The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'pranks'
A few days ago, the hipster-electropop duo YACHT posted a plaintive note to their Twitter feed; the note announced, in a sombre, contrite tone, that, some years ago, the duo (Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, who are also a couple) had made a sex tape for their own use; now, apparently, someone had stolen it and posted it online. The note ended, imploring YACHT's fans to respect their privacy and not look at it.
Only there was no sex tape; or rather, there was a contrived promotional video for the latest single, “I Want To Fuck You Till I'm Dead”, from their last album. The whole exercise was a publicity stunt; the following day, they were to, with feigned resignation, put up a website supposedly selling their homemade sex video, though one which always gave an error at the time of payment; ultimately the truth would come out, and fans would push the album to the top of the Spotify charts, all the while praising the artists' clever, subversive conceit. It was to be, in their own words, “a slowly-unveiling conspiracy”, referencing The X-Files and The KLF*.
Unfortunately, they miscalculated. What they weren't counting on was the mass outpourings of public sympathy at them apparently having had the privacy of their intimate lives violated. It turned out that the public, by and large, weren't grabby jerks hungry for celebrity skin; they were strongly susceptible to what millennials call “the feels”, and almost painfully empathetic with their sorry heroes. Which was a problem, as, all of a sudden, YACHT had committed the offence of obtaining sympathy under false pretences. Not quite in fake-cancer-blogger territory, but the difference is a quantitative, rather than a qualitative, one. As the truth emerged, they issued a weaselly non-apology, followed a day later by a genuine apology, for both the stunt and the non-apology. But the damage was done. Perhaps ironically, the exercise has left YACHT revealing a bit more of themselves than is entirely flattering.
While this is the most problematic of YACHT's public projects so far, it didn't come from nowhere; they have form taking hot-button issues and using them as superficial aesthetic elements, much like extreme violence in a Quentin Tarantino film. Witness their most recent album, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler; it was in this blog's records of 2015, and it is a finely crafted piece of infectiously fun chopped'n'screwed electropop, albeit with pretentions above its station. As its title suggests, it is somewhat of a concept album about technological ennui; the actual execution involves taking a number of ideas about how our high-tech world, you know, kinda sucks, and mashing them together, like a selfie-stick-era We Didn't Start The Fire; thus, the Snowden revelations and extrajudicial executions by drone are mentioned within a breath of crappy ads on the web, corny Internet-of-things gadgets and Tinder being a bit lame, like a focus-group brainstorming exercise of some sort. (Needless to say, there is no time to discuss, say, the issues of privacy or trust in the digital age, the potential implications of data mining, or whether, say, the internet's convergence into corporate-run proprietary silos is bad for human development, democracy or civil society; this is pop music, not a Cory Doctorow blog post. Onto the next snappy soundbite!) The whole point of the song is that our technological age kinda sucks, in a nonspecific way that anyone can agree with. It's pretty close to content-free and a brilliant piece of marketing.
And marketing is YACHT's stock-in-trade. They appear to be relentless self-marketers, classic Frommian Marketing Characters, chameleonically superficial, as sexy, edgy or profound as you read into them. To the Marketing Character, depth is a liability that compromises one's ability to self-promote. This superficial engagement with the world in the mode of marketing also jettisons any distinction between critique and complicity; we have seen this with their marketing tie-in with Uber, making their then-unreleased album streamable when surge pricing was in effect; which is on one level a criticism of Uber's exploitative business model, and yet isn't, any potential critique being defanged into mere “edginess” of the sort ad agencies have thrived on since the days of OK Soda in the grunge era. Yeah, Uber, surge pricing, it says, with an affected vocal-fry of exaggerated ennui: but hey, have a listen to this awesome album! And I'm sure the edgily back-handed endorsement didn't hurt Uber.
From surge pricing to leaked sex tapes may seem like a leap, but it's not a huge one; in both cases, newsworthy exploitation is used as a vehicle for self-promotion; in the latter, YACHT don't merely reference the exploitation, with an edgy ambiguity that is well SugaRAPE, but actively concoct it, leaping onto a topical issue (revenge porn) and using it as a marketing gimmick. But hey, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?
* Let's see: The KLF came up with a formula for gaming the pop industry, used it to score a hit, then when invited to
Top Of The Pops the Brit Awards, got shock-metal band Extreme Noise Terror to play with them, and poured buckets of pig's blood onto fired blanks into the audience, and then finally incinerated a million pounds in banknotes, negating any business value their exploits may have had. I somehow can't see YACHT doing anything so gauchely self-destructive or blatantly anti-commercial.
An interesting article about the origins of Discordianism and its influence on British pop pranksters The KLF, and in particular, the esoteric significance of their best-selling pop-house album The White Room and the lesser-known film they made of the same title:
The ideas behind the book can be traced back to the late 1950s, when Hill and Thornley attended California High School in East Whittier, a rural Southern Californian town that was then nestled amongst vast orange groves. In school they were viewed as nerds. Hill was short, squat and introverted, while Thornley was tall, very thin, and bursting with a nervous energy. They both shared an enthusiasm for pranks and strange ideas. They were also both keen on bowling alleys, largely because they served alcohol and remained open until two in the morning.
It was in one such bowling alley in 1957 that Thornley showed Hill some poetry that he was writing. It included a reference to order eventually arising out of chaos. Hill laughed at this. He told Thornley that the idea of ‘order’ was an illusion. Order is just something that the human mind projects onto reality. What really exists behind this fake veneer is an infinite, churning chaos. For Hill, an atheist, the failure to understand this was the major folly of the organised religions of the world, all of which claim that there is an organising principle at work in the Universe.The article goes on to mention Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's initiation into Discordianism through their editorship of the Playboy letters page, in which formed what would later evolve into the Illuminatus! trilogy; Aunt Twackie's, the experimental art space set up by Liverpudlian poet Peter O'Hallighan; and the theatrical version of Illuminatus! that was performed there, which caught the attention of two artists named Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, who, years later, started making music as The KLF, and the set of events which led to The White Room.
