Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Paul the Psychic Octopus

From 2008 to 2010, a pet octopus named "Paul" was given the rather burdensome chore of predicting the outcome of World Cup soccer matches. His handlers would put food into two boxes at a time, each box decorated with the flag of their respective country's teams, then whichever one Paul decided to chow down on first would be the predicted winner. Over his two-year career, Paul got it right 11 out of 13 times.

Of course, nobody's really suggesting that Paul was following soccer games. Rather, plain old luck doesn't put the odds too far away - one might get the same sort of record flipping a coin. Some have speculated that Paul was attracted to flags with horizontal stripes, which just raises the question of why countries with horizontally-striped flags should win soccer matches more often.

Paul was the subject of international fame - for an octopus, anyway - and was widely missed after his passing at old age of octopus years. And just when this story couldn't get any sillier, there's conspiracy theories around his passing.

Here's Paul in action during one of his televised picks:

Paul and his handler also got death threats and recipe suggestions after Paul's predictions proved accurate:
OK, now that's silly enough!

Monday, July 29, 2013

The curious case of James R. Todino, the stranded time traveler

Time travel hoaxes are popular surreal pranks. I've mentioned John Titor before as being one of the greatest Internet pranksters of the time-traveller genre. But what can you do about a guy who's really convinced that he's a time traveller?

Such was the conundrum facing the maintainers over at the Museum of Hoaxes, who was one of many at the beginning of the century to receive spam emails asking for someone to sell the subject a "dimensional warp generator." The email went into great detail about specs for this device, which would include 512GB of RAM and a menu-driven GUI.

It turned out that the emails were being sent out by a known professional spammer who also happened to be delusionally insane. Wired breaks the straight story. Far from being a time traveller, Todino was a perfectly ordinary 22-year-old with a father in this present day who was worried about his son's mental illnesses being exploited by scammers online.

Make no mistake about it, this is actually a common problem with spammers. If you've ever received spam and wondered "who would ever fall for this?", the answer is, "nobody, actually, but authors of spam software and systems prey on gullible people who think they can make millions sending out spam. Big fleas got little fleas on their backs to bite 'em!

Todino (like the mythical John Titor, whom, remember, has never been positively identified) gained widespread Internet fame and cultural tribute, making this list of time travel claims, and being famous enough that there's dozens of accounts claiming to be him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth.

Sadly, no verifiable interviews with Todino exist on YouTube. So for second prize, here's a different kook who raves about time travel conspiracy theories:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Japanese sewer system makes an excellent place to stage a Quake match

That's a normal-sized person on the floor of the place. The storm sewer system underground in Saitama, Japan, is one of the largest in the world and a steady tourist attraction.
Saitama has a population of about 1.2 million, making it the most populous cities in the prefecture. And situated where it is on the coast and Japan being prone to the sea-related disasters as it is, the storm control system is no joke.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Norwegian town engineers mirrors reflecting sunlight to shine into town during dark winter months

I know this isn't the first time this has been done, but the town of Rjukan, Norway, is installing mirrors on top of local mountains to reflect light into the town square during the sunless winter months of the far north.

I always love stories like this, because they show off the clever audacity of the crafty ape we call man.

A related concept is that of daylighting, where architectural measures are taken to treat buildings with natural sunlight where possible.

And I mentioned this has been done before; specifically, in Viganella, Italy, mirrors were constructed on local mountaintops to reflect sunlight into the city's valley, which, due to the depth of the valley, was resigned to shadows for so long in the year. Here's the trailer for the documentary about Viganella's mirror:

Oh, and the town of Rattenberg, Austria, also did the same thing, for the same reason as Rjukan.

Monday, July 22, 2013

If it walks like a duck, eats like a duck, and shits like a duck...

 ...it might only be a mechanical "digesting" duck.

Such was one of the iconic inventions of the dawn of the mechanical age, "The Duck." The steampunk creature of clockwork limbs could not only move, but simulate eating food and - sparing no effort in attention to detail - pass droppings as well, although the actual product was pre-stored and didn't involve actual biological digestion.
Such was the invention of Jacques de Vaucanson, widely considered to be one of the fathers of robotics or at least automata. He created this duck in 1738, for demos to the elite, using it to finance further creations.

Before you scoff too loudly at such frivolity, keep in mind that Vaucanson's major accomplishments included automated, programmable looms, which could be programmed with punch cards - in 1745. Later this same media storage format would be used to input data into the world's first computers.

You can still generate a punched-card design at emulators like this. I would recommend the 'bcd' command from the bsdgames package on Unix systems, but that's such lost technology that it's barely worth mentioning.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Get hit by lightning seven times; kill yourself at age 71 by gunshot

Roy Sullivan got into the Guinness Book of World Records as having been struck by lightning seven times - and survived them all! This was seven separate incidents, mind you, over a period of years from 1942 to 1977. He also claimed an eighth strike which happened to him as a child, but never bothered to record it.

Perhaps bothered too much by the way God seemed to have it in for him, he committed suicide by gunshot at age 71. His experience, however, form an important contribution to the specialized medical field of Keraunopathy - the study of the effects of lightning strikes on the human body.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Who built the ruins on Malden Island?

Malden Island is a tiny uninhabited dot of land sticking up smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, part of what is today the Republic of Kiribati. It was discovered by a British sea captain in 1825. And upon discovery of this tiny ~15 square-mile island, a mystery was born.

Specifically, the uninhabited island was the site of many stone structures, including the ruins of "temples" or at least monolithic, temple-like structures. Nobody knows who could have put them there. To this day, your theory is as good as anybody else's.

Very little else is known about or written about this site; however, I did find one crackling good conspiracy theorist who classifies it as 'forbidden archeology.'

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What was up with the green children of Woolpit?

Of all the feral children stories, the green children of Woolpit seem the most curious. They were two Flemish children who walked up to farmers in Suffolk, England, in the 12th century. The children, a boy and a girl, both had green skin. After dumping a fanciful story of a distant twilight land called "Saint Martin", which may or may not have been true, the children were adopted into the community and eventually went on to live normal lives and regain normal skin color.

It turns out that the skin pigment could have been a symptom of a nutritional deficiency, called 'hypochromic anemia.' Similar to how leaves turn color in the fall, the lack of red blood cell pigmentation simply leaves other elements of the body to lend a skin color instead.

Whatever you do, do not search Google images for 'hypochromic anemia'. They're not nearly as pretty as you're picturing it.

But perhaps encounters with people afflicted with this condition accounts for widespread folklore tales of little green elves, gnomes, leprechauns, and other mythical humanoids - maybe they were just malnourished, and so short, and anemic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Well, I guess I have to post "Malice in Wonderland" (NSFW or the timid)

You can't tell me this wasn't Cyriac's first classroom project.

Edmund Trebus, notorious hoarder

In Crouch End, North London, Trebus was constantly at odds with police over his hoarding behavior. He would come home with wheelbarrows of trash and lovingly sort it into piles in his home and yard. Amongst his many acquisitions were almost every record recorded by Elvis Presley.

Despite these problems, he lived to the age of 83.

Today he stands as one of history's most famous hoarders.

One wonders why more researchers don't tie hoarding disease to rampant capitalism. When you build an entire society based on owning more and more crap, what can you expect but that some people take it to an extreme?

Now go clean your house.