How the "Empty Fort Strategy" saved a town

Why did this resourceful leader play 
music while a superior army advanced?

An episode from the 14th Century Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms:

The small town of Xixian (Xicheng) is storing grain for the troops, and there is only a small group of soldiers left to defend the town. They discover that a huge enemy force is approaching. The leader of the town, Zhuge Liang, realizes he cannot fight or flee, so based on his knowledge of the leader of the attack, he devises a deceptive ruse to save the town. This strategy, known as the Empty Fort Strategy, is found in the Chinese book Thirty-Six Stratagems and is one of the stratagems for desperate situations:
The Strategy of Open City Gates
When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretence of military preparedness and act casually. Unless the enemy has an accurate description of your situation this unusual behavior will arouse suspicions. With luck he will be dissuaded from attacking.
The clips dramatizing this incident are from the Chinese language TV series Three Kingdoms.

Three Kingdoms: Sima Yi vs. Zhuge Liang (Part 1/3)

Three Kingdoms: Sima Yi vs. Zhuge Liang (Part 2/3)

Three Kingdoms: Sima Yi vs. Zhuge Liang (Part 3/3)

- The Strategy of Open City Gates, Wengu>>
- Thirty-Six Strategies, Wengu>>
- Thirty-Six Stratagems, Wikipedia>>
- Empty Fort Strategy, Wikipedia>>
- Three Kingdoms, IMDB>>
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Three Kingdoms>>

The scary maze game prank

The original scary maze prank video

Anyone who's been on the internet for a while has probably seen this prank. If you haven't, you can experience it here right now. First, you must play the scary maze yourself.
The Maze
Instructions: Try to keep the small dark blue square within the light blue background, and don't touch the walls. Navigate to the red box. If you get there, the screen automatically advances to the next level:

Go HERE to play the maze>>
Did it work for you? Even though you know what's going to happen, it still works. You're just too concentrated not to react.

When you're done with that, watch this video of a young boy playing the scary maze game.

The Scary Maze Game Video>>

As a parent myself, I have the same response as one of the commenters: I laughed at the first part, and after the kid's reaction, I knew I was going to hell.

But what really matters is what the parents did after the video was over. I think that kid deserved lots of reassuring hugs and an ice cream sundae. Then maybe he'll laugh about it later. (Until he finds he's all over the internet as the scared kid who cries. Then the therapy begins.)

The "maze scaring the kid" video has spawned a huge number of imitators, as people post videos of their friends and relatives getting scared by the maze. Advertisers have also used the concept to create their own new videos, with new types of scares. Take a look at this one, from an old Deceptology post: Pranking horny boys online>>

Here's another version of the original, which is a prank within a prank:

Scary Maze Game Reaction with Monitor Punch

I remembered this prank because it was on a list called Greg Rutter's Definitive List of The 99 Things You Should Have Already Experienced On The Internet Unless You're a Loser or Old or Something>>

The monkey mug optical illusion

Yes, it's just a monkey mug with an arm as a handle.

How to pass counterfeit money

"...I noticed two young men standing by the side 
window of a druggist’s shop, in such a way 
as to screen themselves from the light."

I would not be surprised if the deceptive methods of these two “passers of base coins” are still being used by modern-day criminals for ditching other types of evidence. From the 1895 book Twenty-Five Years of Detective Life by Jerome Caminada, a police detective in Manchester, England.
"Smashers" or Base Coin "Pitchers" or Tenderers

One evening after leaving the Detective Office, about half-past nine, I walked along Deansgate with a brother officer. It was during Easter week; and those who have any remembrance of old Knott Mill Fair will know the kind of pandemonium into which the neighbourhood was turned during that festival. Deansgate was lined with nut and gingerbread stalls, “try your weight” and “strength” machines, “throwing the ring ” for walking sticks or knives, lotteries for various articles, stalls with “all on the board one penny,” ballad singers, with travelling auctioneers here and there, plying their calling, making the scene a busy one, and filling the air with a perfect Babel of sounds.

After bidding my brother officer good-night, I proceeded along Deansgate, and had not gone far before I noticed two young men standing by the side window of a druggist’s shop, in such a way as to screen themselves from the light. It seemed to me that there was something suspicious about their manner; so, taking up a position between the house and shop door of a grocer’s shop, in the shadow of the buildings, whilst the street was ablaze with gas and naphtha lamps, I set myself to watch them.

I had not to wait long before I saw something pass from one to the other. The man who had received the article then went across the street and made a purchase at a gingerbread stall. Some altercation took place between the buyer and the seller, which was evidently watched with great interest by the companion of the former from the opposite side of the street, and after he had left the stall he joined him. Just at this time an officer in uniform was coming in the direction in which they were going, and I seized them both, calling upon the officer to assist me.

We were not above one hundred and fifty yards from the Knott Mill Police Station. As I noticed the one I had hold of fumbling with his brace (suspender) as we went along—he said it had come unfastened—I called to the officer to watch the other prisoner and see that he did not drop anything.