Sidious I Benedict XVI prepares for his last day in office, before taking to the freshly minted office of “Pontiff Emeritus”, someone seemingly hacked his Twitter account, posting over 100 tweets, all in (varying) Latin and addressed to various celebrities and organisations. They were all deleted pretty quickly, but a few choice examples were preserved here:
@BillGates Hey debemus occursum dent. Nos ambae faciunt terribilis products populus coguntur uti.
@BillGates Hey we should hang out some time. We both make shitty products people are forced to use.
@charliesheen Hey relinquo in XXXVI horis. Occursum mihi in Vegas cum kilo of cocainum?(“kilo of cocainum”? “terribilis products”?)
@charliesheen Hey I get off in 36 hours. Meet me in Vegas with a kilo of blow?
In what could be one of the most unfortunate printing errors in recent history: the publisher of the German edition of Donald Duck comics has had to recall a recent issue after one of the speech bubbles seemingly used the word “Holocaust” as a term of congratulation. Oops!
In the episode titled "Where is the Smoke?" a dignitary honors a team of firefighters, with the German words, in the bubble above his beak, boasting of the "awards to our brave and always alert fire lookouts! Holocaust!"The word “Holocaust” in the text was not the work of a mischievous translator, but rather part of the English-language text which, by mistake, had not been erased. (The question of how that one particular word escaped deletion in the artwork sent to the German publishers has not been answered. One does wonder whether or not it was a prank by some low-ranking staffer at Disney Corp; if so, it might not be the first Nazi-themed prank by a Disney insider.)
And more on unintended consequences: in the US state of Vermont, the decals on police cars are manufactured by prison labour. Now, it turns out, one creatively-inclined inmate has made a subtle, and unilateral, improvement to the state crest on the logo, by inserting the silhouette of a pig (hidden as a spot in the cow on the state logo):
"This is not as offensive as it would have been years ago. We can see the humor," Flynn said. He said the artist has talents that could be used elsewhere. "If that person had used some of that creativeness he or she would not have ended up inside."
A group of hackers in Germany have built a device disguised as a wall-mounted power supply which connects to wireless networks, intercepts packets and subtly changes the content of pages from news websites:
The Newstweek uses ARP spoofing to change the text displayed on several news sites. After doing some field research, placing and configuring the device, there’s a simple web frontend that configures the man-in-the-middle hack. Right now, the Newstweek only allows a few news sites to be targeted, but the team is working on allowing anyone to add their own targets.There is a technical walkthrough of its construction here. Unsurprisingly, it's basically a Linux-based wireless access point, hacked into a new case and running a customised version of the OpenWRT firmware.
Meanwhile, Charlie Stross extrapolates on more serious applications of such technologies:
This sort of gadget is, in bulk, extremely cheap — I bet you could order them for well under $100 in batches of a thousand and up. Say you're a repressive regime, but not so repressive that you can just haul random dissidents off to the torture chamber without paying lip service to due process. How hard would it be to plant these things in your targets' homes, so that you can gaslight them by interfering with the news they're reading? Call it a digital agent provocateur. Say you're the DHS and you want a steady stream of clueless Al Qaida wannabes to arrest and show on CNN to keep everyone afraid enough to go along with your PATRIOT Act extension? Plant these in the homes of young muslim males who hang out at the wrong mosques, crank up the volume of hateful news, and see who snaps ...
An art exhibition in Berlin involves a hall divided into two parts, each of which containing six reindeer. One half of the reindeer are (possibly) fed fly agaric mushrooms, fabled by Lapp shamans to give their urine hallucinogenic properties. In the centre of the hall there is a hotel-like suite, which may be rented for €1,000 a night; the suite contains a minibar, which is stocked with bottles of urine collected from the reindeer; however, the bottles are not labelled as to which reindeer they came from. The title of this show is Soma, though an alternate title is "how to make hipsters pay €1,000 to drink piss".
Pabst Blue Ribbon is the main sponsor.
Dorothée Brill, the museum's lead curator, says: "As far as we can tell, nobody's done anything they shouldn't have." Staff at the restaurant, however, report that some guests "drink the minibar dry".
A resort in the Maldives has been offering wedding packages to (mostly Western) tourists, where, for $1300, they can have a "traditional Maldivean" ceremony. Unbeknownst to the tourists, the actual ceremony consisted of a stream of obscenities and nonsequiturs in Dhivehi, directed at the clueless couple. This only emerged when a staff member uploaded the video of one of the ceremonies, originally taped for the couple in question, to YouTube:
“Before buggering a chicken, check if the hole is clean. That is because the people of the countries that you are from are familiar with the taste of the ****holes of chicken,” he chants, still with hands held over the couples’.
The concluding chant is delivered in a gentler, softer voice: “Keep fornicating frequently, and keep spreading hatred among people. The children you will have from this marriage will all be bastard swine.”
Allegedly the next big thing in Berlin: cannibal cuisine:
In a prominent advertising campaign on the internet, in German newspapers and on television, the restaurant, Flime, is appealing for willing donors and diners to become members of what it hints at being a new dining movement. "Members declare themselves willing to donate any part of their body," the advertisement reads, adding that any resulting hospital costs will be taken on by the restaurant. They say they are also looking to employ an "open-minded surgeon".
The restaurant cites as its inspiration the indigenous Brazilian Waricaca tribe, which once practised the ritual of "compassionate cannibalism", or eating parts of the corpse of a loved one to emphasise the connection between the living and the dead, which was said to help with mourning.I bet this is a prank; it sounds like something Joey Skaggs might have come up with. Though you never know; perhaps there is someone who thinks that a cannibal restaurant could work.
