Optical illusions, and “Bloody Mary” images

October 24, 2010

Take a look at this.  Focus on the “+” in the middle, and describe what you see.

Troxler Effect, the purple chaser

Troxler Effect image

No, the purple dots don’t disappear, though that’s probably what you “see.”  Worse, there’s no green dot.  Your brain sees green when the purple disappears — and even when your brain refuses to let you know the purple dots are still there, it will tell you you see a green dot when the purple dots you can’t see, disappear.

So, is it so hard to understand that people might see weird things in the mirror, if they stare at their own faces for a while?

Cortical Hemming and Hawing has the full story, with a history of the Bloody Mary story.  Go see.

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New pledge hoax slams Obama, teachers and public schools

January 29, 2009

With this blog’s occasional focus on flag etiquette and my concern for faux patriotism, I’ve been getting barbs all day on a story out of Clark County, Nevada (home of Las Vegas).

It’s a threefer of hatred, slamming President Obama, teachers, and public schools, all at once.  Plus it is rather disrespectful of the U.S. flag.

The Clark County School District calls the story “bogus!!” with the exclamation points clear.  Spokesmen for the district complain they’ve been fielding calls all day, none with details.  Their check of the district’s schools turns up nothing.

The claim is that an elementary school student wants to drop out of school after being “forced” to say the Pledge of Allegiance to a picture of President Barack Obama backed by several U.S. flags.

Bloggers fume.  “The gall!”

Press spokesmen for the district say they encourage parents to call any principal of any school in the district with any complaint.  A survey of principals finds none who knew of such a complaint.

None of the bloggers bothered to check the facts, it appears.  The story so far checks out to be a hoax.  No one can name the school, no one can name the kid, no one can corroborate the story.  

U.S.. Nevada and Clark County flags fly at Moapa Valley High School in the Clark County School District, Nevada. Wikipedia image

U.S.. Nevada and Clark County flags fly at Moapa Valley High School in the Clark County School District, Nevada. Wikipedia image

Students in Clark County schools say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning as a usual practice.  School officials were unsure whether this is done by state law, district ordinance, or tradition.  Through much of the 20th century, it was common for schools to have a picture of the sitting president in every classroom.   That tradition fell to budget cuts years ago.

What motivates people to invent such stories?  What motivates bloggers to spread stories without bothering to make the simplest check to see whether the story is accurate?  One of the things that screams “Hoax!” in this story is the complete inaction of the student and parent.  Were they worked up about it, why didn’t they bother to complain?

Here’s the wall of shame, bloggers who got suckered and repeated the story without bothering to check it out (isn’t it odd that they all seem to know exactly what photo of Obama was used, and they show it on their blogs, but they don’t know where it was used?  Isn’t it odd that they use a color photo while saying it was projected on an overhead projector, which would turn that photo into gray and white mush?):

I’ll wager that’s just the tip of a very mean-spirited iceberg of calumny.

Update, January 30 – More hate-filled spreading of the story:

Still the gullible fall, on February 1:

Nearly responsible skepticism:

I spoke again with David Roddy at the Clark County School District offices.  He confirmed that as of late this afternoon (January 30) no one had stepped forward to identify the school where the event is alleged to have occurred, nor the name of anyone involved, nor any other fact that could be corroborated to vouch for the accuracy of the story.

See “7 Signs of Bogus History.”  Notice any of these characteristics in this story’s allegations?

Update, September 5, 2009: No evidence of this event has ever been produced outside of the original two anonymous blog posts.  My investigation found no such incident in any school in or around Las Vegas, nor anywhere else.  Pure hoax.

Don’t let others be misled; spread the word:

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Legendary hoaxes: Neiman Marcus cookie recipe

September 30, 2007

Neiman Marcus cookies, Evans Caglage/Dallas Morning News photo, food styling by Jane Jarrell

[Substitute photo from Desserts by Juliette, dessertsbyjuliette.com]

Photo: Evans Caglage for the Dallas Morning News; food styling by Jane Jarrell [photo no longer available; substitute photo from Desserts by Juliette]

Caption: “When the legend wouldn’t die, Kevin Garvin created a cookie worthy of the Neiman Marcus name.”

Snopes.com and other sites debunk the old urban legend about the woman who was charged “two-fifty” for a chocolate chip cookie recipe at Neiman Marcus’ stores — but in defense of mainstream media, let it be noted that the Dallas Morning News does it up right, repeating the recipe, fact-checking the story, and actually baking the cookies and providing that mouth-watering photo above (et tu, Pavlov?)

The story began circulating in the late ’80s and spread quickly.

Although Neiman’s denied the story – in fact, the company said it had never served cookies in its restaurants – it kept gaining momentum. Finally, with the help of the Internet and e-mail, it became The Urban Legend That Would Not Die.

Inquiries about the costly recipe kept coming in until, finally, the store tasked its bakers to come up with a recipe worthy of the NM reputation. It was perfected in 1995 by Kevin Garvin and is on the company Web site, www.neimanmarcus.com. Free. It also is in the Neiman Marcus Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $45) by Mr. Garvin and John Harrisson.

The store served cookies made from the recipe as part of its 100th anniversary celebration this month.

When victimized by a hoax, make a cookbook and make some money off of it. Of course, it’s a lot nicer being “Neiman Marcus cookied” than being “swift-boated.”

Here’s the Neiman Marcus version of the Neiman Marcus cookie made famous in the hoax:

  • ½  cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 F. Cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy using an electric mixer on medium speed (approximately 30 seconds).

Beat in the egg and vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda and beat into the butter at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and the chocolate chips.

Using a 1-ounce scoop or 2-tablespoon measure, drop cookies onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2-inch circle.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispy cookie.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

PER SERVING: Calories 154 (43% fat) Fat 8 g (5 g sat) Cholesterol 20 mg Sodium 119 mg Fiber 1 g Carbohydrates 21 g Protein 2 g

More:

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