At the Police Station we searched the prisoners, and in the vest pocket of the one who was held by the officer we found a base (counterfeit) coin, which he admitted he had offered in payment for the purchase he made at the stall, but explained that he had picked it up in the street and did not know it was a bad one.

Knowing that these passers of base coin worked in couples—one holding the “swag,” or bag containing the stock, whilst the “smasher,” or “pitcher,” took one at a time, so that in ease of detection no more than one could be found upon him, and thus make his conviction difficult, unless other cases could be proved against him—and seeing from the manner of the prisoners that there was something which I had not found out, I again searched them both thoroughly; but in vain.

Determined, however, not to be beaten, I began to strip them, when I found attached to the brace of one of them a string which had been fastened in such a way that it could be slipped loose on the slightest pull. By some means or other the string had become twisted and knotted, and therefore did not act. Tracing this string down the leg of the prisoner’s trousers, I found at the end a bag containing a very large number of base coins, all wrapped carefully in tissue paper and ready for tendering. Of course the object was plain. Had the string not become knotted, but had worked properly, the bag would have fallen down the prisoner's trousers into the street, probably unperceived. Thus he might have escaped the serious charge of having in his possession a quantity of base coin, and conviction would have been made more difficult against the other.

Both prisoners were sent for trial at the Assizes, where they were found guilty, on the 27th of July, 1874, and each sentenced to five years’ penal servitude and three years’ police supervision, having been previously convicted of a similar offense.
- Twenty-five years of detective life by Jerome Caminada, Google Books>>
- Jerome Caminada, Wikipedia>>
Note that the two young men pictured were actually criminals from same the time period in the UK. Their photos and many others can be found at Criminals of 1871-1873, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Flickr>>

How Egyptian protesters fooled security forces

They used sweet candy

When Egyptian demonstrations first began against President Hosni Mubarak's regime, protest organizers had to deceive the security forces:
"We had to find a way to prevent security from making their cordon and stopping us," said 41-year-old architect Basem Kamel, a member of Mohamed ElBaradei's youth wing and one of the dozen or so plotters.

They chose 20 protest sites, usually connected to mosques, in densely populated working-class neighborhoods around Cairo. They hoped that such a large number of scattered rallies would strain security forces, draw larger numbers and increase the likelihood that some protesters would be able to break out and link up in Tahrir Square.

The group publicly called for protests at those sites for Jan. 25, a national holiday celebrating the country's widely reviled police force. They announced the sites of the demonstrations on the Internet and called for protests to begin at each one after prayers at about 2 p.m.

But that wasn't all.

"The 21st site, no one knew about," Mr. Kamel said...

They sent small teams to do reconnaissance on the secret 21st site. It was the Bulaq al-Dakrour neighborhood's Hayiss Sweet Shop, whose storefront and tiled sidewalk plaza—meant to accommodate outdoor tables in warmer months—would make an easy-to-find rallying point in an otherwise tangled neighborhood no different from countless others around the city.

The plotters say they knew that the demonstrations' success would depend on the participation of ordinary Egyptians in working-class districts like this one, where the Internet and Facebook aren't as widely used. They distributed fliers around the city in the days leading up to the demonstration, concentrating efforts on Bulaq al-Dakrour.

"It gave people the idea that a revolution would start on Jan. 25," Mr. Kamel said...

On Jan. 25, security forces predictably deployed by the thousands at each of the announced demonstration sites. Meanwhile, four field commanders chosen from the organizers' committee began dispatching activists in cells of 10. To boost secrecy, only one person per cell knew their destination.

In these small groups, the protesters advanced toward the Hayiss Sweet Shop, massing into a crowd of 300 demonstrators free from police control. The lack of security prompted neighborhood residents to stream by the hundreds out of the neighborhood's cramped alleyways, swelling the crowd into the thousands, say sweet-shop employees who watched the scene unfold.

At 1:15 p.m., they began marching toward downtown Cairo. By the time police redeployed a small contingent to block their path, the protesters' ranks had grown enough to easily overpower them.
The marchers became the only group to reach Tahrir Square, and created a spark that ignited the revolution.

Read the entire article about their tactics: The Secret Rally That Sparked an Uprising. Cairo Protest Organizers Describe Ruses Used to Gain Foothold Against Police; the Candy-Store Meet That Wasn't on Facebook. The Wall Street Journal>>

The "$2,000 for a pound of chocolate" scam

Is "we're the most expensive chocolate in the world" 
just a deceptive marketing ploy?

Chocolate should not cost $2,000 a pound.

It's been said that it takes much more effort to debunk a lie than to tell a lie. Case in point is this long investigative article by the DallasFood blog that tries to explain why a certain brand of chocolate, called Noka, costs so much. (Or as they prefer to spell it: NōKA Chocolate.)

Is the outrageous expense for Noka's chocolate justified or are the Noko chocolate makers guilty of deception?