And now, interrupting regular (or even irregular) blogging to introduce a side-project I have recently been working on: The Postmodernism Generator for iPhone. This is an iPhone port of the venerable Postmodernism Generator, which has been around the web, in various forms, for a decade and a half. The iPhone edition runs on the same engine, albeit slightly extended and cleaned up (aside: stopping a 15-year-old command-line C program from leaking memory enough to run acceptably on a phone involves considerable work), with some improvements (you can adjust the target length of essays and, optionally, use surnames from your address book in authors' names). Additionally, the grammar has been updated somewhat, with new content (for example, it now knows about Lady Gaga, Slavoj Žižek and Quentin Tarantino films made after Jackie Brown); these changes will be ported to the web-based version shortly.
The Postmodernism Generator for iPhone is available from the App Store, here. It's priced at the lowest price point (US$0.99/£0.59/0,79€/AUD1.29), which gets you a virtually infinite cornucopia of dense verbiage at your command, with or without a network connection, for amusement, befuddlement or plagiarism*.
Note: The Null Device does not encourage the use of the Postmodernism Generator for plagiarism.
The New York April Fools' Committee is proud to announce New York's 25th annual April Fool's Day parade:
The theme for this year's parade is "Up, Up and Away." Led by Grand Marshall Ben Bernanke, the parade will kick off with the Where's-the-Money Marching Band playing this year's theme song by the Fifth Dimension "Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon." Color commentary will be provided by Sarah Palin for her new Fox TV show "We Make It Up, You Believe It." Thanks to a contribution by a secret donor in honor of the parade's 25th anniversary, 10,000 red, white and blue helium balloons, each with a crisp one-dollar bill attached, will be released along the parade route.
The floats this year will be led by Richard and Mayumi Heene with their Homemade Helium Flying Saucer Float. Next will be the Northwest Airlines Flight 188 "Siesta" Cockpit Float with pilot Timothy B. Cheney and first officer Richard I. Cole napping. Then a North Korea Missile Launch Float will launch H2O bombs into the crowd.
The New York April Fools' Day Parade was created in 1986 to remedy a glaring omission in the long list of New York's annual ethnic and holiday parades. These events fail to recognize the importance of April 1st, the day designated to commemorate the perennial folly of mankind. In an attempt to bridge this gap and bring people back in touch with their inherent foolishness, the parade annually crowns a King of Fools from parading look-alikes.Those wanting more information are urged to contact the committee chair, Joey Skaggs.
An unemployed sysadmin in Russia hacked into a video billboard and reprogrammed it to show a pornographic video, causing a traffic jam as drivers on a nearby road stopped to gape at the video and record it with their mobile phones.
The hacker, from Novorossiisk, used a server in Chechnya in an attempt to cover his tracks, though was unsuccessful; the Interior Ministry managed to track him down. (I wonder whether he'd have had more luck had he chosen a less politically fraught staging point.) He is now facing two years imprisonment; meanwhile, security rules for video billboards have been tightened.
I'm thinking something like this would make a good plot device; imagine a gang of assassins/bank robbers planting logic bombs in a few strategically placed billboards; at a preset time, they start showing porn, causing instant traffic jams and trapping their victim/blocking their pursuers. Or international jewel thieves hack video screens in an exclusive reception to show Goatse-style shock porn; as the attendees are momentarily stunned by the shock, unable to react, the bandits (dressed as waiters, naturally) act quickly, snatching the valuables and making their escape. Police have a hard time piecing together what happened afterward.
(via Boing Boing)
Some anonymous culture jammer visited Bristol Zoo and affixed to the outside of a visitors' café a plaque framing it as the "Human" enclosure, drily writing up the behaviours and characteristics of H. sapiens:
Of course, given the location of this prank, one does wonder whether or not it's the work of a certain local artist.
The human diet is very adaptable to regional crop varieties and personal taste, with some groups able to live almost exclusively on chipped potatoes and sugary drinks.
Groups of humans are often fed by unrelated individuals in exchange for tokens made of paper, metal and plastic -- behaviour which can frequently be seen inside this enclosure.
(via Boing Boing)
The editor-in-chief of a commercial academic journal has resigned after the journal accepted for publication a nonsensical, computer-generated article:
Bentham confirmed receipt of my submission the very next day (January 30, 2009). Nearly four months later, I received a response — the article was accepted. The acceptance letter read:The journal, "The Open Information Science Journal", is published by a company named Bentham, out of an office in a tax-free zone in the United Arab Emirates, and charges authors to publish papers, whilst making the journals freely available. The ostensible difference between this and a vanity publisher is that TOISCIJ ostensibly subjects its submissions to a peer review process, thus ensuring that, for example, a charlatan couldn't burnish their credentials merely by writing a cheque. Unfortunately, it appears that the peer review process seems to resemble the papers sitting in a pile for a few months; consequently, those who have had papers published in the journal have probably wasted US$800 in doing so.
"This is to inform you that your submitted article has been accepted for publication after peer-reviewing process in TOISCIJ. I would be highly grateful to you if you please fill and sign the attached fee form and covering letter and send them back via email as soon as possible to avoid further delay in publication."
The letter was written by a Ms. Sana Mokarram, the Assistant Manager of Publication. She included a fee schedule and confirmation that I would pay US$800, to be sent to a post office box in the SAIF Zone, a tax-free complex in the United Arab Emirates.
The paper in question ("Deconstructing Access Points", by "David Phillips" and "Andrew Kent" of the "Center for Research in Applied Phrenology"), incidentally, may be downloaded here. It contains howlers such as:
Our implementation of our methodology is pseudorandom, wearable, and collaborative. We have not yet implemented the centralized logging facility, as this is the least private component of our method.
Gaussian electromagnetic disturbances in our mobile telephones caused unstable experimental results. Note that vacuum tubes have less jagged effective floppy disk throughput curves than do autogenerated robots.
The Dadaist/Surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp was best known for his "ready-mades"; mundane, mass-produced objects recontextualised into art by virtue of being presented as such. Duchamp's ready-mades were shocking at the time, challenging what "art" was, and paved the way for the conceptual artists of the 20th century. Now, however, an artist named Rhonda Roland Shearer claims to have the proof that the ready-mades weren't; that, far from picking up manufactured items and effortlessly transforming them into "art", Duchamp actually went to considerable effort to produce objects which were almost—but not exactly—identical to mass-manufactured objects. Shearer supports her thesis with research into the practicality of these items, or minor differences between them and the manufactured goods they were purported to be.
