Hoax Museum Blog: Exploration/Travel

Nessie Hunting Video — Here's a short video I shot at Loch Ness, showing the Museum of Hoaxes group aboard the Nessie Hunter on Loch Ness. It's not a thrilling video, but unfortunately it's the only one I took the entire trip. Most of the time it never occurred to me to use the movie option on my digital camera, because in the past videos I've taken have ended up sitting in my hard drive never viewed. But I just realized how easy it is to upload videos to YouTube and share them. If I had realized this while in Scotland, I would have taken more of them. Oh well, next time. In the video pay attention to the voice of the tour guide whom you can hear giving a running commentary over the ship's PA system. He sounded just like Sean Connery. (That's actually why I decided to switch to movie mode, so I could record his voice.) Also, the two guys on the far left in the initial scene were not part of our group, but everyone else was.

Posted: Wed May 24, 2006.   Comments (4)

The Great Edinburgh Adventure — Tomorrow (Monday) I'll be flying to Edinburgh to participate in an exciting experiment: the first face-to-face meeting of Museum-of-Hoaxers. We'll be coming from all corners of the earth: Australia, America, and Europe. Will we be able to tolerate each other in real life (as opposed to virtual life)? Will we all end up in jail? Stay tuned. I hope to post some reports from Edinburgh.

I should note that this adventure wasn't my idea. The credit goes to a group of regulars who hang out in the forum (often seen congregating in the off-topic chit chat thread) and who decided that they wanted to meet each other in real life. I was invited along since my site facilitated the whole thing. And how could I say no?

Activities will include going on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, viewing Gordon Rutter's collection of curiosities, whiskey drinking, and hopefully taking a day trip up to Loch Ness to see Nessie. It should be fun.

Now I'm just hoping I don't arrive in Edinburgh to discover that I'm the only one there, the whole thing being an elaborate hoax designed to lure me halfway around the world on a wild goose chase.
Posted: Sun May 14, 2006.   Comments (11)

Camera Unlost, But Not Quite Found —
Status: True
Earlier today I read (via blogdex) the tale of a woman named Judith and her camera that was lost, then found, but still (paradoxically) remains lost. I thought it was interesting, but didn't consider it might be a hoax. However, several people have emailed me about it, so I thought I'd take a closer look at it. Here's the jist of the tale.

Judith lost her camera while on vacation in Hawaii. Back home she decided to create a photo blog of her vacation using pictures found on Flickr of the places she visited. About two weeks into this blog, she posts this message, explaining that she had received a call from a Hawaiian park ranger telling her that her camera had been found by a Canadian couple. Judith called the Canadian couple, only to learn that they didn't want to return the camera because their son (who happens to have diabetes) found it and now considers it to be his lucky camera. So Judith remains camera-less. The behavior of the Canadian couple has outraged netizens.

In terms of evaluating whether any of this is true, there's not, at first glance, much to go on. We kind of have to take Judith's word that what she's saying is true. But what I found most curious was how quickly Judith's blog went from being extremely obscure, to being all over the internet. Usually if you can figure out who's spreading a story, that will shed some light on whether or not a story is true. In this case, it wasn't hard to figure out how the story spread so far, so fast.

Following a chain of links soon led back to the well-known blogger Anil Dash, who seems to have been the first to post a link to Judith's lost-camera story. Boing Boing picked it up from him, and then it was all over the internet. Knowing this made it pretty easy to figure out that the Judith in question must be Judith Zissman, San Francisco artist and creator of 20things.org. (Anil mentions Judith Zissman elsewhere in his blog.) Judith is an artist, so maybe the lost camera blog is all an exercise in creative writing. (Wouldn't be the first time the internet has seen that.) But I doubt it. She seems fairly credible to me... and whether you believe the story is true all boils down to whether you believe Judith is telling the truth. I don't see any reason not to believe her. So for now I'm listing this as not a hoax.

(And in a separate story, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing is now being threatened by someone claiming to be the lawyer of the Canadian couple that took the camera. But it doesn't seem to be a real lawyer... just some random crackpot trying to get attention.)
Posted: Tue Feb 21, 2006.   Comments (14)

Message In A Bottle Crosses Atlantic —
Status: Undetermined
image The story of Harvey Bennett and his ocean-crossing bottle has been widely reported during the past week. The basic facts are as follows: Harvey Bennett, the owner of a tackle shop in Amagansett, New York, has for years been throwing messages-in-bottles into the Atlantic. He usually never sees the bottles again. But on January 24 he received a package in the mail containing one of his discarded bottles which, apparently, had floated all the way to Bournemouth, England. The finder of the bottle (who knew Bennett's address from the business card in the bottle) had written this note to Bennett:

I recently found your bottle while taking a scenic walk on a beach by Poole Harbour. While you may consider this some profound experiment on the path and speed of oceanic currents, I have another name for it - litter. You Americans don't seem to be happy unless you are mucking up somewhere. If you wish to foul your own nest, all well and good. But please refrain in the future from fouling mine.

