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I've finally made a decision in the urban legend haiku contest. It was tough, because there were so many good entries, but I've decided to give the book to Big Gary C, based on the consistently high quality of his entries. He clearly has a knack for urban legend haiku. Here are a few of his entries:
(Ten English Names for Snow)
Flakes, drifts, flurries, slush,
Blizzard, powder, crust, white stuff,
whiteout, ice crystals.
We brought our cute pet
Back from our Mexican tour.
He loves cheese; fears cats.

Ev'ry stick of gum
I've ever chewed and swallowed
Is still inside me.

In elevator,
big black man with dog says, "Sit!"
So everyone does.

I had the biggest
beehive hairdo in town, 'til
spiders ate my brain.

Oh, waiter, waiter!
Won't you please feed my dog now?
No, no! Not to me!

Cheney's pocket's full
of something; so they don't call
him "Dick" for nothing.

Once you start writing
verses in Haiku format,
it's hard to stop it.

To be honest, I liked reading everyone's haiku so much that I didn't want the contest to stop. So I'm going to try to give the haiku a more permanent (better organized) place on my site and allow people to keep adding more of it. Maybe I'll also make this an ongoing contest, awarding a prize every month. Or something like that. Stay tuned.
Categories: Miscellaneous, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 22, 2004
Comments (7)
A couple of days ago someone mentioned that the comments would be easier to read if they were in chronological order, so that you wouldn't need to go to the bottom of the page to view the start of a discussion. I hadn't thought much about it before, but this seemed logical to me, so I reconfigured the comments to appear in chronological order.

But now Razela has noted that the old way, when they were in reverse chronological order, it was easier to see the newest comments. Which is also true.

Each way of doing it has pluses and minuses. Unfortunately it has to be either/or. The software doesn't allow individual users to set their own preferences. So, because I can't see which way is obviously better, I've decided to let everyone vote, and then whichever way the vote turns out (after a few days), that's the way the comments are going to be configured. Permanently.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 17, 2004
Comments (14)
image I've received a free copy of David Wilton's new book, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, courtesy of Oxford University Press. So I'm having a contest to give it away. The book has just been published. I'm not sure it's even out in stores yet, but you can get a copy here... if you win the contest.

First, what's the book about? Wilton debunks all those stories about where words come from, such as 'is GOLF really an acronym for Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden?' or 'does SOS stand for Save Our Souls?' or 'was F**K originally an acronym meaning For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge?' You'll have to get the book to find out the answers. It's a lot of fun, and quite enlightening.

Here's what I've decided for the contest: urban legend haiku. I figure this is appropriate since it's a book about urban legends and language. Whoever comes up with the best haiku describing an urban legend (or a hoax, since this is the Museum of Hoaxes) wins the contest. What's 'best' will, of course, be subjectively decided by me.

If you need inspiration, examples of urban legend haiku can be found here or here. I'm not going to be a stickler about whether or not entries maintain proper haiku form (three lines: first line five syllables, second line seven syllables, third line five syllables), since apparently the idea that haiku must adhere strictly to this form is itself a bit of an urban legend. Keep it to three lines, but if the number of syllables isn't perfect, I don't care.

Here's my own rather weak attempt at a hoax haiku. It took me all of a minute to write:

Enclosed in glass,
Soon she'll be rectangular,
My Bonsai Kitten.

You'll have to do better than this to win the book.

The contest will end on Nov. 20, about a week from today (oh, and you can submit as many haiku as you like).
Update: And one more thing, submit your entries as comments. Don't email them to me directly.
Update: Okay, the contest is now closed. I need a day or two to review all the entries.
Categories: Miscellaneous, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 12, 2004
Comments (143)
About five days after I decided to have non-member comments be moderated, I've changed my mind. From now on there will be no moderation (it was a pain for me to do, plus it disrupted the spontaneity of comments). Instead, I've put in place a high-tech anti-spam feature in which people who submit comments have to first type in a word displayed in a box. Members won't have to do this. Hopefully the spammers won't be willing to do this. If they do it'll be a complete waste of their time since I'll promptly delete their spam.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 11, 2004
Comments (6)
This is my new anti-spam system. Comments submitted to the site will be approved by a moderator (me) before they appear on the site.