Duchamp's readymade glass ampoule, which he named ''50 cc of Paris Air,'' is larger than any that would have been readily available to pharmacists. (And she has a tape of a man from Corning Glass saying so.)
The readymade snow shovel, which now exists only in photographs and replicas, ''would hurt your hand'' if you tried to use it, Ms. Shearer says, because it has a square shaft. And it doesn't have the normal reinforcements to keep it from breaking. (She has hired people to make her a snow shovel like Duchamp's and use it until it breaks.)
There is more: the bird cage is too squat for a real bird, the iron hooks in the photograph of the coat rack appear to bend in an impossible position, the French window opens the wrong way, the bottle rack has an asymmetrical arrangement of hooks and the urinal is too curvaceous to have come from the Mott Iron Works, where Duchamp said he bought it.If Shearer's thesis holds, it implies a staggering degree of foresight on the part of Duchamp. Common knowledge has him and the rest of the Dada movement as iconoclasts, concerned with upsetting the bourgeois orthodoxies of art; the punk rockers of the period, if you will. If Duchamp painstakingly crafted these objects, designing them to be almost indistinguishable from the real things, he was more akin to a virtuoso composer meticulously arranging combinations of three guitar chords and energetically pounded drums, with obsessive precision, into the right sort of chaos so that it has the right sort of enthusiastic artlessness and naïveté to sound like a bunch of angry youths with no musical training playing the instruments.
And precision is the key; if Shearer is correct, Duchamp would have had to get it exactly right. The objects would have to look sufficiently ready-made to fool the audiences (and the tutting commentariat, whose outrage was the punchline of the joke) of the day. And yet, the fact that he laboured on building shovels and urinals rather than buying some from the local ironmonger's suggests that he had in mind a secondary audience, in the distant future, who would piece together what he had done; in other words, his artefacts wouldn't be fully appreciated until long after the initial wave of Dada, an possibly long after his death. Unless, of course, he meant, and failed, to get the details exactly right, producing artefacts indistinguishable from ones he could have just bought except to himself, in which case his motives would be even more mysterious.
A lie, Mark Twain wrote, can cross half the world before truth can get its boots on. This may be even more so in the age of Twitter, with its ephemeral, 140-character posts reducing discussion to soundbites with no room for boring old substantiation. A contributor to the (US Democrat-affiliated) Daily Kos blog has demonstrated this by creating a Twitter feed named InTheStimulus, purporting to reveal the Obama administration's egregious wastes of money, and watching the right-wing Twitterverse pass it on as gospel, giving him virtual high-fives along the way and praising his patriotism.
For the most part, my first couple days of posts were believable, but unsourced lies:He then proceeded to make the revelations increasingly absurd:
* $3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros.
* $750,000 for an underground tunnel connecting a middle school and high school in North Carolina.
* $4.7 million for a program supplying public television to K-8 classrooms.
* $2.3 million for a museum dedicated to the electric bass guitar.
* $473,000 to Fueled by Ramen, record label for such bands as Fall Out Boy.The funny thing was, while a few people dropped his feed, even more started following him and passing on his revelations. It seems that confirmation bias kicked in, and the buzz of having one's beliefs confirmed and outrage justified outweighed the possibility of being taken for a ride.
* $4 million for Obama bobbleheads.
* $104,000 to exhume President Taft.
* $465 million for massive air conditioners to combat global warming.
* $855,000 for the gambling debts Laura Bush incurred on diplomatic trips between 2004-2008.
The Daily Kos' spin on the result is a partisan "conservatives are dumb". Whether or not that is the case, I suspect such an experiment could be repeated with any group invested in a particular belief.
When US filmmaker Andrea Wachner was invited to attend her 10-year high-school reunion in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Palos Verdes, she didn't want to go; so she recruited an exotic dancer to pretend to be her, fitting her with an earpiece and coaching her interactively on the people she was meeting. Tattooed, scantily-clad "Cricket" claimed that she was Andrea, had had reconstructive surgery and suffered amnesia after a car accident, and that she was working as a stripper to pay for her graduate school tuition. She was followed by a camera crew, ostensibly making a documentary about the daily lives of artists. Cricket finished off her performance by doing a striptease to a Lisa Loeb song.
Most of the people were taken in by this, or at least sufficiently uncertain to not raise a fuss in case they ended up making fools of themselves, and found out only later, when Wachner posted video to YouTube, as a teaser for a 40-minute documentary titled "I Remember Andrea Better" she was making on the incident.
(via Boing Boing)
Some unidentified pranksters in Nottingham have put up official-looking signs advising that it is legal to urinate in certain areas.
They feature a toilet sign and include the words: "Public Urination Permitted After 7.30pm".
The prank also featured a laminated note, headed with the logo of Nottingham City Council, which said the scheme was aimed at reducing the mess faced by residents outside their homes.
The notice reads: "In an attempt to reduce late night public nuisance, during the holiday period, Nottingham City Council has designated several public urination areas across the city. This urination area will be cleaned daily between the hours of 5am and 6am."The council is advising people not to follow the advice on the signs, and sending staff around to remove them as quickly as it can. So far, no photos of the signs seem to have made it to Flickr.
Thanks to technological advances, real life is starting to imitate Second Life (not to mention Robert Anton Wilson novels); Russian government loyalists disrupt a Gary Kasparov speech using a flying penis, apparently made from a miniature radio-controlled helicopter. Kasparov, a former world chess champion, is one of the leading figures in the opposition in Russia. The stunt is believed to have been in reference to a griefing attack in Second Life. There's video and a photo here.
(via Boing Boing)
Via Crikey, an account of an earlier Olympic torch protest, this one before the Melbourne olympics in 1956:
With this escort around him, the runner made his way through the streets all the way to the Sydney Town Hall. He bounded up the steps and handed the torch to the waiting mayor who graciously accepted it and turned to begin his prepared speech.
