Hoax Museum Blog: Technology

Posted: Tue Nov 04, 2014.   Comments (0)

Posted: Wed May 07, 2014.   Comments (1)

HUVr Board — On March 3 a video appeared online (with an accompanying website) announcing that a company had created an actual working hoverboard (aka HUVr Board), of the kind seen in the 1989 movie Back to the Future II, using antigravity technology. The video immediately went viral, with over 3 million views already on YouTube.

As many have noted, the video is clearly fake. No one has created a working hoverboard. But it was an impressive fake. Especially noteworthy is the number of celebrities appearing in the video — including Christopher Lloyd, Moby, Tony Hawk, Terrel Owens, etc.

Which raises the question: why did someone go to the considerable expense of creating this video? What's the purpose of it?

A leading theory is that it may be a teaser for an upcoming Back to the Future sequel.

But apparently the comedy site Funny or Die was involved in the video's production, as discovered by sleuths who found that an LA wardrobe stylist mentioned in her online resume having worked on the video for that site.

So maybe the video is just a viral comedy bit for Funny or Die.

Posted: Wed Mar 05, 2014.   Comments (0)

We Will All Be Microchipped! —

Scare stories about how governments are going to force us all to be "microchipped like dogs" have been circulating for well over a decade. Mixed in with these stories have been Christian fundamentalist claims that implanted microchips are the "Mark of the Beast".

The latest scare story to surface is an article (written in broken English) recently posted on topinfopost.com, claiming that "On May 2014, through Europe newborn children will be compelled to take in a subcutaneous RFID chip."

Nope. Ain't happening.

The photo accompanying the article actually shows a flexible "Biostamp" recently developed by the Massachusetts-based firm MC10. But don't worry. The fundamentalists are convinced that these "E-Tattoos" are also the Mark of the Beast, and that those who wear them will receive the Wrath of God.
Posted: Fri Jan 24, 2014.   Comments (2)

Calling 999 does not charge your mobile phone battery — Idiotic things people will believe: The Bedfordshire Police recently posted a statement on their website, informing everyone that calling 999 and then disconnecting immediately will not actually boost the battery life of your mobile phone battery, despite a rumor to the contrary. Apparently emergency operators have been receiving a lot of these phone-charging calls.

There's a similar rumor that claims you can recharge your mobile phone by putting it in a microwave for a minute. Also not true.
Don’t Ring 999 to Charge Your Mobile – It Doesn’t Work!
Bedfordshire Police would like to warn mobile phone users not to phone 999 to charge their mobiles.
It is known that a rumour or urban myth suggesting that calling 999 and disconnecting immediately will boost the battery life of a phone has been circulating for some time throughout the country.
Over the past 6 months the Force Control Room (FCR) has received numerous calls from members of the public who believe the myth and are incorrectly trying to get more power out of their mobile device.
Inspector Claire Ackerman, of the Force Control Room, said, “This myth has been circulating for some time now and we are not the only force to have suffered from these false calls. Calling 999 for anything other than an emergency or a non-police matter puts additional pressure on resources, ties up an operator and wastes valuable time that could be better spent helping genuine callers possibly in a life-threatening situation. The only way to boost a mobile phone battery is to use a charger.”

Posted: Fri Jan 17, 2014.   Comments (2)

The Turbo-encabulator — The invention of the Turbo-encabulator has long been considered to be one of the great technological achievements of the 20th century. More info at wikipedia.

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013.   Comments (0)

Waterstones Introduces Owl Delivery —

This is their response to Amazon's recent announcement that by 2015 it hopes to be using drones to deliver packages within 30 minutes of being ordered.

Drone-delivery seems to be the hot new thing. Less than two months ago, I posted about an Australian textbook rental service that hopes to soon be using drones to deliver books. But as I pointed out then, drones have also been a popular theme in the world of hoaxes. For instance, there was TacoCopter (drones delivering tacos) as well as Parrot Air Drone Postal from the French postal service.

I'm among the drone skeptics. Having thousands of drones flying around cities seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Then there's also the issue raised by this image circulating on Twitter:

Posted: Wed Dec 04, 2013.   Comments (0)

A Brief History of Prescription Windshields — I've been spending a lot of time recently adding to the April Fool archive, and in doing so I've noticed that a lot of April 1st jokes get repeated again and again over the years. One joke in particular caught my eye. In the past 20 years, prescription windshields (or windscreens, as the British say) have been the theme of corporate April Fool campaigns at least 4 separate times — and possibly more, for all I know.

This made me wonder: how old is the 'prescription windshield' joke?

