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May 2012
Alaska biologist Bruce Wright, writing in the Alaska Dispatch, offers a new theory to explain Nessie sightings — as well as sightings of 'monsters' in other lakes, such as Alaska's Lake Iliamna. He thinks people may actually have been seeing Pacific Sleeper Sharks. Despite the name, this type of shark is found circumglobally in northern waters and could have made its way into Loch Ness. Wright elaborates:
The idea of sharks possibly using Loch Ness is not new; that's long been one of the hypotheses explaining the Loch Ness Monster. But until now, nobody has suggested sleeper sharks, perhaps because they're secretive and so rarely seen.
Sleeper sharks can exceed 20 feet and weigh upwards of 4 tons. Sleeper sharks probably use rivers and lakes to find food, and there is an abundance of salmon and other fish in Loch Ness and Lake Iliamna.
Sightings are often consistent with descriptions of sleeper sharks in that the monsters' shape and colors usually match that of sleeper sharks. Salmon and lots of other prey species have been found in sleeper sharks' stomachs.

He's planning an expedition to Loch Ness in 2013 to see if he can catch a sleeper shark there on video. Given how many other people have tried and failed (or tried and hoaxed) to get photographic evidence of large marine animals there, he has a difficult task ahead of him.


Bruce Wright posing with a sleeper shark
Categories: Nessie
Posted by Alex on Fri May 11, 2012
Comments (2)

Add this to the satirical candidates file: The guy in the picture was born Eric Mutch. But in 2010 he changed his name by deed poll to "Zero None Of The Above" and ran in the general election for Mayor of Bristol. But he only received 172 votes. He theorized that people didn't understand the point of his name, which was "to give a choice to people who wanted to vote but did not want to give their support to any of the candidates on their ballot paper."

So he's changed his name again. It's now "Mr Corrupt Self-serving Lying B'stard." And he's running for Mayor of Bristol again.

If elected, he promises to "print a local currency and pay an annual unconditional basic annual income guarantee to every Bristol resident of £10,000 Bristol pounds."

If I lived in Bristol, I'd vote for him. Link: thisisbristol.co.uk
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri May 11, 2012
Comments (3)
Teacher Larry Wilson offers up these gems, all of which really were told to him by tardy students:
  • "I had too much homework in my important classes."
  • "I'm having a baby this weekend, can I turn it in later."
  • "I turned it in, and I guess you lost it."
  • "Glee was on."
  • "I'm a crack baby."
  • "I'm working on my essay at home."
  • "My allergies are extremely bad right now, and I'm on my period. It's VERY heavy flow, so I apologize in advance if I freak out on you or anyone."
  • "It's at my mom's house, and I'm at my dad's this week"
  • "My mom wouldn't let me do my homework."
  • "I ran out of paper, so I did my homework on this paper towel. Is that okay?"
Read the full article at anchoragepress.com.
Categories: Bad Excuses, Education
Posted by Alex on Fri May 11, 2012
Comments (2)

Warning notice posted in Las Vegas, New Mexico, March 24, 1882. Had to post it because I love the term "Bunko-Steerers". From New Mexico's Digital Collections (via Kate Nelson).
Categories: History, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu May 10, 2012
Comments (0)
On Wednesday, Nate St. Pierre posted an interesting story on his blog. He detailed his discovery of an attempt by Abraham Lincoln in 1845 to create and patent a social-networking system that very much resembled Facebook. Only it was an all-paper version of Facebook, and Lincoln didn't call it Facebook. In his patent application he supposedly called it "The Gazette," and he described it as a system to "keep People aware of Others in the Town."

He laid out a plan where every town would have its own Gazette, named after the town itself. He listed the Springfield Gazette as his Visual Appendix, an example of the system he was talking about. Lincoln was proposing that each town build a centrally located collection of documents where "every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors."

Lincoln created a sample Gazette page (below) for himself, to show the patent office what he was talking about. St. Pierre commented how much it resembled a Facebook status page because it included a picture of Lincoln in the top left, and then had columns in which Lincoln discussed various details of his life. For instance, in one column Lincoln described his great enjoyment at visiting P.T. Barnum's circus.