Then someone whispered in the mayor’s ear, “That’s not the torch.” Suddenly the mayor realized what he was holding. Held proudly in his hand was not the majestic Olympic flame. Instead he was gripping a wooden chair leg topped by a plum pudding can inside of which a pair of kerosene-soaked underwear was burning with a greasy flame. The mayor looked around for the runner, but the man had already disappeared, melting away into the surrounding crowd.The hoaxer was a veterinary student named Barry Larkin, who (along with eight other students from the University of Sydney) planned the prank to take the piss out of a Nazi-era tradition which they felt was being treated with too much reverence.
Surprisingly, Larkin was treated as a hero; even the rector of the University of Sydney reportedly walked up to him the following day and said "well done, son". If he faced any punishment, it is not mentioned in the article. It's hard to imagine something like this happening these days without universal condemnation from the press and criminal charges, larrikinism being best left to professionals (such as TV celebrities) who can keep it safe for all. Could 1956-era Australia have been, in some ways, less conservative than the present day?
The culture jammer calling himself The Decapitator has released a video of his latest stunt—hijacking a consignment of copies of free commuter tabloid TheLondonPaper, modifying them by gruesomely beheading David Beckham in a mobile phone ad, and then droplifting the doctored copies near Old Street, all in the space of 3 hours.
(via Wired News)
The latest thing to do on the London Underground: swapping station names around on maps, confusing tourists:
14-year-old "electronics genius" in Lódz, Poland, built a remote control for the city's tram system (apparently out of a TV remote control, though presumably they mean that he housed it in a TV remote control case ) and used it to change points, forcing trams onto the wrong tracks, until he was arrested.
"He had converted the television control into a device capable of controlling all the junctions on the line and wrote in the pages of a school exercise book where the best junctions were to move trams around and what signals to change.
Problems with the signalling system on Lodz's tram network became apparent on Tuesday when a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to the right was involuntarily taken to the left. As a result the rear wagon of the train jumped the rails and collided with another passing tram. Transport staff immediately suspected outside interference.
Six members of Prague-based art group Ztohoven are facing trial for hacking into a television feed showing images from a webcam and superimposing a mushroom cloud over a mountain landscape. If convicted, they face 3 years in jail; that's one year for each 111,000 koruna (approximately US$6,150) they were awarded by another arm of the Czech state, Prague's National Gallery, for the same project.
(via Boing Boing)
Some anonymous guerilla artist has been hacking the heads off models in advertising posters in London. Dubbed the "East London Decapitator", he or she creates meticulously photoshopped overlays, with the figures' heads replaced with gory stumps and the surroundings splattered with blood, and pastes them over the advertisements. Nobody — not squeaky-clean Disney stars, not pop singers, not even computer-animated characters — is safe.here. It's pretty entertaining, as long as he/she doesn't escalate into beheading actual live models or something.
(via Wired News)
Someone has invented a must-have accessory for the radical urban itinerant, a means of getting free accommodation whilst striking a blow against car culture: a tent shaped like a car cover, which turns any parking space into a campsite:
Anti-corporate culture jammers The Yes Men recently infiltrated the Gas And Oil Exposition in Calgary, Canada, posing as oil company representatives and putting forward a modest proposal to turn the bodies of all those who die in the oil crash into fuel:
As security guards led Bonanno from the room, Bichlbaum told reporters that "Without oil we could no longer produce or transport food, and most of humanity would starve. That would be a tragedy, but at least all those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us."
Noting that "150,000 people already die from climate-change related effects every year," he added, "That's only going to go up - maybe way, way up. Will it all go to waste? That would be cruel."
(via Boing Boing)
Another way to string along Nigerian email scammers for laughs: baffle them with babble, as sketch comedy group Kaspar Hauser did, and see how long you can keep them trying to figure it out:
Where are you?! I have tried calling for two days! I have the Swift code for Land Bank/Kangaroo Millionaire Donor Fund (is it safe to e-mail?). I first thought there was a thumb protector on my phone but now I'm worried that I'm missing some sort of Nigerian hand mask: must I dial a country code first?
I WILL NOT BE MADE THE PONY BOY: IXNAY! If this is a scam, I want to know about it. I'm here to help Nigeria.
God Bless Me and You Both,
J. Plenary, CEO
P.S. Sorry if I seem irritated, but a horribleness has befelsterred my children's academy: Phyllis the Boy fell into a bottling machine, and I am busy, Mr. Shaish...busy with a capital Jesus.
(via Boing Boing)
Somebody has written a suicide note composing assistant for Microsoft Word, helping you to make sure that your last backhander against the cruel, uncaring world you're leaving is a well-drafted one. No idea whether it comes with a database of Nine Inch Nails/Dashboard Confessional/My Chemical Romance lyrics.
(Note that actually downloading or distributing this software may be a crime in Australia.)
(via Boing Boing)
An Italian television programme invited 50 politicians to its studio on the pretext of being interviewed and surreptitiously tested them for drugs; the result was that 12 politicians tested positive for cannabis, and 4 for cocaine:
The programme sent a reporter to interview lower house deputies allegedly for a programme about the 2007 draft budget currently going through parliament.
But unbeknown to each of them, the make-up artist employed by the show was dabbing their brow with swabs, and their perspiration was later tested for cannabis and cocaine.The satirical programme, Le Iene ("The Hyænas") is on the network run by right-wing ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, so it is not known how impartial the target selection was. Given that cannabis was more prevalent than cocaine, one does wonder.
Someone has posted photos of Banksy's Paris Hilton CD, from a copy found in a HMV in Birmingham:
There's also a copy on eBay. Bidding is currently running at £250, with just under 10 days to go.
Police in Berlin have arrested two men on suspicion of placing cement-filled soccer balls around the city, along with spray-painted messages reading "Can you kick it?"