It's probably as old as automobile windshields. But one of the earliest references to it I found was in a Gracie Allen joke from 1950:

School authorities warn that "television has produced a new classroom problem, called telesnooze, due to weary children falling asleep in classes after watching TV the night before."
It can hurt their eyes too. My mother wrote me about a family of nine kids who all need glasses because of television. Their poor parents couldn't afford to get glasses for that many kids so they bought a 1950 Cadillac with a prescription windshield. In order to study their lessons, the mother drives the kids around town and their father sits on the hood and holds the schoolbook and turns the pages for them.
If there's ever a "gas" shortage, their homework will certainly suffer.

It continued to circulate as a joke in stand-up routines. In some versions of the joke, the prescription windshields are an extravagant luxury of the extremely rich. And there's another version in which they're an anti-theft device, because only the owner can drive the car.

From the 1950s to the 70s, prescription windshields became a fairly popular theme in comic strips:

Bringing Up Father - June 10, 1954

Beetle Bailey - Sep 21, 1958

Wayout - Aug 14, 1967

Dooley's World - Sep 13, 1974

It was in 1995 that prescription windshields first appeared in an April Fool ad campaign, when BMW UK introducted "Optiglass" — a new optical technology that eliminated the need for BMW drivers to wear glasses. The tagline for the campaign was, "You don't need glasses. You need a BMW."

In 2006, the Dutch car-window company GarageGlas introduced prescription windshields supposedly "developed in collaboration with Russian researchers of the Lebedev Physics Institute in Samara." They said there was a button on the dashboard that allowed drivers to set the window to strengths of -5 to +5. And there was another button that allowed zooming in and out. The company made this announcement a week before April 1st, which meant that quite a few people didn't realize it was a joke. GarageGlas received over a hundred serious inquiries about the new windshields, including from one person who wanted to know how the prescription windshields worked with the rearview mirror.

In 2010, the UK company Auto Windscreens came out with prescription windscreens, and even put together a video about them.

Finally, on April 1st of this year the Dutch branch of the SpecSavers eyewear chain announced they were diversifying into prescription windshields. They even ran a special. Buy a prescription windshield for your front window and get the rear window free!

Would it even be possible to make a prescription windshield? I have no idea. But it turns out that people on a Straight Dope message board have actually thought through some of the problems such a windshield would pose, and the problems are significant. They include:
  • Only one person could drive the car
  • If you moved your head too much, everything would go out of focus
  • Such a huge lens would be incredibly expensive to grind and polish
  • And finally, such a huge lens would be incredibly thick at the edges. One person notes, "The edge thickness of a lens the size of a windshield would be measured in feet, even if you could get a 1.5mm center thickness."

Posted: Fri Nov 01, 2013.   Comments (2)

Drone Delivery—not yet a reality — In March 2012, TacoCopter.com appeared online, claiming to represent a SF-area startup that planned to use drones to deliver tacos. That turned out to be a hoax.

And earlier this year, the French postal service claimed it was experimenting with using drones to deliver mail. That was an April Fool's Day hoax.

So the idea of drone delivery has been a popular idea with hoaxers. But now, perhaps, it's going to become a reality. The emphasis is on perhaps. Australian textbook rental service Zookal claims that next year it will begin to use drones to deliver textbooks in Sydney. This will allow it to deliver the textbooks in mere minutes, as opposed to the 2 or 3 days it would take by the mail. The drone company Flirtey will supply the flying robots.

But Australian tech blog Delimiter cautions that while Zookal's announcement doesn't appear to be a hoax — the company appears to genuinely want to do this — it is also far from becoming an actual service. The idea is still very much in the "research and development phase," and has to clear a lot of regulatory and technological hurdles before it could become a reality. So the anticipated 2014 rollout of the service looks to be very optimistic.
Posted: Mon Oct 21, 2013.   Comments (0)

Guardrail Speed Cameras — The Louisiana State Police want everyone to know that they don't have speed cameras installed in guardrails along the highways. They say that a picture circulating online showing a speed camera disguised inside a guardrail is the "latest and greatest urban legend."

The thing is, it's not quite an urban legend, because these evil guardrail speed cameras do exist. Or rather, there are existing traffic-monitoring systems that include speed detectors in guardrails, while a camera further down the road takes a picture of the car. But so far, these systems have only shown up on European roads, not American ones.

Here's a link to a PDF about the "Traffic-Observer Type LMS-06" guardrail speed detectors and cameras.

Posted: Wed Sep 25, 2013.   Comments (0)

iPhones are not waterproof. — Apple released the iOS 7 update for iPhones last week, and pranksters (allegedly from 4chan) set to work creating a series of spoof ads claiming the update made iPhones waterproof.