HOWEVER, if you choose to register as a member, your comments will appear immediately. They'll skip the moderation process. So this is how you register as a member (it took me all weekend to figure out how to get this to work, so there may still be some bugs in it):

Step 1: Go to the Member Registration page and fill in the info.

Step 2: An email will be sent to you. Click on the link in this email and your member account will be activated.

Step 3: You'll then need to login on the Member Login page with your username and password. If you choose the 'auto login on future visits' option, you'll never need to login again, as long as you're using the same computer and don't erase your cookies.

That's it. As a member you'll be able to post comments as before without waiting for them to be moderated. I'll add permanent links to the member registration and login pages sometime this week.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 08, 2004
Comments (11)
I've got to say: spammers really suck. My site is being aggressively comment spammed. Hundreds of comments inviting people to check out 'interesting' information about personal finance credit reports, etc. are appearing on posts throughout my site. Most of it is being left on older entries, where I guess the spammer figures I won't notice it. The spam seems to be coming from a wide variety of different servers throughout Europe, which makes it impossible for me to effectively IP ban it.

As a consequence I've been wasting a lot of time deleting it all. An increasingly large amount of time every day. I've finally decided that enough is enough. The spammer has won, in the sense that I can no longer keep the comment feature on my site totally open (to be honest, I was surprised I was able to keep it open as long as I have). I've decided to activate the feature of my blogging software that requires every comment to be approved by me before it appears on the site. This will mean that absolutely no spam will make its way onto the site, since although spammers can easily get past software-based screening methods, they can't get past a human being.

Unfortunately it'll also mean that people won't have the instant gratification of seeing their comments appear right away, though it shouldn't take long for me to approve the messages (it's just a single click of a button)... a minute or two if it's during the day when I'm sitting at my computer. Obviously longer on the weekend or at night. The only other options are to a) only allow people who have registered as 'members' to post anything. But this would eliminate casual visitors from ever leaving any comments; or b) require people to type in a 'captcha' code every time they post a message, but I think this would be more of a pain in the neck than just waiting a minute or two to see your comment appear. Plus, a spammer could type in the code if he/she was determined enough.

On the positive side, having me approve every comment means that if you choose the option to be notified by email whenever someone responds to your comment, you can be confident that you won't be opening yourself up to spam by doing this.

It would be nice if I could selectively turn on the approval feature. Require approval for comments left on older posts and leave newer posts open. But I can't. It's an all-or-nothing feature. So that's the way it's got to be. Blame it on the spammers. (and by the way, this change doesn't affect the message board, which runs on different software).
Update: Guillaume emailed me with a good suggestion. Do a combination of allowing people to register as members and moderating comments. If people register as a member they can post and immediately have their comments appear. If they're not registered they can still post, but they'll just have to wait to wait to have their comments appear. That's definitely do-able, though it'll take me a day to figure out how to set it up. But it seems like a good compromise.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 06, 2004
Comments (17)
The exterminator came today and got rid of the bees in my wall. The good news is that the bee hive turned out to be nowhere near as big as he had first estimated when he examined my wall last week. I think it only clocked in at around 30lb. The bad news is that it was nowhere near as big as he estimated (since I was secretly hoping to be able to brag about a 300lb honeycomb in my wall). Here's a photo I snapped of part of what he removed. There was more in the wall above, from which this large piece had detached itself. image
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 21, 2004
Comments (17)
image I didn't get around to posting for the last couple of days because a major situation developed in my house. We discovered that an entire wall in our guest room is home to a colony of bees. What a nightmare. I thought (hoped) it was some kind of hoax at first, because I didn't know that bees will build hives inside of walls. But sadly, it's very real. I spent the last two days moving furniture around, getting everything ready for the exterminator to come next week. But as much as it sucks to discover these uninvited guests in my house, I'm dying of curiosity to see what the hive looks like once the exterminator knocks down the drywall. Plus, now that I know they're there, I'm running into the guest room every couple of minutes to put my ear up to the wall and listen to them buzzing around. It's very creepy.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 18, 2004
Comments (22)
The book contest has now been running for a week, and I got a lot of great responses. It was pretty tough making a decision (and any choice like this is bound to be somewhat random), but I finally opted to award a book to 'Redmond' for his account of the brownies with the secret added ingredient that turns urine blue. I'm also giving a book to Quentin Smith for his description of how they filled a school administrator's office from floor to ceiling with shredded paper (in order to give him a little more paperwork). The photographic evidence of the prank being pulled was great. So thanks to everyone for contributing their stories, and if you didn't win, don't worry. I think I'm going to have some more stuff to give away pretty soon.
Categories: Miscellaneous, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Sun Oct 10, 2004
Comments (2)
image One of the great things about having a website is that occasionally people send me free stuff, out of the blue. For instance, a British publisher named Harriman House sent me three copies of The Life & Death of Rochester Sneath by Humphry Berkeley. Since I don't have a use for three copies of the book, I've decided to give the two extra copies away.