The two are accused of causing serious physical injury, dangerous obstruction of traffic and causing injury through negligence, police sai
Could this be the greatest ever prank played on a 419 scammer? The prankster, who received the usual proposition to help in the transfer of vast sums of money from Africa, posed as art dealer "Derek Trotter" and convinced the scammer or an accomplice to produce incredibly detailed wood carvings of a Creature Comforts figurine and a Commodore 64:
(via Boing Boing)
A group of pranksters calling themselves Improv Everywhere, who seem to specialise in causing surreal happenings, not unlike the Cacophonists, recently invaded a big-box retailer, dressed to resemble staff. They didn't have actual replica uniforms, though found that instructing volunteers to wear shirts the right shade of blue, khakis and belts was enough. Chaos ensued; customers asked them for help (and often got it), Best Buy footsoldiers were amused, and management freaked out, thinking this was a heist of some sort. Eventually the police were called, though to their dismay found that there was nothing they could arrest the pranksters for, as they weren't impersonating staff per se, and nor were they trespassing, as they had not been asked to leave.
In Toronto, vandals/hacktivists have managed to break into the commuter train system's electronic announcement/advertising signs and reprogram them to announce that the Prime Minister eats babies.
It appears that this was a case of electronic vandalism," said Stephanie Sorensen, corporate communications and media specialist for the GO Transit commuter system. "We assume it was a hacker. We haven't identified the person who did this but we're working closely with the contractor who runs the signs to fix the problem."
Screens on GO Trains have been shut down since Monday. Sorensen said she expects they will remain off line for a few more days until password-protected technology is installed to protect them from computer hackers.Oops!
How to win a basketball game: go online before the game, pretending to be an attractive young woman, chat up one of the opposing team's players and agree to meet him after the game to "party"; then, at the game, get your team's supporters to chant her name and flash her (purported) phone number:
On Saturday, at the game, when Pruitt was introduced in the starting lineup, the chants began: "Victoria, Victoria." One of the fans held up a sign with her phone number. The look on Pruitt's face when he turned to the bench after the first Victoria chant was priceless. The expression was unlike anything ever seen in collegiate or pro sports. Never did a chant by the opposing crowd have such an impact on a visiting player. Pruitt was in total shock.
The chant "Victoria" lasted all night. To add to his embarrassment, transcripts of their IM conversations were handed out to the bench before the game: "You look like you have a very fit body." "Now I want to c u so bad."Via Bruce Schneier, who called this the cleverest social engineering attack he has read about in a long time. And coming from someone who comments on the various ATM skimming/phishing scams as they comes out, that means something.
More wacky goings on on Melbourne's trains, as an unidentified woman broke into train public-address systems, and proceeded to describe her sexual fantasies about the drivers in explicit detail; this happened during peak hour, with hundreds of commuters hearing it, though no witnesses seem to have seen her. Police are at a loss to how she did it, though it is believed she actually got into a vacant train cabin. (I wonder whether this sort of thing is now covered under anti-terrorism legislation.)
(via bOING bOING)
A hoaxer in the US Midwest has reprised the Milgram obedience experiments by calling fast-food restaurants posing as a police officer and instructing managers to strip-search employees, subjecting them to bizarre and degrading ordeals. The managers in question, being selected for unthinking obedience, never realised that anything was wrong, accepting "Officer Scott"'s authoritative tone of voice, stated reasons and the sounds of police radios in the background as sufficient reason to start obeying, and the fact that they were already obeying as sufficient reason to keep doing so, up to committing rape.
On May 29, 2002, a girl celebrating her 18th birthday -- in her first hour of her first day on the job at the McDonald's in Roosevelt, Iowa -- was forced to strip, jog naked and assume a series of embarrassing poses, all at the direction of a caller on the phone, according to court and news accounts.
He had mastered the police officer's calm but authoritative demeanor. He sprinkled law-enforcement jargon into every conversation. And he did his homework. He researched the names of regional managers and local police officers in advance, and mentioned them by name to bolster his credibility. He called some restaurants in advance, somehow getting names and descriptions of victims so he could accurately describe them later.
In her book, "Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer," Canadian sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that the most prized trait in fast-food workers is obedience. "The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to take away any thought or discretion from workers," said Reiter, who teaches at Toronto's York University and who spent 10 months working at a Burger King as part of her research. "They are appendages to the machine."Several people who followed orders were jailed for rape and related crimes. The hoaxer was later found to be a 38-year-old prison guard with a fantasy of being a police officer. Meanwhile, one of the victims is suing McDonalds for allowing this to happen; McDonalds, meanwhile, blames her for not reading the employee manual where it said that strip searches were prohibited and not recognising that the caller wasn't a real police officer.
(via bOING bOING)
Someone has written a program for generating random computer-science papers, designed to scam dubious conferences, apparently with some success:
One useful purpose for such a program is to auto-generate submissions to "fake" conferences; that is, conferences with no quality standards, which exist only to make money. A prime example, which you may recognize from spam in your inbox, is SCI/IIIS and its dozens of co-located conferences (for example, check out the gibberish on the WMSCI 2005 website). Using SCIgen to generate submissions for conferences like this gives us pleasure to no end. In fact, one of our papers was accepted to SCI 2005!
The authors intend to attend the conference in question and deliver a randomly-generated talk.
A sample of its output (without the authentic-looking graphs), excerpted from a paper titled "Refining DNS and Suffix Trees with OWLER":
We have taken great pains to describe out evaluation setup; now, the payoff, is to discuss our results. We ran four novel experiments: (1) we deployed 86 Atari 2600s across the underwater network, and tested our checksums accordingly; (2) we ran 34 trials with a simulated instant messenger workload, and compared results to our hardware deployment; (3) we measured flash-memory space as a function of ROM speed on a Motorola bag telephone; and (4) we asked (and answered) what would happen if mutually replicated vacuum tubes were used instead of I/O automata. All of these experiments completed without LAN congestion or 10-node congestion.
