational mega-corporation Unilever is running an ad campaign in Germany for its "Du Darfst" line of food products that features the English slogan "Fuck the Diet!"

It's kinda like if McDonalds were to unveil "Fuck Eating Healthy" as its new ad slogan.

A Unilever spokesperson offered this explanation:

"Although the current Du Darfst campaign has become a bit of a talking point in Germany -- as effective marketing should -- it is targeted specifically at German consumers and uses language that we do not believe most German consumers find offensive. This is because the term in the campaign is frequently heard on German TV and radio, and is used in newspapers and magazines, and in the context of 'let it be' it is not censored or seen as inappropriate by most German consumers."


Categories: Advertising, Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 18, 2012
Comments (5)
Over the weekend, on Saturday night, @chicagobars posted this tweet:


Word immediately began to spread around Twitter that someone was trapped inside the giant noodle sculpture across from Wrigley Field.

Half-an-hour later, @chicagobars posted an update.


It all seemed quite plausible. People could imagine how it might occur to a drunken reveler to crawl inside the noodle and then get stuck inside. So the news was retweeted and re-retweeted, magnified in the great Twitter echo chamber.

Until finally @chicagobars admitted the truth. There was no girl trapped inside the noddle. It had all just been a joke. The giveaway was that the name "Jessica Morales" was an allusion to Baby Jessica, who fell down a well in 1987.

And it turns out it wouldn't have been possible for anyone to get trapped inside the noodle anyway. Both ends of the noodle are sealed shut. (link: Red Eye Chicago)
Categories: Social Networking Sites
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 18, 2012
Comments (0)
UCLA Professor Benjamin Karney thinks that online dating site eHarmony is making fraudulent claims about the scientific basis of its business. He admits it may provide a helpful service by providing access to a larger dating pool and 'weeding out the freaks.' But the company also claims that it's using "scientifically proven" methods in order to predict "happier, healthier long-term relationships." And that, Karney insists, just isn't so.

UCLA Professors Say eHarmony Is Unscientific and its Customers Are 'Duped.' Here's Why.
laweekly.com

"If you're gonna make scientific claims, act like a scientist. Or don't make scientific claims," UCLA social psychology professor Benjamin Karney says, leaning forward in his chair in his office at UCLA's Franz Hall, his voice rising an octave. "Don't pretend!"...
On Feb. 17, Karney and four co-authors published "Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science," a secondary study that looks at established relationship science to critique dating websites that claim to have a scientific basis for matching singles, including eHarmony, Chemistry (whose methods are "almost crazy," according to Bradbury) and PerfectMatch and GenePartner (whose methods are "basically adorable," according to Karney).
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2012
Comments (1)
Back in ninth-century Japan, there was a religious charlatan who earned the title bei-fun-hijiri or "saint of rice excrements". Before telling how he acquired this title, I should relate how I came across his story, which was in a rather roundabout way.

First, I came across a post on the Of Small Wonders & Great Wanders blog about the ancient art of self-mummification, developed by ascetic monks of the Shingon sect in northern Japan:

It was initiated by Kobo Daishi (774-835), who took the decision to end his days meditating in a cave. His disciples later found that his body was mummified, which was quite mystical! The Sokushinbutsu tradition developed from there and consisted on willingly becoming a mummy by having a special diet to dry your body.

This led me to wikipedia page about Sokushinbutsu, which further explains:

Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks or priests who caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their mummification. This practice reportedly took place almost exclusively in northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only between 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date. The practice is not advocated or practised today by any Buddhist sect...

For 1,000 days the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another thousand days and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.

This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another 1,000 days, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful. If the monk had been successfully mummified, they were immediately seen as a Buddha and put in the temple for viewing. Usually, though, there was just a decomposed body. Although they were not viewed as a true Buddha if they were not mummified, they were still admired and revered for their dedication and spirit.


The self-mummified body of Chûkai Shônin

The wikipedia page, in turn, led me to a 1962 article in the Journal History of Religions: "Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan," by Ichiro Hori. The article provides a great deal of information about the development of the art of self-mummification — much much detail than I'll go into here. The important point (since it leads us to the Saint of Rice Excrements) is that Hori argues that the self-mummification ritual emerged out of the practice of abstention from cereals (mokujiki-gyô). That is, the practice of not eating rice and subsisting only on fruits and nuts.

