Monday, April 23, 2012

Fubby-Chia Connections

I’ve been thinking of doing something that might add to the value of this page for a long time. One of my first thoughts was to do a name index. Then, I remembered an old suggestion given by our friend K9 to podcast. That way, people could listen to them anywhere, anytime. Perhaps they could use them to pass the time on long car trips, or play them late at night if they really needed to get to sleep fast.

Well, I wouldn’t wanna read all that. And heaven knows I can’t pay anyone to read it for me. So I thought about some kind of text-to-speech technology. Last year, I signed up with odiogo.com, because they had a program that automatically translated blogs to TTS podcasts.

Supposedly.

I had a number of problems with odiogo.com. First of all, because of the design and programming of this page, it won’t work. So, I created another blog where it could. I then found out that the podcasts only work temporarily. And downloading them (the whole point of the exercise) proved cumbersome.

Then, there’s something else that’s common to all TTS software. They’re difficult to edit. And lord knows they need lots of editing. They doth murder proper nouns. Poor innocent proper nouns. Especially those that are not English in origin. They also have a tendency to screw up acronyms. And this page is full of them. Oftentimes, they would pronounce a phrase such as “Dr. Timothy Leary” as “Drive Timothy Leary.” Just as often, the phrase “FBI-CIA connections” came out as “Fubby-Chia connections.”

Odiogo doesn’t allow for editing, unfortunately. So I began to consider purchasing a TTS software that does. I’m currently giving Ivona [http://www.ivona.com/en/] a try, courtesy of its thirty-day free trial period. The posts still take a lot of editing to correct pronunciation, and make them sound a little less as though they’re read by robots.

So, before I actually go through the time and expense of purchasing software and editing complete series, I thought I’d ask for your honest opinion. If you can listen to one, or two, or all of them, I’d appreciate it if you could tell me (a) if they’re understandable; (b) if they’re something you’d want to listen to, or if you know someone who’d want to listen to them; and (c) if they’re worth the effort.

Click on the titles to download, or just play them here.

1. The Lurking Porno Boogeyman





2. Turn Me On, Dead Man



3. ...And the Superstar, Pt. I & II



4. The Devil’s in the Slide: Intelligence Design, Pt. I



5. Self-Funded Commentary on McMartin



6.  Death by JFK Assassination



7. The Hoax that Launched a Thousand Ships, Pt. I & II



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Sunday, April 15, 2012

When Truth Becomes Indistinguishable from Fiction: Answers

There's truth in fiction.  There's also a lot of fiction in truth. 

(1) According to a 2012 story in the Wichita Eagle, State Senator Ralph Shortey introduced a bill in the Kansas legislature that would ban the use of human fetuses in processed food. True. I wish it weren’t. But it is.

Sen. Shortey read Oklahoma State Bill 1418 into the official record on 6 February 2012. It’s purpose: to ban human fetuses in processed foods. After Twitter buzz exposed the legislator as an idiot, Shortey explained that he had become convinced that this was a serious issue, because he had read about it on the Internet.

Well, he didn’t read it on The-X-Spot.

Answered by Ray.

(2) Every April 1st, famed skeptic James Randi (The Amazing Randi) announces the winners of the Pigasus award for biggest paranormal fraud of the year. True. Although the awards are given out on April 1st, and often appear as April Day Fools items, James Randi actually does name the winners of his Pigasus award every year on this date. Past laureates include Dr. Colin Ross, Dr. John Mack, Isaac Singer, Uri Geller, Montel Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Jenny McCarthy, Sylvia Browne, Bill Maher, and the city council of Auckland, New Zealand.

Who knows? Maybe someday Randi will nominate himself.

First Answered by Shrinky. Independently answered by Ray.

(3) In 1982, the Daily Mail reported that Playtex recalled some 10,000 brasseries because of a design flaw in a new product line. Instead of using traditional metals, the company used copper for a novel underwire construction. Although the copper would make the bra considerably more expensive, testing showed that it was more durable, comfortable, and offered extraordinary support. Unfortunately, sweat produced by body heat triggered a chemical reaction which interfered with television signals. British Telecom immediately ordered all female employees to switch back to their old undergarments, but not before the biomagnetic havoc wreaked ££57,000 worth of damages. False. This one’s an oldie, but a goodie. The Daily Mail actually reported this as news back in 1982, but it was an April Fools Day hoax.