Update to iOS 7 and become waterproof.
In an emergency, a smart-switch will shut off the phone's power supply and corresponding components to prevent any damage to your iPhone's delicate circuitry.

Needless to say, the iOS 7 update does not make the iPhone waterproof.

It's not clear if anyone fell for the joke and tried dunking their iPhone in water. But a few people have been tweeting angry remarks about the hoax, such as, "Ok whoever said IOS7 is waterproof GO F*** YOURSELF". But it's hard to know if these tweeters are being serious, or just playing along with the joke. More info: independent.co.uk, buzzfeed.com.
Posted: Tue Sep 24, 2013.   Comments (0)

A levitating computer mouse? —

This levitating computer mouse (aka "The Bat") is listed as a product in the "testing period and research" phase on the site of Kibardin Design. But it's raising a few skeptical eyebrows. Not that it wouldn't be possible to build a levitating mouse, but io9 notes, "to us it looks a little like someone took a Microsoft Arc Mouse, fixed it to a plastic ring, and added a few aesthetic details with the help of some carefully applied modeling clay and a couple coats of Krylon."

The Microsoft Arc Mouse

Even if it is real, what would be the point of a levitating mouse? The Kibardin Design site says the mouse is designed "to prevent and treat the contemporary disease Carpal tunnel syndrome," but as someone who suffers from Carpal tunnel syndrome, I don't see why this would help. It looks like you'd need to keep your wrist bent at a strange angle to use it, which would make the condition worse, not better. Also, would the mouse be able to support the weight of a hand?
Posted: Thu Mar 07, 2013.   Comments (1)

Iran’s Space Monkey Mix-up — There's some monkey business going on in Iran's space program:

Iran's Space Agency Confirms Reports on Launch Used Images of Two Different Monkeys

A senior official at Iran's space agency confirmed on Saturday that state media reports on the launching of a monkey into the thermosphere had used images of two different monkeys. The official insisted, however, that the monkey had survived the journey and that Iran was not trying to cover up a failed flight... doubts about Iran's claim that the monkey had survived the journey spread after journalists noticed that the monkey pictured in the first reports from state-run news organizations had a prominent mole over its right eye, before the launch, but had clear skin when it showed up at postflight celebrations broadcast on Iranian television the next day.

Iran insists there's an innocent explanation for this. You see, the monkey with the mole was acting nervous, and so they substituted another monkey at the last minute. However, as the NYT points out, "The space agency did not, apparently, offer to disprove rumors that one of the monkeys had died by showing them both to the A.P. reporter on Saturday."
Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2013.   Comments (1)

LazyTruth Fact-Checking Widget — 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)
Posted: Wed May 09, 2012.   Comments (3)

The Human Birdwings Hoax —
Jarno Smeets claims to be a mechanical engineer from the Netherlands who's attempting to build a machine (Human Birdwings) to let people fly with flapping wings like a bird. It's not human-powered, per se. As you can see in the video, Jarno flaps his arms, and his arm motions are read by a Nintendo Wii controller and an Android smartphone which interprets them into mechanical commands. That's the theory, anyway.

Is this fake? It seems to be. Wired did some digging into Smeets' background, and basically everything he said he did before the human birdwings project (attending Coventry University, working at a variety of jobs) is fake. No one has heard of this guy. Plus, the human birdwings site is registered anonymously, which is always a suspicious sign.

So the question is -- who's really behind the human birdwings site? Is this a viral marketing campaign?
(Thanks Joe and Alejandro!)

Jarno Smeets — Mystery Man

Update (3/22/2012): More details about the human birdwings hoax emerged today. Turns out it was a "media art project" put together by Dutch filmmaker Floris Kaayk in collaboration with production company Revolver. "Jarno Smeets" was a fictional character. They admitted the hoax on the Dutch TV show Wereld Draait Door. link: foxnews.com
Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2012.   Comments (4)

Virus-Noise-Reducing Cable — Add this to the list of bizarre and dubious claims made by the manufacturers of audio and computer cables. The manufacturer of the Xbox 360 Elite HDMI 2.5m Basic Cable claim that their product includes "anti-virus protection to reduce virus noises." I'm glad someone is finally doing something about those awful virus noises! (via reddit)

Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2012.   Comments (5)

The Man Who Claims He Invented Email — Back in November 2011, Time magazine ran an article titled "The Man Who Invented Email." It was about V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai who, in 1978 as a 14-year-old kid, wrote and copyrighted a program called EMAIL. This article led the Smithsonian to recently acquire various documents related to Ayyadurai's 1978 program, in order to immortalize its contribution to American life and culture. In late February, the Washington Post added to Ayyadurai's growing fame as the creator of email by writing a piece about him titled, "Smithsonian acquires documents from inventor of EMAIL program.'

