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This week I started a new job as contributing editor to Muse Magazine. It's a magazine for young teenagers (9-14 years old) about science, history, and the arts, but I don't think that description quite captures its quirky nature. It runs articles on everything from 'Weird tales of the subway' to 'Could you live forever' (which is in the current issue). Its mascot is a trickster named Kokopelli (from Native American mythology) who loves to play pranks, which might explain why they were willing to bring a 'hoax expert' like me on board. For strange bureaucratic reasons (the kind that seem to plague all companies), the magazine doesn't really have an official site, but the other editors have created an unofficial Muse Magazine site on the sly. Muse is published jointly by the Cricket Magazine Group and the Smithsonian Magazine.
I've finally taken the plunge and upgraded this weblog to a 'real' weblog, complete with permalinks, categories, and the ability to add comments. I'm using pMachine to achieve all this. I'm a little wary of letting people add comments, having encountered huge amounts of comment spam when I previously had a guestbook (especially, as I noted somewhere else, from 'cruddy german hotels'... I still can't figure out why they, in particular, turned out to be such a plague). But I'll see how it goes. If it becomes too time consuming for me to delete the spam, I may have to convert to allowing comments by registered members only. But for now I want to keep it open to all. I should give a nod to John Walkenbach's J-Walk Blog, from which I got the idea to use pMachine.
I'm famous! Catherine Tapia wrote a piece about me for a local publication named San Diego City Beat. She pegs me as a "compulsive collector of weird information and web-surfing addict," which is exactly right.
Check out this month's issue of Mental Floss (you can find it at bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.). The cover article is 'History's Greatest Hoaxes Exposed," and it was written by... guess who! That's right. Me. And while I'm tooting my own horn, I might as well mention that you can also listen to the audio broadcast online of NPR's recent Talk of the Nation segment (from October 30, 2003) that featured me, yakking away about hoaxes.
I just uploaded two new levels to the Hoax Photo Test: Levels Three, and Four. Enjoy.
A student from Dunwoody Highschool in Dunwoody, Georgia sent me a note through the form on my comments page asking for help with a science fair project about gullibility. Unfortunately this student didn't include their return email address, so I don't know how to contact them. So hey, if you're the student who contacted me and you're reading this, send me another email, but remember to include a return address.
Just found out that I'm going to be on NPR's Talk of the Nation tomorrow. They're doing something about the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast (the 'panic broadcast') and are having me on as the hoax expert to comment. Good timing, since the paperback version of my book is also coming out this week. Hopefully it'll provide some publicity.
Just got back from New Mexico where I had been invited to speak at a conference about "Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias." I gave a talk about Internet Hoaxes. Getting back was a nightmare. Almost all the flights into Southern California had been cancelled, but I was lucky enough to get rebooked onto a small propeller plane that was flying into the tiny Carlsbad airport. Flew right over the fires, which was an eerie sight... a thin line of flame stretching from horizon to horizon. Here and there you could see houses burning. I live in the east county of San Diego which is quite close to one of the fires, but my house isn't in any danger. The problem is all the smoke in the air making it hard to breathe. Below are a few pictures I just took.
Just added Google Ads to the home page of the site (see to the right), and it looks like the Google computer is inferring from the fact that I had one entry referring to identical twins amputating body parts that visitors to my site might be interested in ads about amputation services and DNA testing. How weird. But at least these ads are a lot more interesting than the generic kind of ads for credit cards and mutual funds that are plastered over most of the internet.
I've just signed up with Google Ads to have them place ads on my website, thus ending my long-standing principled stance against cluttering up my site with advertising. Since it's costing me $50 a month to pay for the bandwidth for the site, I figure that I need to make an effort to recoup those costs somehow. Plus, the Google Ads, being only text, are relatively unobtrusive. And finally, the Google computer tailors the ads to the content of each page, so that the ads aren't totally irrelevant. I'm finding it very interesting to see what ads the computer chooses to place on each page. I've only begun adding the ad code to my pages, but on the Bonsai Kitten page the computer chose ads for charities and humanitarian organizations (maybe because of all the messages about the inhumanity of Bonsai Kittens), whereas on the page for Munchkin the Cat it chose ads for Cat merchandise.
A frustrated visitor asks: "If you don't know whether it's real, or a hoax, then why in the world did you include it on this site of 'hoaxes'!" I assume they were referring to those pictures of the skinny models. Well, as vast as my knowledge is (note: sarcasm intended), sometimes I just don't know whether the weird things that pop up on the news or on the internet are real or false. But when I list things here, usually someone will write in with info that'll point the way towards the truth. That's the great thing about the internet. So to answer the question, I list things here even if I don't know if they're real or not, in order to find out what other people might know. But everything in the museum galleries (as opposed to this weblog portion of the site) has been clearly identified as either a hoax or real.
Benjamin Radford and Robert Bartholomew have a book out that should be of interest to those interested in hoax stuff. It's titled Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking. I haven't got my hands on a copy yet, but here's a review of it from Psychology Today.