I take my hat off to them. When I wrote the Postmodernism Generator, all those years ago, I was sceptical of the possibility of successfully generating convincing random text in a more objectively verifiable field, such as computer science. I guess that, if those responsible for reviewing the paper aren't bothered to actually read it and attempt to assemble a mental model of what it states, one can get away with anything.
Supporters of cultish fringe politico Lyndon LaRouche (he's the guy who claims, among other things, that the Queen controls the world drug trade and Beatlemania was created by the Occult Directorate of British Intelligence) recently held a rally at the University of Washington; pranksters join the rally, wearing tinfoil hats and wielding signs calling for an escalator to Mars and railing against toaster-based mind control, the B-battery cover-up and the media's conspiracy of silence on the government sabotage of the Trans-Atlantic Bridge; pictures here and here. (via bOING bOING)
What happens when technical ingenuity and scatological humour collide: RoboDump, a pair of legs with speakers, fitted over a toilet in a cubicle, and playing an endless loop of a vividly evocative soundtrack. Prank of the year.
I snuck RoboDump into the men's room at the office. Unfortunately, today turned out to be the day of a board meeting. Whoops! It still went over well; the office was abuzz all morning with gossip about the guy in the bathroom. Several people theorized it was the CFO. The janitor commented to someone in the hallway that he wanted to clean the restroom but "this guy's been in there all morning."
P-P-P-Powerbook: a true story. Briefly, guy in Seattle tries selling a new PowerBook on eBay, finds a scammer trying to con him out of it using a dodgy escrow service, and posts to Something Awful. The SA Goons then collaborate to play an expensive prank on the scammer, sending them the P-P-P-Powerbook, a hand-decorated ring binder, valued for Customs at US$2,000. Meanwhile, goons in the UK track the scammer's address to a dodgy-looking barber shop in North London, whose proprietor (one Jean Climax) presumably takes delivery of items for various slippery customers, and observe as the scammer (a Romanian chap, by all accounts) takes delivery of his new P-P-P-Powerbook.
Some time around 1980, Californian prankster John Trubee took some LSD, wrote some whacked out lyrics and sent them to one of those Nashville-based song recording companies, who sent him back a record of a country-and-western version of his opus, which became the "Blind Man's Penis" song, and a favourite on college radio. Now, someone has done a Flash-animated video for it.
This is amusing: Prankster renames MP3s to bizarre pr0n titles, watches as hundreds of unwitting perverts download his Led Zeppelin bootlegs. Or, there are at least 172 people on the internet curious about something titled "enraged baboon fucking a nipple factory".
The BBC has an thread, inviting readers to recount their favourite April Fools' jokes, and other miscellany, such as this almost Zen story:
Many many years ago, my cousin, a gullible young Factory Apprentice, was sent off to a distant corner of the plant, having been told to "ask old Joe for a long weight". Of course, Joe said "Hang on here, while I go and get it". Some two hours later, Joe returns, empty handed, cousin asks him where the long weight is. "You've just had it, mate".... (John, England)
Now this takes balls: Oxford engineering student Matthew Richardson was approached to deliver some lectures on economics in China (possibly on account of his having the same name as a US professor of economics); so he bought an A-level textbook, crammed it on the flight there, and blagged it. Until he ran out of material, and did a runner.
The real Prof Matthew Richardson, speaking from the business school at New York University where he is a lecturer in finance, said: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it seems as if this young man will go far. I do not know if the Chinese students were expecting me. I feel sorry for them if they feel let down, but there was no real harm done."
Snopes looks at what the word "Moomba" really means:
The parade was to be held on the Labour Day holiday, thereby undermining the Trade Unions march and the historic significance of the day.
Bill & Eric ran an Aboriginal artifacts stall in the Dandenongs, but were staunch unionists in their younger days.
Bill had a dry sense of humour. He agreed to provide a suitable name for the parade. Friends were surprised at this, knowing how Bill felt about the City Fathers and their business promotion parade.
When he offered the name Moomba, and the organisers accepted it, Bill gave the Aboriginal community a great gift. It has been the trigger for spontaneous laughter for many years since.
While the Moomba organisers, in blissful ignorance, give the translation as "let's get together and have fun," every Koori knows that "Moom" means backside, and "ba" means . . . well, um, hole . . .
Pranksters dress lobster in Barbie outfit; this repeatedly saves its life as amused lobstermen throw it back. (via Charlie's Diary)
North Carolina cops are searching for a guy who successfully passed a $200 bill bearing George W. Bush's portrait and a drawing of the White House complete with lawn signs reading "We like ice cream" and "USA deserves a tax cut." With copy of the bill in question. (via bOING bOING)
In San Francisco, culture-jammers have closed down at least eight Starbucks shops, or at least made it look that way. The unnamed freedom fighters/economic terrorists poured glue over the shops' windows and stuck up "FOR LEASE" signs, as well as faked press releases on Starbucks letterheads announcing that the company has had a crisis of conscience and decided to go out of business:
"The global economy requires a relentless substitution of quantity over quality and shareholder value over human values," it read. "At our current market level, Starbucks cannot in good conscience guarantee all of our beans meet both our rigorous quality standards as well as our commitment to social responsibility. We are moving over and making room for local coffee bars."
Police are in hot pursuit, and the good citizens of McWorld can rest assured that the perpetrators of his heinous crime will be brought to justice. (via jwz)
Online Journalism Review interviews David Mikkelson of snopes.com, where he talks about his role in debunking the "Hunting for Bambi" hoax, and other things:
We have a section on our site called Lost Legends. We just made up the most outrageous things we could think of, made them out to being true, then put them out there to see if people would suspend their common sense. The most popular one is that we say that Mr. Ed was not a horse [but was a zebra]. We made up that the song "Sing a Song of Sixpence" was actually a song pirates used to recruit each other in the days of Blackbeard. It turns up on the "Urban Legends" show broadcast on a cable channel that it was true. They read it and thought that it was true.
Remember the Tunbridge Wells costumed crimefighter? Well, it turns out that was all a hoax. Well, there was a chap in an brown-and-orange superhero costume (a local hairstylist named Matt Lees), but the bits about him rescuing townsfolk in trouble were made up, mailed into newspaper letter pages (where else?) by Lees and two of his friends.