And this is where St. Pierre's story falls apart, historically speaking. Because Barnum didn't own a circus in 1845. (He had his New York museum, at which he was perpetrating hoaxes such as the Feejee Mermaid exhibition.) Nor did the technology exist in 1845 to include a photograph on a newspaper page. Daguerre had only announced his invention of photography in 1839, and there was no way to make multiple copies of daguerrotypes, short of taking a photograph of the photograph, which meant the quality degraded with each reproduction.

The reality is that no part of St. Pierre's story is true. Lincoln never submitted a patent for a 19th-century version of Facebook. The story is pure historical fantasy. Though that hasn't stopped over 16,000 people from sharing the story on Facebook. (And one suspects a good percentage of those people might have thought the story was true.)

For those interested in real history, the nineteenth century did produce some social-networking innovations that definitely were the distant predecessors of Facebook. The penny press, introduced in 1835 1832, was the most important of these. As the name implies, the penny press was simply the idea of selling newspapers at the cut-rate price of a penny each. This made papers cheap enough to become a mass-market commodity, hugely increasing their readership. Like Facebook, the penny papers were full of local gossip and news. They pioneered the concept of "personal ads" placed by individuals. They relied heavily on advertising for their income. And the owners of the most successful penny papers became filthy rich. I go into quite a bit of detail about the penny papers in my article on the Great Moon Hoax of 1835.
Categories: History, Social Networking Sites
Posted by Alex on Thu May 10, 2012
Comments (1)
At the end of April, a news story was widely reported involving a jilted Polish woman, Anna Maćkowiak, who got revenge on her ex-boyfriend by pulling out all his teeth. Seems she was a dentist, and he made the mistake of showing up at her practice complaining of toothache. So she sedated him, and set to work. He woke up later with no toothache, and no teeth.

This got posted over at Weird Universe (though not by me), but it didn't trigger any hoax alarms in my head. But it should have. MSNBC reporter Erin Tennant was suspicious, did some investigating, and discovered it was all a hoax. Or rather, it seems to have been a case of satire mistaken as news. And it was that bastion of great journalism, the Daily Mail, that first published the story in English. More details from MSNBC:

when msnbc.com contacted police in Wroclaw, Poland, about the supposed criminal case, a spokesman said they had no record of such an incident.

"Lower Silesia Police Department has not been notified about such an event and is not investigating such a case," Pawel Petrykowski of the Provincial Police Headquarters in Wroclaw said in an email that was translated into English.

A legal adviser for Poland’s Chamber of Physicians and Dentists, which handles disciplinary matters, said the organization is not investigating and has never investigated any such case, and added that there is no dental practitioner named Anna Maćkowiak listed in Poland’s central register of dentists.

"No information about this kind of misconduct has been provided to the Supreme Chamber," the legal advisor, Marek Szewczyński, said in an email. "The Supreme Chamber is also not aware of any actions of this kind being taken by the Regional Chamber of Physicians and Dentists in Wroclaw, which would be the competent authority in case of a possible professional misconduct committed by a dental practitioner from Wroclaw."

Most online news outlets in Poland left the story alone. Polish television news channel TVN4 published an article mocking foreign media's coverage of the story, which it speculates began as a prank. "It appears that the article, written as a joke, began life on the Internet and has little to do with any truth," the translated article reads.

All the news reports about Maćkowiak published on news websites in the U.S. and elsewhere, such as Australia’s Herald Sun or New Zealand Herald, can be traced back to an article published in the online edition of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper.

The article, which has been shared on Facebook more than 75,000 times since it was published on April 27, appears under the byline of staff reporter Simon Tomlinson.

But Tomlinson said he does not know where the story came from and distanced himself from it when questioned about its origins.
"I've drawn a bit of a blank," he said in an email. "The (Daily) Mail Foreign Service, which did the piece for the paper, is really just an umbrella term for copy put together from agencies. My news desk isn’t sure where exactly it came from."
Categories: Journalism, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (0)

This image that recently appeared on the May 4 cover of the Living section in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is all over the blogosphere. Does the heading say "Suit Yourself" or "Shit Yourself"?

