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This comes via News of the Weird. The incident occurred in San Diego, but somehow I missed hearing about it on the local news:

Urban Legend Come to Life: A San Diego Union Tribune report of a March 28 attempted robbery seems accurate, though reminiscent of reports that have been hoaxes (including one, from The Dallas Morning News, that News of the Weird fell for in 2002). A 32-year-old woman reported that a robber accosted her and her dog in an upscale San Diego neighborhood that night, demanded her money, grabbed a bag she was holding but quickly threw it down, and in frustration, tried to shoot the dog (but the gun failed to fire). He finally fled. His frustration was because she was carrying no money, and the bag contained nothing but the results of cleaning up after the dog. [San Diego Union Tribune, 3-30-05]
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 28, 2005
Comments (3)
A video is going around that shows a UC Berkeley professor detailing the mess a student got into by stealing his laptop (Boing Boing links to various copies of the video). The student thought he was just going to be stealing a copy of an exam. What he didn't know was that he was also stealing industrial trade secrets, which will send various federal agencies searching for him. It's a great speech by the professor. The question is, how much of it is real, and how much of it is bluff?

The professor in the video is Jasper Rine. Google his name and you come up with all kinds of links between him and big biotechs. So when he says there are trade secrets on the laptop, I would believe him. I would also believe that the corporations won't be happy about having their info stolen.

But I'm not sure I'd agree with the professor's assertion that the thief WILL be found. When he mentions that the use of Windows triggered an alert in Redmond, that doesn't mean anything. I get that alert when I try to use Microsoft Word on my laptop and desktop at the same time. Microsoft isn't going to be tracking the thief down. He also mentions tracking a signal from a wireless receiver in the laptop. I suppose they could triangulate the data and come up with a location. Except that on a campus with tens of thousands of people living in close quarters, that might not be of much use if the laptop was used in a public space. He also mentions a partial image of the thief. But obviously the image isn't good enough to allow an easy identification, or they would have already got the guy.

If I were the thief, I wouldn't turn myself in (I wouldn't have stolen the laptop in the first place, but that's another matter entirely). Turning yourself in would mean certain punishment. I would just get rid of the laptop. The likelihood is that federal officers aren't going to spend that much time hunting it down, and if the laptop simply vanishes there's not much that can be done. It'll be interesting to see if there's ever any follow-up to this case.

And oops. I just noticed this was linked to in the forum also. I should have checked out what that 'World of Pain' link was about before I wrote this up. Oh well. I'm guilty of double posting, I guess.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 21, 2005
Comments (16)
Big Gary sent me this story, knowing that it would be a suitable contribution to the fast-growing Garden Gnome Wing of the museum (one of these days I'll actually get around to creating a gnome category):

LONDON - A grandmother stopped an intruder from entering her home by lobbing a heavy garden gnome at him, police said Friday. Jean Collop was woken early on Tuesday morning by the sound of an intruder on the roof of her home in Wadebridge, southwest England.
"I grabbed the first thing that came to hand — one of my garden gnomes — and hurled it at him, and hit him," she recalled.
"He lay there and I began to scream. I went back into the kitchen and found a rolling pin in case he came down. I didn't want to break another gnome."
A neighbor alerted police who arrived shortly afterward and arrested the intruder.
Categories: Gnomes, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 17, 2005
Comments (10)
Are you soon going to need a license to pick wild mushrooms in Illinois? That was what an email press release that circulated around last week stated. The email claimed that mushroom hunters would have to get a license from the same vendors that sell hunting and fishing licenses, and that revenue from the license sales would benefit biological and archaeological research in Illinois. The email prompted dozens of people to call the Illinois Natural Resources Department to complain. Today a Department spokeswoman, Gayle Simpson, denied that any such licenses were going to be required. In other words, the email was a hoax.
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 05, 2005
Comments (4)
I've heard that there's a new internet fad called 'Bombing' which involves internet users getting together to phone in fake emergencies to the police. I have no idea whether or not this is really happening (though it did immediately make me think of the Not-So-Great Internet UFO Hoax, which involved an internet community trying to coordinate calling up authorities with a phony UFO sighting). Has anyone ever heard of this new fad? Is it real?
Update: This question arises because a Texas woman who phoned in a fake emergency call is using 'bombing' as her excuse. She claims it's an internet game, in which the winner is the person who can get the most police to respond to a phony emergency. The winner also gets to go to jail!
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 24, 2005
Comments (24)
Here's an old news story (from Dec. 2003), but it's still interesting from an urban legend perspective. An 18-year-old youth in South Africa claims that three women forced him at gunpoint to have sex with them. "The youth claims that after this the women said welcome to the world of Aids." It seems like the police didn't believe his story. They just laughed at him, which isn't surprising considering that his story is exactly like that urban legend about someone who wakes up after a one-night stand to find the person they slept with has disappeared and written 'Welcome to the world of AIDS' on the bathroom mirror. But just imagine if the kid is telling the truth. No one will ever believe him.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 17, 2005
Comments (11)
Status: Hoax website
If you're ever shopping around for a contract killer, look no further than HITMAN, "The most trusted name in professional killings." They conveniently take Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. Plus, they offer "discounts for packages of three hits or more, as long as the marks are all grouped together in one geographic location, and as long as our services have to be rendered all within the same timeframe." I'm impressed by their list of 'greatest hits' that includes: "Olympic Medallist Dies in Failed Suicide Attempt;" "Used-car Dealer Drowns in Public Restroom;" "Chef Found Roasted (With Stuffing) Inside Own Oven;" "Surgeon Dies in Apparent Self-surgery Attempt;" and "Poet Commits Suicide by Firing Two Rounds into Own Head." (Thanks to Mike for the link)
Categories: Death, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 14, 2005
Comments (37)
A Connecticut senator, Andrea Stillman, has introduced a bill into the state legislature to impose a $250 fine on anyone who uses a cell phone while pumping gas. She sees it as a public health issue. Here's her reasoning:

Stillman said there are already warnings pasted on gas pumps informing people that a cell phone in the proximity of a gas pump could cause an electrical charge that might ignite the pump. However, she said, there are no penalties.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought that whole thing about cell phones making gas pumps blow up was just an urban legend. Engadget agrees, pointing out that "there’s no evidence that a cellphone has ever sparked a fire at a gas station."
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 10, 2005
Comments (44)
Archives of fanfiction on the net have traditionally grouped stories according to rating (i.e. X, R, PG-13, PG, and G), so that everyone knows what to expect before they read a story. But it turns out that their use of the rating system may be illegal. A few fanfiction writers have apparently begun receiving cease-and-desist notices from the MPAA demanding that they stop using the rating system since it's the intellectual property of the MPAA. The people receiving these notices can hardly believe they're real. And other people are puzzled as well. Riba Rambles summarizes:

Some are wondering if this isn't a hoax. Not only has this practice [i.e. rating fanfiction] been going on for years without incident, but so far only smallfry individuals have reported receiving notices, rather than major archive sites. Others question the MPAA's legal standing pointing out that the MPAA's trademark specifically states its use for motion pictures, and besides there's no profit in fanfic to go after. Meanwhile, a few people are having fun suggesting useful (and silly) alternate ratings systems.

My guess is that the cease-and-desist notices are real. As with the Eiffel Tower copyright issue, it's another example of the strange lengths to which copyright and trademark enforcement are being taken. Or rather, another example of lawyers with nothing better to do.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 17, 2005
Comments (21)
image Has the city of Paris really copyrighted the Eiffel Tower as it looks lit up at night, meaning that anyone (including a tourist) who takes a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night has to get permission and pay a fee before publishing that picture? As bizarre as it sounds, apparently this is true. Even if you wanted to post your holiday photos of the 'Eiffel Tower by night' on the web, you would technically have to get permission first. The Eiffel Tower itself was built in 1889, and therefore its likeness entered the public domain long ago, but the Parisian authorities sneaked around this fact by copyrighting the lights on the Tower. They did this in 2003. That's why the copyright issue only applies to the Eiffel Tower at night. So technically it's not the tower itself that is copyrighted. It's the lights on the tower. But you can hardly photograph the tower without getting the lights. This is the kind of thing that sounds so stupid you suspect it has to be false, but David-Michel Davies who's written about this over at FastCompany appears to have done his homework, so I'm inclined to believe him. (via J-Walk)
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 03, 2005
Comments (14)
Residents of the entire state of Connecticut were ordered to evacuate yesterday, after someone in the state emergency management department accidentally "pressed the wrong button" and sent out the evacuation message to broadcasters (thanks to Gary for forwarding the story). Even though TV and radio listeners were told that the state was being evacuated, nobody paid any attention. The police didn't even receive any calls about it. Obviously Connecticut needs to revise its emergency evacuation message. Something more along the lines of 'the state has been invaded by Martians' proved quite effective in nearby New Jersey in 1938.

Yesterday's incident recalls the time on February 20, 1971 when the National Emergency Warning Center in Colorado mistakenly told broadcasters that the country was under nuclear attack. The nuclear alert included the proper code word, 'HATEFULNESS', which meant that broadcasters should have treated it as real, but almost all of them just ignored it. Great to know people take these emergency alerts so seriously.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 02, 2005
Comments (12)
The Sun reports that British rowdies have embraced a new hobby: happy slapping. Here's what the Sun says:

A VIOLENT craze in which thugs slap strangers across the face and record it on video phone is sweeping Britain. The so-called "happy slappers" attack while an accomplice captures it to post on the internet or send to another mobile. But what started as a schoolkids' prank has escalated into more serious assaults - including fly-kicking strangers' spines - and robberies.

This sounds suspiciously like an urban legend. I can definitely believe the part about random street attacks, but the part about recording it all on video and posting it on the internet sounds dubious. If this is really the latest craze then where, as the Inquirer asks, are all these 'happy slapper' videos? They can't be found. Has anyone ever seen one? Of course, I imagine that some idiot will probably be inspired to go out and create one, now that everybody is talking about the phenomenon. If they do, then the video will serve as perfect evidence for prosecuting them.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 26, 2005
Comments (29)
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