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April 2012
If you're a woman, don't expect much help from men during a shipwreck. In fact, the men are likely to be shoving the women out of the way in their eagerness to save themselves. That's the general message of a new study by Swedish economists Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson, "Every Man for Himself! Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters."

Women fare worst on British ships — contrary to the tradition of British chivalry. The one exception to this rule was the Titanic, where Captain Smith announced, 'Women and children first.' And he enforced this rule at gunpoint. But apparently, during disasters it hardly ever occurs to captains to insist that women and children should be saved first. The recent Costa Concordia disaster demonstrated this.

The abstract of Elinder and Erixson's study:

Since the sinking of the Titanic, there has been a widespread belief that the social norm of 'women and children first' gives women a survival advantage over men in maritime disasters, and that captains and crew give priority to passengers. We analyze a database of 18 maritime disasters spanning three centuries, covering the fate of over 15,000 individuals of more than 30 nationalities. Our results provide a new picture of maritime disasters. Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared to men. Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers. We also find that the captain has the power to enforce normative behavior, that the gender gap in survival rates has declined, that women have a larger disadvantage in British shipwrecks, and that there seems to be no association between duration of a disaster and the impact of social norms. Taken together, our findings show that behavior in life-and-death situation is best captured by the expression 'Every man for himself'.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 14, 2012
Comments (0)
A nice example of the forced perspective illusion. Photo taken October 28, 1960. (found on eBay)


"Careful placement by photographer gives illusion that Aileen Gallagher is setting clock on tower of Chicago's Wrigley Building as Illinois and other sections of nation prepare for return to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time at 2 A.M. this coming Sunday. Aileen, Trans World Airlines hostess, is standing on ledge about two blocks from clock."
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 13, 2012
Comments (0)
Marjorie writes in again, with a story told to her by an Aussie friend (in his words). What I love about this story is that it's set in a time and place where people actually left their cars unlocked, with the keys on the front seat, expecting that the cars would still be there when they returned.

I was living in Hobart in 1977 and, driving home, I noticed a friend's car parked outside the corner store at the bottom of my street. I was expecting her to come visit later that afternoon and thought she might be in the store, so I parked behind her. She wasn't in the shop, and I couldn't see her anywhere near. I went to her car, which was unlocked, and found her keys on the seat. I went back to my car and left my keys on the driver's seat, returned to hers, got in and drove home.

An hour or so later she emerged from the friend's house where she had been visiting. She immediately saw that her car was gone and recognised mine. Her companion was shocked to see her car missing and she played along, but when he insisted on going back to his house and calling the police, she stunned him by saying, "No don't worry about it... I'll just take this one!" With that, she got into mine and drove off, leaving him gaping in the middle of the street.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 12, 2012
Comments (2)
France's tourism agency has been embarrassed after it's been revealed that a whole series of photos it's been using to promote French beaches don't actually show French locations at all. They're stock photos, taken in Hawaii and South Africa, in the background of which the tourism agency sometimes photoshopped sections of French coastline. It seems stupid since France has some great scenery, but the tourism agency was apparently too cheap to hire a photographer to take photos of any of it. (link: Daily Mail)

This is hardly the first time tourism agencies have been caught pulling this trick. In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted some examples, including a 2003 brochure for Bermuda that showed sunny beaches that were in Hawaii, and a Kentucky tourism brochure that featured a covered bridge actually located in New Hampshire.


Looks like France


But it's really Hawaii
Categories: Advertising, Exploration/Travel
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 12, 2012
Comments (0)
Either it's a hoax, or a muggle wandered across a wizarding lesson. (via HuffPost)

Categories: Paranormal, Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 11, 2012
Comments (1)
It's kinda hard to know who, if anyone, to feel sympathy for here. (Thanks, Bob!)
Lawyer falls for Nigerian e-mail scam, sues Wells Fargo
bizjournals.com

An Edina law firm that lost nearly $400,000 in a Nigerian wire-fraud scam is claiming that Wells Fargo, which handled the fund transfers, should cover its losses. The Star Tribune reports on the lawsuit by Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, which three years ago received an e-mail from someone purporting to be a Korean woman who needed the firm's help to collect a settlement... In his suit, Robert Milavetz argues that Wells Fargo & Co. should have recognized the red flags involved.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Scams
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 11, 2012
Comments (0)
These shoes were quite popular during the prohibition era. You could buy them in many shoe stores. They don't look like they were very comfortable.

Categories: Fashion
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 11, 2012
Comments (2)
Craig Silverman has coined a term for a new kind of excuse popular with writers caught plagiarizing. It's the Maureen Dowd Plagiarism Defense. He explains:

In 2009, Dowd used close to 50 words from a John Marshall post on Talking Points Memo. She didn't offer any attribution. The words were presented as her own, and that led to accusations of plagiarism, and to a correction being issued. The Dowd Defense emerged when she reached out to a variety of websites to explain how it happened. This is what she told Huffington Post and others:
"I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me."

So yes, the words weren't hers. But she thought she was just copying the words of a friend.