The real question is whether this was an innocent accident, or an artist's prank. Kind of like the penis on the Little Mermaid video cover. The artist swore he didn't put it there intentionally, but that was kind of hard to believe. After all, how could he miss it?

Categories: Photos/Videos, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (6)
Scatology has always provided fertile ground for pranks and humor. In fact, I've read scientific speculation that farts and feces probably provided the inspiration for the very first jokes told (or staged) by our early hominid ancestors. Witness how modern-day chimpanzees find it endlessly amusing to fling their feces.

This might provide us with some context for the prank called Poop Dollaring. (Though it's probably more analysis than the prank deserves.) Its method is simple: smear feces on a dollar bill and then place it so as to "tantalize the gullible".

Back when people used pay-phones, a variant of the prank involved stuffing dog poop into the coin return box. Unfortunately I remember falling victim to this once as a teenager. It was disgusting.

Knowing about poop dollaring might, if nothing else, spare you from too readily picking up some money you see lying on the ground.

Of course, youtube provides us with quite a few examples of innocent victims getting poop dollared.

Categories: Gross, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (3)
A new book to add to my reading list:

A Disposition to Be Rich
csmonitor.com

Geoffrey Ward’s cagily titled book, A Disposition to Be Rich, about his great grandfather isn’t so much written as lived in. In colorful and remarkable detail it chronicles the brazen exploits of Ferdinand Ward, “the best-hated man in the United States” and the pre-eminent Ponzi schemer of the Reconstruction Era. Not only did Ferd swindle former President Ulysses S. Grant out of millions in today’s dollars – making Grant a near-pauper as he was dying of tongue cancer – but Ferd’s greed also caused the collapse of several banks and the embarrassment of any number of high-ranking politicians and businessmen.
Categories: Books, Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (0)
A software company has announced it's making a widget called LazyTruth that will scan all your incoming emails for misinformation:

tl;dr: We’re building an inbox widget that surfaces vetted information when you receive an email forward full of political myths, urban rumors, or security threats. It’s called LazyTruth.


Basically the widget will scan the text of your incoming emails and check them against "pre-existing nonpartisan information". It's an interesting idea. I'll be curious to see how well it works.

Of course, the main problem will be that the people who need the widget most, won't use it. And the widget won't work if some authoritative source hasn't already debunked the rumor. So it probably won't detect the latest twitter rumor you may be confronted with. (via Engadget)
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (3)
A strange series of photos has recently been circulating online showing an entire classroom full of high school students in China hooked up to IV drips.


Apparently the students aren't sick. Instead, they're exhausted from cramming for the upcoming National College Entrance Exam (Gao Kao). So they're all being given supplemental amino acids via IV drip. And this is something the Chinese government is willing to pay for. Links: ministryoftofu.com, globaltimes.cn, businessinsider.com.

I haven't found anything to indicate that the scene shown in the pictures isn't exactly what it's being described as. And Chinese officials, in interviews, seem to have confirmed that this is what's going on.

The question is, does an animo-acid drip do anything for the students that drinking a gatorade (or other energy drink) wouldn't? Or, even better, getting a good night's sleep. Not as far as I know. Though it's not going to hurt them, except for a small risk of infection from the needle. And it definitely looks dramatic, so perhaps it triggers a confidence-boosting placebo effect.

It's not just the Chinese who are susceptible to strange, pseudo-scientific methods of boosting student performance. In Electrified Sheep I wrote about an idea that gained popularity in Europe and America circa 1912 of turning kids into super-students by electrifying them. The concept was to conceal wires in the walls and ceiling of a classroom, turning the entire room into a gigantic electromagnet. The students and teacher inside the room would supposedly benefit from the magnetic influence surrounding them. This idea was promoted by none other than Nikola Tesla, who wanted to turn all American classrooms into electromagnets. Nobel-Prize winner Svante Arrhenius even conducted experiments to test the idea... though the experiments didn't reveal any obvious benefit.