Abstention from cereals was considered an important training exercise for Shingon ascetics since a) it required a lot of willpower, and b) it was believed to give one superhuman powers. But of course, human nature being what it is, there were those on the no-cereal diet who cheated. Which leads us, finally, to the Saint of Rice Excrements. I'll let Ichiro Hori tell the rest of the story.

There is the case reported by the Montoku Jitsuroku (Official Record during the Reign of Emperor Montoku, 850-58) in which an upâsaka who came to Kyoto in 854 announced that he abstained from cereals. An imperial edict provided him with a lodging in the Imperial Garden named Shinsen-en, and he there became the object of worship by the citizens of Kyoto, who asked him to pray for them and the welfare of their private affairs. Many women especially were dazzled by the brilliance of his reputation. After about a month, however, someone claimed that he was eating rice at midnight and going to the toilet early every morning. Others then spied upon his doings and discovered high piles of rice excrement. As a result, public estimation for him rapidly declined, and he was dubbed a bei-fun-hijiri (saint of rice excrements).
Categories: Death, Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2012
Comments (0)
(Besides the fact that they're all performed by the same guy)

Mozart, Sonata in D Major, Anh. 294d, mov. 3


Mendelssohn's Song Without Words, Op. posth., No. 3d.


Haydn, Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. LVII:1-12


Answer: They're all hoaxes. The pieces weren't composed by Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Haydn.

Last year someone going under the name 'The Mad Rhino' began uploading videos of himself playing pieces by famous composers. The videos caught the attention of classical-music fans because although the pieces all sounded pretty convincing, no one recognized them.

The Slipped Disc blog recently revealed the pieces to be hoaxes by a classically trained Chicago lawyer:

The man who has been perpetrating intelligent, mildly imperfect copies of great classics on Youtube has confirmed his identity. He is a Chicago lawyer, Dmitry Feofanov. Originally from Moscow, he trained as a pianist and conductor, developing a taste for such difficult esoterica as Alkan's solo piano concerto and a concerto by Stenhammar which he rediscovered...

As for the musical hoaxes on Youtube, Dmitry assures us that all of them were hallmarked with his initials to keep the business honest. 'Every fake opus number had a letter that came with it–either "d" or "f", and the Mozart key sequence of the movements was D-f#-D, and the Mozart fake opus number was the same as the "Adelaide" concerto, which was hoaxed by Casadesus.'

The hoax reminded me of the Lost Classics of Fritz Kreisler.
Categories: Music
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 16, 2012
Comments (1)

A picture taken by Reuters photographer Rupak De Chowdhuri. The Reuters caption states:
A Hindu devotee with his neck pierced with a knife attends the "Chadak" ritual at Krishanadevpur village, north of Kolkata April 13, 2012. Hundreds of Hindu devotees attend the ritual, held to worship the Hindu deity of destruction Lord Shiva, on the last day of the Bengali calendar year. The photographer was unable to check the veracity of the action of this devotee.

The options are:
  1. This guy really does have a large knife sticking through his neck. In which case, he must have been in pretty bad shape whenever he pulled the knife out.
  2. It's one of those fake magician's prop knives.
I don't have a definitive answer, but given that the knife coming out of his neck is bent at a different angle than the knife going into his neck, I think fake' is the correct answer.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 15, 2012
Comments (10)
I noticed several odd pranks in the news:
  • Touching women's stomachs: Tosh.0 had a segment on his show about women's reactions when you lightly touch their stomachs while they're sitting down, and he encouraged his viewers to try this during the commercial break to see what would happen. According to Time, lots of people promptly began posting videos to youtube showing themselves doing this.

  • "I've buried the body": Over in Western Australia, many people are reporting that they're receiving a puzzling text message: "I have buried the body like you told me to. What do you want me to do now?”  Police are telling them to ignore the message, and are warning the pranksters that sending such a message could lead to fines or imprisonment. link: smh.com.au
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 14, 2012
Comments (2)
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