Craig notes a more recent use of this defense. A piece by Josh Linkner on Fast Company was found to contain parts of a blog post by Chris Dixon, unattributed. Linkner apologized to Dixon and explained:

A friend of mine sent me that excerpt and I had no idea it was yours or anyone else's so I didn't attribute it when I wrote my post. As an author, VC, and entrepreneur I hold myself to the highest standards and I'm deeply sorry this happened.
Categories: Bad Excuses, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 10, 2012
Comments (2)
An image released by NASA last week, taken by the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter, shows ancient lava flow on the surface of Mars, in the Elysium Planitia region. Some are saying that the shape of the lava flow looks like an elephant. Hmm. It looks like Jesus to me. (link: space.com)

Categories: Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 10, 2012
Comments (2)
In an ad that ran in Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Love Hewitt's breasts were noticeably smaller than they were in the same ad that ran just about everywhere else (including, briefly, on this site). I suspect this was done by some marketing person in order to give bloggers an excuse to write about Jennifer Love Hewitt's breasts, and post comparison photos. I fell for the ruse. (via Huffington Post)

Categories: Body Manipulation, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 10, 2012
Comments (4)
The Akron Beacon Journal tells the story of the Great University of Akron pingpong hoax:

Local history: Fake pingpong team pulls off hoax at University of Akron in 1970s
ohio.com

The University of Akron table-tennis team created a national sensation in the 1970s by compiling a winning record without playing a single game. Submitting articles about a pingpong team that didn't exist, UA students pulled off an outrageous hoax against the Buchtelite newspaper... The writers peppered their stories with details about flagrant fouls and trying conditions: A foe threw ice chips on a table, a player hurt his knee, a coach got kicked out after protesting a referee's call, rowdy fans interrupted a game... The Zips' crowning triumph was at the fictional Northwestern Open Table Tennis Tournament in Evanston, Ill., where UA defeated Ohio University and Notre Dame while a TV crew supposedly filmed the event for ABC's Wide World of Sports. The Buch­telite published a 41-inch article about the title — and it overshadowed March Madness... Stein, Nelson and Sekerak took a team photo with their "championship trophy" — actually a bowling trophy turned sideways to disguise its purpose. They borrowed it from ABC Trophy off Case Avenue.

Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 10, 2012
Comments (0)
If you follow internet memes at all, you're going to be aware of 'Ridiculously Photogenic Guy'. The title has been attached to 25-year-old Zeddie Little of New York. A picture of him was taken while he was running a 10k race in South Carolina. He seemed to look upbeat and well-composed, while everyone else looked like they were suffering. Someone uploaded the picture to reddit, with the comment, "My friend calls him 'Mr Ridiculously Photogenic Guy'". The image and title promptly went viral, making Little an overnight internet celebrity.


Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

This immediately reminded me of the Gorgeous Guy phenomenon, from way back in 2001, in which a guy's picture was uploaded to San Francisco's Craiglist with the comment, "Gorgeous Guy @ 4th and Market at the MUNI/Amtrak Bus Stop (Mon-Fri)." The Gorgeous Guy's picture soon went viral, resulting in the real-life Gorgeous Guy being tracked down and invited to appear on CNN, The Tonight Show, etc.


Gorgeous Guy

The punchline of the Gorgeous Guy story, however, was that his initial burst of internet popularity turned out to have been artificially engineered. David Cassel of the San Francisco Bay Guardian discovered that the initial flood of messages promoting and gushing about the "Gorgeous Guy" all traced back to the same IP address — which was the address of the company where Gorgeous Guy worked. Cassel suspected that Gorgeous Guy had been promoting himself, though Gorgeous Guy himself insisted it had been his co-workers playing a prank on him.

There's absolutely no indication that Ridiculously Photogenic Guy's popularity was artificially goosed up in any way. In fact, Zeddie Little seems to be trying his best to avoid his unasked-for celebrity status. But it is odd how these internet memes echo and repeat themselves.

Incidentally, after I wrote about the Gorgeous Guy incident in the book version of The Museum of Hoaxes, Gorgeous Guy contacted me, and I continue to get updates from him every few years. Last I heard, if I remember correctly, he was working as a real-estate agent somewhere.
Categories: Celebrities, Photos/Videos, Social Networking Sites
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 09, 2012
Comments (0)
Another list of urban legends from the BBC. This time it's legal urban legends. All the following laws, though frequently repeated, are NOT TRUE:
  • It's illegal to die in Parliament.
  • It's illegal to put a stamp on upside down.
  • It's illegal to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day.
  • It's legal to kill Welsh people in the town of Chester.
  • It's legal for a man to urinate in public, as long as it's on the rear wheel of his car and his right hand is on the vehicle. And pregnant women can legally relieve themselves in any public place, including into a policeman's helmet.
  • London taxis have to carry a bale of hay in their boot.
  • If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and needs to use the toilet, you have to let them enter.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 09, 2012
Comments (4)
Part worn human!
Brighouse Echo

A PRACTICAL joke landed Brighouse engineer Paul Pattinson in hot water with mighty online retailer ebay. Describing Paul as 'a part-worn human, in need of a good home', the ebay notice sought bids for the 45-year-old employee at Flow Technology Ltd. Within days hundreds of people had viewed the item and more than 35 had put in bids, the highest being for £82. But on Tuesday ebay removed the item, only 24 hours before the bidding was due to close, because it breached the online company's rules. One of Paul's colleagues, David Clark, decided to put his friend up for sale as a practical joke to see how many bids he would attract. Paul, it was said, 'required exercising three times a day' and his moving parts 'needed oiling with Newcastle Brown'.
Categories: eBay
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 09, 2012
Comments (0)
Brian Chapman reports the start of an interesting Olympics 2012 rumor on his Legends & Rumors blog:
Enormous Olympic rings have started popping up in London. There's a set at St Pancras, another recently floated down the Thames, and a third set will be suspended at Tower Bridge.

We're told that there's something special about one of the rings. Someone involved in their construction had a bit of a downer on the whole Olympics in London thing. So he took a shit inside one of the rings. And then had it welded shut.

Categories: Gross, Sports, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 07, 2012
Comments (1)
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