Answered by Ray.

(4) In 1984, the Kremlin announced that it would set up a Usenet site called Kremvax. The Soviet Union took the measure in order to close a "technology gap" stemming from the West’’s commanding lead in cyberspace technology. False. This was rather mundane, as April Fools hoaxes go. And it would make sense that the USSR would see the value of developing an independent Internet, since the Americans already had one up and running since 1969. But in 1984, Kremvax became one of the earliest "classic Internet" hoaxes.

Answered by no one.

(5) In 1998, an Associated Press (AP) report announced the decision by the Alabama State Legislature to round the number p to 3, because "that’s what the Bible teaches." False.  Given the Human Fetuses Bill introduced by Senator Shortey, this seems rather plausible.

First answered by Charles. Independently answered by Shrinky.

(6) In 2012, The Huffington Post reported on a labor dispute between the Pharmacologist’s union and the government of Italy. The apothecaries have threatened to refuse sales of Viagra until Parliament addresses their concerns. One group, protesting outside of the legislature, hoisted a banner reading, "No Viagra! No Party." True–although I was not sure about that when I posted last. I saw the story repeated in a lot of respectable mainstream outlets. But because of the date (late-March) I thought someone might have possibly been setting up an elaborate April Fools Day gag. So I waited to see if it were revealed as one. But it wasn’t.

Members of the Italian pharmacologists union considered withholding Viagra for two reasons. First, it’s a drug in high demand. Second, they could refuse to dispense it without risk to the public’s health or safety.

First answered by Shrinky. Independently answered by Ray.

(7) On 1 April 1998, American artist Jeff Koons hosted a party in honor of fellow artist Nat Tate, who, after destroying almost his entire life’’s work, committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry. Rock star David Bowie read some excerpts from a soon-to-be released biography by William Boyd titled Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960. Other guests chimed in with personal recollections, anecdotes and analyses of the tortured artist’s work. All agreed that Tate's death was a tragic loss for the world of art. True. Koons hosted the party on 1 April 1998, Bowie read excerpts about Tate’s life, and other guests chimed in with their personal recollections.

Problem was (as our friend Foam pointed out) Nat Tate never existed. The event was an elaborate April Fools Day prank put on by Bowie, Boyd, and Boyd’s literary agent. Koons, as it turns out, was not in on the gag.

Answered by Shrinky.

(8) Parisian actress Nicole Riche vanished between the second and third acts of her play No Orchids for Miss Blandish on 29 March 1950. Two days later, she appeared at a local police station, where she related to gendarmes her harrowing experience of being kidnapped by Puritans, who objected to the immoral lifestyle of actors. After two days of torture, her captors dumped her into a remote forest, where local gypsies rescued her. Paris newspapers covered the story the following day. The police, however, filed no charges. True. Riche disappeared during the middle of the play, and surfaced two days later with an amazing tale that had her kidnapped by Puritans, and rescued by Gypsies. Police filed no charges because they discovered that her disappearance was a hoax perpetrated by Alexander Dundas, the manager of the theatre hosting the play. Dundas told Riche to get lost for a couple of days as a publicity stunt. Orchids for Miss Blandish was based on a novel, in which kidnappers abduct a wealthy heiress (played by Riche).

First answered by Shrinky. Independently answered by Ray.

(9) RealClimate.org posted a 2007 article, in which the New Zealand Institute of Veterinary Climatology stated that the current trend toward global warming wasn’t being caused by industrial emissions, auto exhaust, or even bovine flatulence. The real cause, in their estimation, was the huge number of sheep in New Zealand and Australia. Their wool is so white, they reflect the sun’s rays, thus increasing the Earth’’s albedo. Worse yet, because of the increase in global temperatures, the demand for wool for sweaters and other warm garments will very likely drop, causing a population explosion among sheep. In the article’’s words, this could result in a "runaway sheep-albedo feedback." False. I guess people wool be making lots of bad jokes about, and taking a lot of sheep shots at this April Fools Day gag for some time to come.

First answered by Charles. Independently answered by Foam, Shrinky and Ray.