The strangeness of this reply has puzzled everyone, and even prompted the Daily Telegraph to apologize for their countryman's lack of humor. But Newsday smells something fishy with this seafaring bottle story. They don't suspect Harvey Bennett is making up a hoax, but they think someone may be playing a prank on him. They point out that the name of the humorless British correspondent, "Mr. Bigglesworth," is also the name of Dr. Evil's cat in the Austin Powers movies. In addition:

A search of public records turned up no Henry Biggelsworth in Poole or neighboring Bournemouth... On a customs label affixed to the package, the sender used a slightly different spelling - Bigglesworth - when signing his name... The sender left out the "e" in Bournemouth on the return address. There is also no street in Bournemouth called "The Bowery." And the postal code should have begun with "BH" not "BJ."

Assuming that Bennett is trustworthy, I'm guessing that one of three things could have happened: a) The bottle really did make its way to England, and the reply was meant to be tongue-in-cheek; b) The bottle was found by someone in America and shipped to England, from where it was sent back to Bennett... making this a bottle version of the traveling-gnome prank; or c) the whole thing was engineered by some of Bennett's friends as a prank on him. They put one of his business cards in a bottle and arranged for it to be sent to him from England.
Posted: Mon Feb 06, 2006.   Comments (9)

Top 10 Apollo Hoax Theories — In honor of the anniversary of the moon landing, Space.com has an article listing (and debunking) the top 10 Apollo Hoax Theories. Below are the top 10 points raised by those who believe the moon landing was a hoax. You'll have to read the article to get the explanation of why these points DON'T prove that the moon landing was a hoax.

#10. Fluttering Flag: The American flag appears to wave in the lunar wind.
#9. Glow-in-the-Dark Astronauts: If the astronauts had left the safety of the Van Allen Belt the radiation would have killed them.
#8. The Shadow Knows: Multiple-angle shadows in the Moon photos prove there was more than one source of light, like a large studio lamp.
#7. Fried Film: In the Sun, the Moon's temperature is toasty 280 degrees F. The film (among other things) would have melted.
#6. Liquid Water on the Moon: To leave a footprint requires moisture in the soil, doesn't it?
#5. Death by Meteor: Space is filled with super-fast micro meteors that would punch through the ship and kill the astronauts.
#4. No Crater at Landing Site: When the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landed, its powerful engine didn't burrow a deep crater in the "dusty surface."
#3. Phantom Cameraman: How come in that one video of the LEM leaving the surface, the camera follows it up into the sky? Who was running that camera?
#2. Big Rover: There's no way that big moon buggy they were driving could have fit into that little landing module!
#1. Its Full of Stars!: Space is littered with little points of lights (stars). Why then are they missing from the photographs?
Posted: Wed Jul 20, 2005.   Comments (134)

Great Wall of China Visible From Space — Apparently the Great Wall of China is visible from space. This confirms the old myth, but reverses reports from last year stating that the wall wasn't visible. A Chinese astronaut was able to snap a picture of it as he orbited overhead in the space station. Unfortunately it's not very visible. The astronaut wasn't even sure if he had actually photographed it or not. Plus, it turns out that many man-made things are visible from space.
Update: Here's a story in China Daily that contains the astronaut's photo of the Great Wall. You can't miss it because apparently the wall is bright yellow (or is it bright orange?)
Posted: Mon Apr 25, 2005.   Comments (33)

The Old Negro Space Program — image Conspiracy theorists say that man never landed on the moon, but the truth is even more shocking. As this short documentary film about the Old Negro Space Program reveals, the Blackstronauts of Black 'NASSA' landed on the moon a full three years before White NASA managed to get there. However, this achievement has been covered up by an elaborate 'Black Blackout' in the media. The film manages to capture exactly the right 'Ken Burnsesque' tone. Watch for how they keep repeating 'It was a different time back then, 1957 or 58', and how a fiddle starts playing whenever the narration shifts to a more reflective mood. The guy who plays the part of the obligatory university academic is great also. (thanks to 'Ca n'Internet' for the link)
Posted: Thu Mar 24, 2005.   Comments (9)

Moon Base Clavius — Moon Base Clavius is "an organization of amateurs and professionals devoted to the Apollo program and its manned exploration of the moon. Our special mission is to debunk the so-called conspiracy theories that state such a landing may never have occurred." Their site is "named after the Clavius Moon Base in Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, and visualized by Stanley Kubrick in the film of the same name." I've only just begun browsing around their site, but already it looks like it has a lot of good info on it.
Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005.   Comments (26)