Mr Shaw, a designer in a publishing company, said: "This 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' thing is such a cliche. We decided to see how far we could push it, to write the funniest letters we could."
There was only one thing for it. Mr Lees made a costume that fitted the "witness" descriptions. "The O on the chest was supposed to be a zero, because it was nothing all along," he said.
More details on the Tunbridge Wells costumed crimefighter, whose lightning appearances have been striking terror into the hearts of louts and delinquents across the Kent town:
Mr Shaw said he would like his work contacts to know that he is, as far as he is aware, of sound mind, and he doesn't drink at lunchtime. "You're looking for a tall guy," he said, "with a brown cape, brown mask, brown boots and a big orange suit with a brown 'O' symbol on the front."
"O"? Perhaps it stands for "Outraged" or something?
"Well, it is that sort of town. There are quite a few eccentrics. There's one bloke who wanders round in a bra singing, and another who goes about in full German uniform shouting 'I'm a naughty boy'. But I can't say I've seen this caped crusader."
The quiet Kent town of Tunbridge Wells, best known as the traditional home of conservatively-inclined newspaper letter writers, now has its own costumed crimefighter. (via NWD)
Fun activities for post-ironic hipsters: pretending to be student journalists and infiltrating Scientology offices. (via The Antic Muse) Maybe the Hipster Scouts should have a "winding up Scientologists" badge.
A list of the top 100 April Fools' pranks, from the time of Jonathan Swift to the present day: (via MeFi)
Unknown prankster, performance artist or random lunatic tapes black cardboard boxes labelled FEAR to walls and girders of Union Square subway station in Manhattan; police evacuate station, fearing terrorist attack. This reminds me of the case of the paranoid schizophrenic who taped vials of water to lamp posts in Milwaukee, to detect a radio station broadcasting into his head, two years ago.
When the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra sent out a promotional CD recently, they were horrified to discover the song titles replaced by pornographic descriptions of sex acts. It appears that this occurred when some helpful volunteer uploaded their version of the track listing to commercial CD database cddb.com. Yes, the same cddb.com which took a free, volunteer-collected database, fenced it off and locked out free clients, and which relies on unpaid submissions from users to build up its proprietary database. As they say, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Apparently the New Zealand police are looking into it, and various parties are crying "hacking" and looking for someone to prosecute. Is it a crime to volunteer incorrect data to cddb.com?
THIS IS A HEAVY PRODUCT: Some witty Londoner has printed stickers modifying Tube maps, adding imaginary details such as chasms (marked with "Mind the Gap") and alien spaceships to otherwise featureless Tube lines. (via 1.0)
One woman takes a Nigerian mail scammer for a ride. (via bOING bOING)
Buddy Weiserman vs. Prince Jubril Turey of Sierra Leone; or the story of how an anonymous prankster took a Nigerian 419 scammer for a ride (persuading him to catch a bus across Africa and chicken-dance in Ghana in the hope of snaring his mark). (via bOING bOING)
Culture jamming: A group of the militant unemployed calling themselves the Dole Army have hoaxed Australian tabloid TV current-affairs shows into running a story about the unemployed living in drains, emerging only at night to scavenge for food. The Murdoch papers and radio talk show hosts are undoubtedly outraged. The Cave Clan could not be reached for comment.
A few prank-related items: Via Jimbob, an interview with SubGenius Paul Mavrides from the Re/Search Pranks book (which is recommended; in particular, the Boyd Rice interview is most inspiring).
A SubGenius friend named Janor was watching a TV Preach-a-Thon. The preacher was taking phone calls from people who needed "the healing help of the Lord," so Janor put on his "hick" accent and called him up, impersonating a totally paranoid man who had been driven crazy by Jesus. He said something like, "Jesus scares me to death -- I'm sure Jesus is the Devil in disguise. Isn't Jesus like a vampire, because he rose from the dead and all his followers are supposed to drink blood and eat flesh?" The host immediately got sucked in, saying, "No, son! You're confused!" Janor continued (in a quavering voice), "I tried to go to church, but they said I was possessed by the Devil. Then they stood around in a circle and _beat_ me with their Bibles, and now I can't even go _near_ a Bible! I get scared just thinking about it!" He wasted the preacher's entire show taking in circles. The more the guy tried to help him, the worse it got!
And then, via the Law of the Playground site featured here earlier, there's an account of a prank performed on a Melbourne train line sometime in the 1970s; it reads like something out of How To Make Trouble and Influence People.
Loew might be technically lying when he pretends to be a gay hairdresser trying to join the US Air Force, or a man who has just shot his foot off when he calls the Flower Essence Alternative Therapy Centre for a holistic approach to his injury ("if you have a homeopathic remedy arnica, you could take that"); but the air of veracity, by which I mean fully and accurately transcribed conversations, clings to this book.
(via Lev and Robot Wisdom, respectively)
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has threatened fines for listing your religion as "Jedi" on the census. Supposedly Jedi is not a real religion, or so they say. Sure it is; Jedi believe in something called The Force which is, like, everywhere, that Microsoft is evil, and that Natalie Portman is a hot babe. It's sort of like whiteboy Rastafarianism, only instead of smoking pot you read Slashdot.
Anyway, I'm putting my religion down as Discordian. Let's see them prove otherwise. If you are of the Discordian religion, you are invited to do the same. (Besides, Discordianism is not a product of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, like Star Wars.)
A piece in the Moscow Times on some of the pranks played by those wacky funsters on the Mir space station:
Krikalyov sneaked an amateur radio onboard Mir and used it to establish a link with the truck driver, who was heading to Kimberley. The unsuspecting driver thought it was one of his colleagues driving on a nearby road and called Krikalyov a prankster when the cosmonaut said was he was heading for America via India and China.
Pranks: An amusing prank involving airport PA systems and double-entendre "foreign names". (via bOING bOING)