(10) Taco Bell purchased the Liberty Bell in 1996 to help relieve the American debt crisis in exchange for the right to be sole sponsor of a traditional US symbol. When asked to verify the story, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry added that a similar proposal by Mercury Motors had previously fallen through. The deal with the automotive company would have changed the name of the Lincoln Memorial to the Lincoln Mercury Memorial. False.  On 1 April 1996, Taco Bell took out full-page advertisements in seven leading US papers to announce its sponsorship of the Liberty Bell. The stunt was the original brainchild of the mother of then-company CEO John Martin.

BTW, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry actually quipped with the press about renaming the Lincoln Memorial the Lincoln Mercury Memorial in response to reporters’ questions about the Taco Liberty Bell.

First answered by Charles. Independently answered by Shrinky and Ray.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

When Truth Becomes Indistinguishable from Fiction

It’s that time of year.

I thought I might try something a bit different. So here’s a game. Some of the following stories are true. Some are not, but reported as true. See if you can determine the accurate from the accurate.

(1) According to a 2012 story in the Wichita Eagle, State Senator Ralph Shortey introduced a bill in the Kansas legislature that would ban the use of human fetuses in processed food.

(2)  Every April 1st, famed skeptic James Randi (The Amazing Randi) announces the winners of the Pigasus award for biggest paranormal fraud of the year.

(3)  In 1982, the Daily Mail reported that Playtex recalled some 10,000 brasseries because of a design flaw in a new product line. Instead of using traditional metals, the company used copper for a novel underwire construction. Although the copper would make the bra considerably more expensive, testing showed that it was more durable, comfortable, and offered extraordinary support. Unfortunately, sweat produced by body heat triggered a chemical reaction which interfered with television signals. British Telecom immediately ordered all female employees to switch back to their old undergarments, but not before the biomagnetic havoc wreaked £57,000 worth of damages.

(4)  In 1984, the Kremlin announced that it would set up a Usenet site called Kremvax. The Soviet Union took the measure in order to close a “technology gap” stemming from the West’s commanding lead in cyberspace technology.

(5)  In 1998, an Associated Press (AP) report announced the decision by the Alabama State Legislature to round the number π to 3, because “that’s what the Bible teaches.”

(6)  In 2012, The Huffington Post reported on a labor dispute between the Pharmacologist’s union and the government of Italy. The apothecaries have threatened to refuse sales of Viagra until Parliament addresses their concerns. One group, protesting outside of the legislature, hoisted a banner reading, “No Viagra! No Party.”

(7)  On 1 April 1998, American artist Jeff Koons hosted a party in honor of fellow artist Nat Tate, who, after destroying almost his entire life’s work, committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry. Rock star David Bowie read some excerpts from a soon-to-be released biography by William Boyd titled Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960. Other guests chimed in with personal recollections, anecdotes and analyses of the tortured artist’s work. All agreed that Tate's death was a tragic loss for the world of art.

(8)  Parisian actress Nicole Riche vanished between the second and third acts of her play No Orchids for Miss Blandish on 29 March 1950. Two days later, she appeared at a local police station, where she related to gendarmes her harrowing experience of being kidnapped by Puritans, who objected to the immoral lifestyle of actors. After two days of torture, her captors dumped her into a remote forest, where local gypsies rescued her.  Paris newspapers covered the story the following day. The police, however, filed no charges.

(9)  RealClimate.org posted a 2007 article, in which the New Zealand Institute of Veterinary Climatology stated that the current trend toward global warming wasn’t being caused by industrial emissions, auto exhaust, or even bovine flatulence. The real cause, in their estimation, was the huge number of sheep in New Zealand and Australia. Their wool is so white, they reflect the sun’s rays, thus increasing the Earth’s albedo. Worse yet, because of the increase in global temperatures, the demand for wool for sweaters and other warm garments will very likely drop, causing a population explosion among sheep. In the article’s words, this could result in a “runaway sheep-albedo feedback.”

(10)  Taco Bell purchased the Liberty Bell in 1996 to help relieve the American debt crisis in exchange for the right to be sole sponsor of a traditional US symbol. When asked to verify the story, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry added that a similar proposal by Mercury Motors had previously fallen through. The deal with the automotive company would have changed the name of the Lincoln Memorial to the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

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