First Contact Tours — The latest issue of Outside Magazine has an article about the new thing in adventure vacations: a First Contact tour. On these tours, run by guide Kelly Woolford, you get to trek into the rainforest of Papua New Guinea and make contact with a 'Stone Age' tribe that has never met people from the outside world before. Apparently such tribes do still exist (though obviously they won't for long if these tours get more popular). Michael Behar, author of the article, decides to go on one of these tours and see what it's all about. So in September 2004 he joins the tour and they set off on a boat down a river in Papua New Guinea. After cruising along for a few days they finally get off the boat and start trekking into the jungle. Four hours from the river they make contact. Unfortunately it doesn't go well. The tribesmen they meet (who are wearing black headdresses made from cassowary feathers), end up attacking them, and the tour flees back to civilization. But once he's back home Behar starts to doubt whether he really experienced a 'first contact'. He suspects that the entire encounter was staged for his benefit. Maybe Woolford had arranged beforehand for the tribesmen to be there. Anthropologists whom Behar tells about the contact support this suspicion, noting that the tribesmen appeared to be suspiciously free of skin diseases for people living in the jungle. Plus, why were they wearing those ceremonial headdresses? But Woolford insists it was all real, arguing that the tribesmen were free of skin diseases because they lived near a source of fresh water in which they could bathe, and that they were wearing the headdresses simply because they enjoy dressing up. So Behar is left not knowing what to believe. It does sound an awful lot like a Stone Age Tasaday scenario to me. But even if it's not, the idea of a First Contact Tour is somehow very depressing.
Posted: Wed Feb 09, 2005.   Comments (14)

Trying To Leave Haugesund — image A curious bug in Microsoft's MapPoint site has been getting a lot of attention. If you ask for driving directions from Haugesund, Norway to Trondheim, Norway it will send you on a very strange route. Instead of going the direct route between the two cities, it will tell you to first cross the North Sea, drive down through England, cross the Channel, go east across Europe, and up through Sweden and Norway, until you finally arrive at your destination. Playing around with this a bit, I discovered that this weirdness doesn't apply only for directions from Haugesund to Trondheim. If you want to go almost anywhere from Haugesund (such as to Oslo or Copenhagen), MapPoint will send you via the North Sea route. However, it has no similar difficulty getting you TO Haugesund. Ask for directions from Trondheim to Haugesund and it'll send you right there. Also, if you ask for directions from Kopervik (which is right down the road from Haugesund) to Trondheim, it will send you on the correct (non-North Sea) route. Try this all out for yourself. Maybe there's some secret meaning here. Maybe Haugesund is one of those places that you can get to, but you're never supposed to leave (only by sea, and once you're there you'll discover that no ships are ever scheduled for departure). I mean, has anyone actually been to Haugesund and returned to tell about it? No one that I know of.
Posted: Thu Jan 27, 2005.   Comments (12)

Atlantis Found — A lot of people lately seem to be finding the lost city of Atlantis. Back in June a researcher said he located it off the southern coast of Spain by studying satellite images. Then last month US researchers said they found the city off the coast of Cyprus by using sonar technology. But my favorite is the discovery of Atlantis announced yesterday by the Hawaiian Phonics tutor Dennis Brooks. He's studied the issue deeply and has concluded that Atlantis is, in fact, Tampa, Florida. He points out that the dimensions of Atlantis as described by Plato pretty much match up with the dimensions of Tampa and Harbor Island (in Tampa Bay). So there you go. Mystery solved.
Posted: Thu Dec 09, 2004.   Comments (9)

America Looks Beyond — America Looks Beyond is the name of a visionary new project jointly funded by the PEW Charitable Trusts and the Gates Foundation. Armed with a budget of over $1 billion a year, this is what they plan to do: "Starting in 2005, every high school student in America is going to be offered a six-week trip to a third world country. To broaden their horizons. To gain a more intimate understanding of the world. And to fight the global War on Terror in a positive way, through education and first-hand knowledge of how so much of the world struggles to survive." That would be great, if it were real. But, of course, it isn't real. As Glassdog points out, the site isn't registered to either the Gates Foundation or the PEW Charitable Trusts. It's registered to the media activist group AdBusters. So in other words, the site is a spoof... showing what people could be doing, but aren't.
Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2004.   Comments (8)

Roving Ovines Return — image Three and a half years ago Larry and Sean disappeared from their home in Norfolk. Larry and Sean were ornamental sheep. Plywood cutouts covered with a woolly coat. About a week ago they reappeared, much to the delight of their owner, and they brought back with them a letter marked 'Larry and Sean's Holiday Photos,' showing the adventures they had in India. Turns out that Larry and Sean had been sheep-napped by a local man, Joe Claydon, who saw them one night while stumbling home from a late-night party and decided to make off with them. Years later Claydon felt guilty and took the sheep on an Indian holiday before returning them to their rightful owner. A small gallery of their vacation photos can be seen here. I think this prank (sending ornamental garden figures, usually gnomes, on foreign vacations) has become quite popular after it was featured in the movie Amelie. It was also the theme of a Travelocity ad campaign.
Posted: Mon Nov 22, 2004.   Comments (3)