Perhaps the Chinese will latch onto the idea of electrifying their high-school students next.
Categories: Education, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (3)
The death last week of former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau was big news here in San Diego. But then, as deadspin.com reports, a rumor began circulating that his death had been predicted on Craigslist. Specifically, on May 1, a day before Seau died, this post apparently was posted on San Diego Craigslist:



The solution to this is simple. Someone must have edited the post after the fact to turn it into an accurate prediction. Either that, or Nostradamus has come back from the grave and is lurking around Craigslist. (But then, the prediction should have been in the form of a quatrain.)
Categories: Death, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon May 07, 2012
Comments (0)

Nettie has informed me that ThinkGeek is selling Bonsai Kittens. They're stuffed toys. Therefore, "No cats kittens or kittehs were harmed in the creation of this product." Still, it's seems to be like waving a red flag in PETA's face. They must figure that enough time has passed so that all the furor over bonsai kittens has calmed down.

In fact, ThinkGeek also seems to have acquired the bonsaikitten.com domain name. I guess no one else wanted it. The last time I checked it had become a spam portal, with a few ads for cat food and pet medications on it. However, ThinkGeek aren't hosting the original site there. Instead the URL forwards you directly to ThinkGeek's product page for their bonsai kitten dolls.

I remember when the Bonsai Kitten site debuted back in 2000, and people were absolutely apoplectic about it. I posted a description of it here on the site, pointing out that it was a hoax, and that was enough for me to start receiving quite a few email threats, from people describing how they were going to stuff me in a little glass jar to see how I would like it. They must have thought that I was somehow supporting the site rather than debunking it.

I may have to get a few of these dolls for old times sake.


The original bonsai kittens


Update: Something weird is going on with the bonsaikitten.com URL. The link I posted here redirects people to ThinkGeek. But I posted the same link on twitter, and that directs people to a spam site. I don't know why.
Categories: Animals, Products
Posted by Alex on Mon May 07, 2012
Comments (7)

This image (which appears on a lot of humor and weird picture sites around the web) is often captioned, "Why boys need parents." And try as I might, that's the only information I can find out about it. Where it came from and who created it, I have no idea.

I'm not even sure whether this is a photograph or a painting, though I suspect it's a painting. The low resolution makes it difficult to tell, and I can't find any higher-res copies. It's the boy's legs, in particular, that make me suspect it's a painting. They look slightly unrealistic.

So I'm posting this here in the hope that someone, at some point, might come along who knows something about the source of this image.

Update: Thanks to pazuzu for quickly identifying the source of this painting. (Yes, I was right. It's a painting!) It's an oil on canvas by Ron Francis titled "Skateboarding". Francis writes: "This image was inspired by a childhood memory. The suburb was somewhere around the north side of Sydney harbour and I was the boy on the skateboard."
Categories: Art, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon May 07, 2012
Comments (2)
Several pictures of a cat with a cat-shaped mark on its back have circulated online for a couple of years.


There's also a version of the image with arabic writing on it, that's currently doing the rounds on facebook.


I don't know the cat's name, but the cat has a Japanese owner who keeps a blog, ameblo.jp/usousopp, devoted to posting pictures of it. There are hundreds of pictures of the cat up there. And here's the strange thing. In the two pictures of the cat that are circulating, the marking clearly resembles a cat. But in the pictures of the cat on the ameblo.jp blog, the marking looks slightly different. The pointy ears on the marking are gone, so the marking no longer looks as much like a cat. Though when viewed upside down, it resembles a question mark.

 


Perhaps the pointy-ear effect in the two photos was caused by the way the cat's skin folded. Or perhaps someone photoshopped the ears in. I'm not sure, though I'm leaning towards photoshop. I searched the site to see if I could find the pointy-ear-marking photos. (The site has an image browser feature which made searching pretty easy.) I wanted to see if the originals differed from the versions in circulation. But I couldn't find them on the site.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri May 04, 2012
Comments (4)
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