Ayyadurai in 1980

All this has led to outrage in the tech community, with many people pointing out that Ayyadurai in no way created email. Nor did he even play any kind of significant role in its development.

Sam Biddle has posted a detailed debunking of Ayyadurai's claims over at gizmodo. He notes that Ayyadurai has been playing up his claim as the inventor of email by registering numerous domains such as InventorOfEmail.com, DrEmail.com, and EmailInventor.com. But, according to Biddle, this is the reality:

Shiva Ayyadurai didn't invent email—he created "EMAIL," an electronic mail system implemented at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, New Jersey. It's doubtful he realized it as a little teen, but laying claim to the name of a product that's the generic term for a universal technology gives you acres of weasel room. But creating a type of airplane named AIRPLANE doesn't make you Wilbur Wright. The actual pioneers of email were breaking new ground more than a decade before Ayyadurai concocted his dental memo system. Electronic mail predates Ayyadurai's ability to spell, let alone code.

Ayyadurai's one legitimate claim to fame is that he may have been the first person to use the abbreviation 'email' in place of 'electronic mail'. Or, at least, an earlier use of the term 'email' hasn't yet been found.
Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2012.   Comments (3)

Clay iPads — At least 10 people in Vancouver who bought iPad 2s have reported opening up the packaging only to discover it contained a slab of modeling clay, not an iPad. It's an old strategy for thieves to conceal their crime by replacing the item in the box with something of lesser value. Reminds me of the case from 2006 of the Hawaiian boy who opened an iPod box on Christmas Day, only to discover it contained a package of meat. Link: Yahoo!
Posted: Fri Jan 20, 2012.   Comments (1)

Quantum Levitation Car Racing — A video of a race between miniature cars floating above a track by means of "quantum levitation" was recently debunked. The intro screen to the video credited it to the (fictitious) "Japan Institute of Science and Technology," but the true creator was Sony and SCE Studio Liverpool. The Business Insider says: "the video was a ploy by Sony and developer SCE Studio Liverpool to promote the Wipeout 2048 game that's coming out on the PS Vita."

I'm assuming the video was inspired by a demonstration of "quantum levitation" conducted by the superconductivity group at Tel-Aviv University and posted on youtube a few months ago.

Posted: Wed Jan 11, 2012.   Comments (2)

Project Black Mirror — Since the end of October, a group of young programmers have been blogging about their attempt to control Siri (that voice-activated iPhone app) using their thoughts. They call their effort Project Black Mirror. The basic premise is to measure the pattern of their brain waves, and then to design a program that can "detect the signature patterns that indicate a certain word is being thought of" and pass this information along to Siri, which executes the command. On their blog, they provide more details about exactly how they're going about this:

1. ECG pads provide raw skin conductivity / electrical activity as analogue data (0-5v).
2. This is plugged into the Arduino board via 4 analogue inputs (no activity = 0v, high activity = 5v).
3. The Arduino has a program burnt to it’s EPROM chip that filters the signals.
4. Josh trained the program by thinking of the main Siri commands (“Call”, “Set”, “Diary” etc.) one at a time and the program where we captured the signature brain patterns they produce.
5. The program can detect the signature patterns that indicate a certain word is being thought of. The program will then wait for a natural ‘release’ in brain waves and assume the chain of commands is now complete and action is required.
6. The series of commands are fed to a SpeakJet speech synthesiser chip
7. The audio output of which simply plugs into the iPhone’s microphone jack.

On November 10, the group claimed they were already successful enough to justify seeking out funding from Kickstarter — and they posted a video they said they were submitting to Kickstarter to demonstrate the technology. Here's that video:

After the posting of the video is when people really started paying attention to Project Black Mirror, and a lot of people in the tech community soon pointed out it had to be a hoax. The Verge summarizes some of the arguments:

For starters, Project Black Mirror claims to be using ECG pads to measure the brain's electrical activity — but ECG pads measure heart activity; EEG pads measure brain activity. Also, the scale for measuring those inputs is apparently off by an order of magnitude. Project Black Mirror says they measure brain activity on a 0 to 5v scale, while brain activity is typically measured in microvolts. According to InteraXon COO Trevor Coleman, "there is no way they could detect any meaningful brainwave signals through that setup."

And there's a more detailed breakdown of the arguments at geekosystem.

So it seems pretty clear Project Black Mirror is a hoax. The motive for the hoax, however, remains unclear. It doesn't seem as if the group actually has taken anyone's money. So presumably this wasn't just a scam to make money.
Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2011.   Comments (1)

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