Paper Planes

404 Pages, Old Hoaxers
& Staying Dry in the Rain

This being Summer Solstice time, it seems appropriate to bring you these stories, each with a temporal slant. One would not be possible a few decades ago; another no longer makes much sense; and yet the other one is ageless. So, no sweat, we’ve got you covered.
On the Internet, no one knows you got lost; or that you landed on a ‘Not Found’ page. The Society Against Quackery would not tolerate such nonsense 130 years ago. And yet, since time immemorial, there’s been Virga, a special kind of rain: the type that doesn’t make you wet.
What? Didn’t they use to count paper planes on New York City streets? Or holes in Blackburn Lancashire? Indeed they did, so it shouldn’t shock you if we pick the odd or the unusual for a summer read, rather than the bloody or the bombastic. For there’ll be plenty of that too.
There’s a new Pride Flag with a welcome element of racial tolerance. And, yes, the season‘s proverbial love stories already abound, along those from the 1967 Summer of Love. And the breeze, and that girl from Ipanema, and all cliches about heat and hurricanes.
Since warm days go by faster in the north, they’ll still be filled with talk about ice cream and beaches, parties and drought. Just as Earth will keep on getting warmer, and this sort of conversation feels like sand inside one’s swimming suits. Blame us for wanting you to take it easy.
THIS CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED
So what’s wrong with searching and not finding? Not acceptable these days. See, even when one lands on uncharted territory, it’s no longer an excuse to avoid making assumptions. Or post your cluelessness on Facebook. No opinion should be spared. Thus the 404 pages.
Which is now as entertaining as if you’d reached a site about scientific curiosities. Museums, institutions, companies, and individuals, all jockey to come up with clever ways to cushion your crushing results. It’s Ok, the image and wording seem to say. Here, it’s funny, see?
As for the code number, like a lot of what still compounds our journeys online, it had a nerdy origin, such as some room number in a building once fully occupied by an electronic brain, as it was known. Or it was by chance, depending on who you find still wondering in the space formerly known as cyber.
THE OLE FLIM-FLAM DEBUNKERS
Way before Tim Berners-Lee was born – the World Wide Web inventor just turned 62 last week – or there was a need for Snopes, a group of Dutch skeptics recognized the potential harm hidden behind human gullibility. And decided to mount a defense against those who’d gladly take advantage of it. Boy, haven’t they got their work cut out for them.
If the Internet metastasized the power of deceivers, in 1881, snake oil salesmen, mystics, end-of-the-world profiteers, and an entire array of their ilk, were already spreading irreparable damage all over. (more)
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Read Also:
* 50 Summers
* Freaky Links
* No Way Vacay
Continue reading

Paper Planes

404 Pages, Old Hoaxers
& Staying Dry in the Rain

This being Summer Solstice time, it seems appropriate to bring you these stories, each with a temporal slant. One would not be possible a few decades ago; another no longer makes much sense; and yet the other one is ageless. So, no sweat, we’ve got you covered.
On the Internet, no one knows you got lost; or that you landed on a ‘Not Found’ page. The Society Against Quackery would not tolerate such nonsense 130 years ago. And yet, since time immemorial, there’s been Virga, a special kind of rain: the type that doesn’t make you wet.
What? Didn’t they use to count paper planes on New York City streets? Or holes in Blackburn Lancashire? Indeed they did, so it shouldn’t shock you if we pick the odd or the unusual for a summer read, rather than the bloody or the bombastic. For there’ll be plenty of that too.
There’s a new Pride Flag with a welcome element of racial tolerance. And, yes, the season’s proverbial love stories already abound, along those from the 1967 Summer of Love. And the breeze, and that girl from Ipanema, and all cliches about heat and hurricanes.
Since warm days go by faster in the north, they’ll still be filled with talk about ice cream and beaches, parties and drought. Just as Earth will keep on getting warmer, and this sort of conversation feels like sand inside one’s swimming suits. Blame us for wanting you to take it easy.
THIS CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED
So what’s wrong with searching and not finding? Not acceptable these days. See, even when one lands on uncharted territory, it’s no longer an excuse to avoid making assumptions. Or post your cluelessness on Facebook. No opinion should be spared. Thus the 404 pages.
Which is now as entertaining as if you’d reached a site about scientific curiosities. Museums, institutions, companies, and individuals, all jockey to come up with clever ways to cushion your crushing results. It’s Ok, the image and wording seem to say. Here, see how funny this is.
As for the code number, like a lot of what still compounds our journeys online, it had a nerdy origin, such as some room number in a building once fully occupied by an electronic brain, as it was know. Or it was by chance, depending of who you find still wondering in the space formerly known as cyber.
THE OLD FLIM-FLAM DEBUNKERS
Way before Tim Berners-Lee was born – the World Wide Web inventor just turned 62 last week – or there was need for Snopes, a group of Dutch skeptics recognized the potential harm hidden behind human gullibility. And decided to mount a defense against those who’d gladly take advantage of it.
If the Internet metastasized the power of deceivers, in 1881, snake oil salesmen, mystics, end-of-the-world profiteers, and an entire array of their ilk, were already doing irreparable damage out of others’ (more)
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Read Also:
* 50 Summers
* Freaky Links
* No Way Vacay
Continue reading