Club Med, Croatian-Style — This is probably not a hoax. Just a really bad idea. Croatia is hoping to strike it rich by luring in tourists curious to see what it would be like to spend a couple of days in a hard-labor camp. So they're considering reopening a communist-era prison on a barren island in the Adriatic Sea, and offering it as a tourist destination. They envision "tourists being issued convict uniforms, pounding large stones with a sledgehammer and hauling the pieces on their backs to quarries around the prison." Sounds like fun.
Posted: Thu Nov 18, 2004.   Comments (8)

Fidobag — image Here's an odd product from Samsung-Italia. It's the Fidobag. The site explaining the Fidobag is in Italian, but apparently it's a suitcase that will respond to the voice of its owner and come at their command (that would be useful for finding a bag in an airport). Also, if someone tries to steal your bag, all you need do is call out and the Fidobag will start to 'bark' at an intensity of 197.5 decibels, thereby stunning and exposing the would-be thief. Gizmodo offers a more complete translation of the site. Although the Fidobag does seem like it would be useful, it just seems way too odd to actually be real.
Posted: Mon Nov 01, 2004.   Comments (8)

Shallow American Roads — While browsing through the alt.folklore.urban usenet group, I noticed a debate raging over the question of how deep American roads are. Apparently (so the urban legend goes) American roads can only be built to a fairly shallow depth in order to make the land under them more easily reclaimed for farming. By contrast, European roads are built to a much deeper depth. As a consequence, European roads are much more durable than American roads and need fewer repairs. The usenet group didn't appear to have reached any conclusion about the validity of this claim, but I can't imagine it's true. I think the frequency of road repairs is mainly a function of weather conditions (does the ground freeze and thaw a lot) and the amount of traffic on the road. I can't find any references on Google to American laws stating that roads have to be kept shallow for the benefit of future farmers.
Posted: Tue Oct 19, 2004.   Comments (13)

Runaway Car — Hicham Dequiedt claims that the reason he had to drive 125 miles at 120 mph, weaving in and out of traffic and speeding down the hard shoulder, was that the cruise control got stuck. Somehow, miraculously, he managed to stop the car just before he would have smashed into a toll booth. His story sounded a little fishy to me the first time I saw it two days ago. And apparently other people think it's fishy as well. Renault, the manufacturer of his car, says that they've examined his vehicle and can't find anything wrong with it. Perhaps Dequiedt just felt like going on a joyride. Or perhaps Renault is trying to get off the hook. Hard to know. I can understand the cruise control getting stuck, but usually the brakes would still work. (Oh, and Slashdot has a pretty lively thread going about this incident).
Posted: Thu Oct 07, 2004.   Comments (5)

Back Home — 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.
Posted: Sun Sep 26, 2004.   Comments (19)

The Secret History of the Flying Carpet — In late July an essay appeared in the Australian literary journal Meanjin written by Azhar Abidi. It was titled 'The Secret History of the Flying Carpet'. The essay described the discovery of 13th-century Persian scrolls that suggested there was some truth to the old legends of flying carpets. Ancient Persian artisans had apparently discovered a process of boiling fibers in a magnetic clay before weaving them into a carpet. These magnetized fibers then floated above the ground, repelled by the Earth's own magnetism. According to the scrolls, the fledgling flying carpet industry was driven out of existence by horse and camel breeders worried about future competition. This all sounds pretty fantastic, and it obviously is. But nevertheless, Abidi's essay was presented as fact, complete with footnotes, so it shouldn't be any surprise that some people have taken it seriously. According to The Weekend Australian, "Two Iranian websites have published his essay, prompting internet exchanges on the finer technical points of piloting carpets and how to turn and land them."
Posted: Mon Aug 09, 2004.   Comments (6)

Worst Named Bus — image About a week ago I posted a picture of a 'Big Hairy Fanny' bus that supposedly operates in Finland. I suspected the picture was a fake, and it turns out that my suspicion was correct. Quite a few people commented that they had seen other pictures of the same bus with the name 'Fücker' painted on the side, and today Iain Cartmill sent me a picture of this bus. A quick google search turned up lots of other images of it, as well as the website of the Fücker travel company, based in Germany (click on the 'Die Busflotte' button to see pictures of the bus in question). So the Fücker Bus is real, but the Big Hairy Fanny Bus is fake. The mystery is why anyone photoshopped the picture to read 'Big Hairy Fanny,' since the actual name is funnier than the hoax name.
Posted: Tue Jul 13, 2004.   Comments (17)

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