But first, what is the book about? It documents a classic British public school hoax from the 1940s. Headmasters at elite British public schools such as Eton and Rugby began receiving letters from H. Rochester Sneath who described himself as a fellow Headmaster from Selhurst School nearth Petworth, Sussex. Sneath had many bizarre questions for his colleagues. For instance, he wanted to know how to deal with an infestation of rats, how to go about 'engineering' a royal visit, or whether it was advisable to provide special 'sex ed' instruction for the school maids. Remarkably, most of the headmasters believed that Sneath was a real person and responded seriously. Of course, Sneath wasn't real. He was the creation of Humphry Berkeley, who at the time was a student at Cambridge. When the hoax was exposed Berkeley was expelled for two years. This book collects together all of Sneath's letters and the responses he received. It's very short, taking about an hour to read, at most. But if you like British humor it's a classic, because Sneath perfectly skewers the pompous self-importance of the British upper class.

So here's what I have in mind. Since the book is about a school prank, post a description of a school prank in the comments section. Perhaps something that you participated in or have heard about. I'll choose the two pranks that I find the most amusing (and original) and send the winners a free copy of the book. Make sure that you include your email address in the appropriate box (though your email won't be publicly displayed... only I can see when people have entered email addresses, so that spammers can't harvest addresses from this site), otherwise I won't have any way of notifying you if you win. I'll let the contest run for a week before I choose the winner.
Categories: Miscellaneous, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Sun Oct 03, 2004
Comments (38)
I've finally made it back to San Diego. The vacation was great, but it's good to be back home. I'm also glad to see that the site wasn't completely overrun by spammers in my absence. Here's a few snapshots from the trip:

Posing with Nessie in Drumnadrochit.

The relatives I was staying with in Gloucester had a weird, mutant goldfish swimming around in their backyard pond. I dubbed it Nessie. Later we learned that the poor fish was suffering from dropsy and had to be put down before it popped and infected all the other fish in the pond.

image  image I was amazed by the meats they sold in French supermarkets. On the left is lapin, otherwise known as rabbit meat. Since the rabbits were already skinned, I couldn't tell if one of them was Bernd. On the right is pigeon meat, which isn't really very shocking, though you'd still be hard-pressed to find it in any American supermarket.

image Here I am posing in front of the Piltdown Man Pub located in the town of Piltdown. Unfortunately the pub was closed when I was there, so I didn't get a chance to go inside. Plus, it was raining when this picture was taken, so I didn't stick around for very long.

Finally, here's an odd advertisement that was painted on a wall next to the hotel I was staying at in York. I had no idea if 'Bile Beans' were ever a real product, and no one I asked knew either.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Sun Sep 26, 2004
Comments (19)
I'm posting this message from Paris, France. So far I've been finding it very hard to get onto the internet, but when I turned on my laptop in my hotel room I discovered that someone nearby is running an open wireless network (it's definitely not the hotel... I think it's the cafe on the corner).

Anyway, when I visited Loch Ness a few days ago I didn't think I had seen the monster, until I later examined the pictures I had taken. Then I noticed this mysterious object on the Loch that I didn't see while taking the picture. Perhaps it's just a small boat... or perhaps it's Nessie. Hmmm. image

By the way, if you ever stay in Loch Ness, skip the Loch Ness Lodge. It's a tourist trap. Opt for the Benleva Hotel instead. That's where the locals hang out. It's also got a great restaurant. I had kangaroo meat for dinner there (kangaroo meat in Loch Ness!!).
Categories: Cryptozoology, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 15, 2004
Comments (56)
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