Blood Money

Digging for Gold &
Finding a Rat, Instead

There are two sure ways to change one’s social status, we’re told: win the lotto, or find a lot of cash. What we’re rarely told about, though, is that pesky moral itch that troubles some: where’s this coming from? That’s surely enough to put a chill on that big blast in Vegas.
What if you’d come across a cache of dough? Yay, you’re rich. But wait, you’d say. Was this stolen from natives? Jews? drug fiends? If you’d been in the mountains of Poland, or in the sea and farms of Colombia, in the past few months, you’d certainly wonder. As you should.
So, fine, what if you don’t ask those questions? No sweat, take the money and run. Who knows, you may have people you want to help, will wind up running a charity or something. Good for you. Just be sure not call anyone from that bus station, once you’re done and broke.
The Internet is full of heart-warming stories, about nice chaps finding cash and instead of running, returning it all. Which is great but doesn’t turn anyone into a certified saint. Then again, there’s always the possibility that it’s too good to be true. A con. A hoax.
There are many ways to screw up the few chances one gets in this life. Even if there’s no nobility on starving, or natural enlightenment for being poor, time on Earth goes very fast. That means that, even making a wrong detour may lead you to redemption. Or something. Just don’t call, etc.

A 2-PART, 300-YEAR BATTLE
The Spanish Armada’s 1588 defeat to the British didn’t stop their nations’ centuries-old rivalry (which set today’s dominance of their languages). In May of 1708, one of its ships, the Galleón San José, lost another battle to the Royal Navy and sank off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.
Last week, when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted the wreck’s discovery, staking a claim over its estimated record $17 billion treasure, he immediately set up yet another 3-way battle, this (more)
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Read Also:
* Freaky Links
* Small Classes
Continue reading

The Ablest Catch

The Tail End of
Lobster Stories

Every year, the end of the summer spells relief
for lobsters all over (and under) the northern seas.

Not that they would tell you that themselves, mind you, but this has been a particularly trying year for these maritime bugs.
Despite your eventual oblivion to it, there were plenty of news about lobsters these past few months, and some of them had a truly out of the ordinary character to them.
Beyond the usual giant catch of the season, there was, for instance, a reported hoax, and a guy caught literally red-lobster with some in his pants, to name but a couple.
There were hardly any better fodders for the kind of copious Continue reading

L’Enfant Savage

This Ancient, Mysterious Book
May Have Been Written by a Boy

There are just a few things we like better than books. Like rare books. Mysterious, single-edition books. Books no one knows who wrote them, or what they’re really all about.
We told you about the Voynich Manuscript. Still impenetrable, despite efforts of the best minds of our time. Legendary cryptologists and code breakers, all have tried their hand at it and they all failed.
Now, here’s another one: Le Livre des Sauvages, which like the Voynich, also seems to have come to light years after it was written. But apart from that and the fact that it remains Continue reading

Texting George Kaplan


Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. Much less distinctive-named Ed Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both for a laugh at Georgia Tech. With Smith’s behind the scenes help, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

FAKE ARTISTS & SKITTISH CELEBRITIES
There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All it took him was to publish a book on Tate in 1998 as a biography and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
The gullible art intelligentsia of the time adopted and praised the unknown “artist,” until Boyd got tired of it Continue reading

Overnight Sensation

Meaning of Crop Circles
May Lay Beyond Our Wits

If this mystery is ever solved, years from now, will we hit our foreheads and say, “how come I didn’t see this coming?”
Since the 1970s, crop circles, those gigantic, increasingly elaborated drawings better visualized from above that have been appearing overnight on corn, wheat, barley and rapeseed fields all over the world, have puzzled, mystified and challenged everyone and their loony uncles.
Attempts to debunk them failed miserably. From the pure naive, such as the two Britons who claimed authorship in the 1990s, and couldn’t reproduce their attempt under scrutiny, to the cutting edge, as the MIT grads who tried to recreate one and barely managed to draw a Continue reading