The quick answer: It's deceptive, and you're a friggin' idiot if you buy Noka chocolate.

If you've ever wanted to learn more about chocolate, cocoa beans or the difference between a “chocolate maker” and a “chocolatier / “confectioner”, this one's for you.

The existence of the article also points out why you don't want to lie to foodies who really love their chocolate:
An individual’s passion for chocolate could be expressed through a number of commercial avenues. One avenue would be to become involved in the production of chocolate from the bean, as a number of enterprising souls across America are doing. Another would be to study, train, and apprentice in the chocolatier’s art, mastering necessary techniques and developing good taste and judgment, as so many chocolatiers I’ve referenced in these reports have done. Another would be to open a specialty shop (online and/or bricks & mortar) to make available to the public the products of quality chocolate makers and chocolatiers. Any business like that would be welcome in Dallas. But that’s not Noka.
The article slamming Noka was written in 2006. As of 2011, Dallas Magazine says that Noka Chocolate is out of business.

Read the article: What’s Noka Worth? (Part 1) Dallas Food>>

- Figuring Out Gift Giving in the Age of $2,000-a-Pound Chocolate, The New York Times>>
- Noka Chocolate Factory in Dallas is Closed>>

How a big mortgage led to murder

This is the lot where their house used to be.

Victor and Olga Barriere owned a 680 square foot house on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Long Beach, California. They owed $315,000 on the mortgage. The house, built in 1921, needed repairs to get it up to code. They wanted to sell but could find nobody who wanted to buy.

That's when they decided their best option was to burn it down. Commit a little arson. That way they could deceive the insurance company and at least get some money for the place.

They hired their handyman to do the job.

Thomas Trucios had never been hired as an arsonist before. He didn't have any experience in this line of work. He decided to use gasoline to destroy the place. He used a lot of gasoline to get the job done.

The house did not just catch on fire. It exploded.

Residents for several blocks were awakened by the blast, which shattered all of the house's windows and cracked the house's walls and damaged the sidewalks.

Mr. Trucios was too close when the house exploded.

He was badly burned. He received third degree burns over 95% of his body. He got in his car and tried to drive to his home. He called his family on his cell phone and screamed for them to come get him. His daughter, his son and his wife tried to get him into their car to take him to the hospital.

His daughter said that she saw his burnt skin peeling off and sticking to the car seat, while the windows kept fogging up from the heat. She said she knew her dad was still burning inside.

He died in the hospital on the same day.

It took four years to get the criminal case together.

The homeowners who hired Mr. Trucios were first charged with murder. They decided to plea bargain.

Fifty-two-year-old Victor Barriere pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. He was sentenced to over 14 years in prison.

His wife, 59-year-old Olga Barriere, pleaded to conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and was sentenced to 6 years.

Three years after the fire, the empty lot where the house stood sold for $30,000.

- Long Beach couple sentenced to state prison for death of handy man in arson scheme, Press-Telegram>>
- 1090 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. Long Beach, California, Google Maps>>
- 1090 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. Long Beach, California, Zillow>>

A radar speed camera prank by Rémi Gaillard

There's something wrong
with this piece of technology.

In this video, professional trickster Rémi Gaillard pulls a surreal practical joke on moving vehicles. Mr. Gaillard is a trickster of the old school: he can be annoying, but he's only following his own completely logical set of rules for whatever character or situation he dreams up.

Those who believe in and adhere to the rules, and the authorities who enforce them and must oppose his anarchy, will disagree with his methods.

The Radar Speed Camera Prank by Rémi Gaillard

His most famous prank video is called Kangaroo, where you can test your trickster tolerance by watching him embody the spirit of a jumping marsupial.

Kangaroo by Rémi Gaillard

Previously on Deceptology: Prankster, Frenchman, Imposter, Pain-in-the-Ass...>>

Rémi Gaillard, Nimportequi>>

How lying got their stolen stuff back

When John Davidson’s apartment gets robbed, 
he learns that the easiest way to get his stuff back 
is to have one drug dealer lie to another drug dealer
while he lies to the police.

A story about a burglary solved by lying:
Hanging the machine guns on the wall was a bad idea, but the burglary wouldn’t have happened if we’d just covered up the little decorative window over the front door. If you stood on your toes in the hallway and looked in through the little window, the guns were in plain sight. Almost everything was in plain sight because most of our third-story apartment was a single large room — a shoddy retrofit of a massive early twentieth-century industrial building on Philadelphia’s north side, in Fishtown, where those kind of buildings are common.

The building owner, a tattoo artist we’ll call Daryl, also lived somewhere on the third floor and ran a printing business on the first floor that employed a half-dozen people, most of whom were heavily tattooed tenants. There was plenty of activity around the building during the day and everyone made sure the main doors were always locked, so we had good reason to believe a burglar wouldn’t be able to break into the building in broad daylight, climb the stairs to the third floor, peek into our apartment, force his way in and carry off our machine guns without being caught. That was naïve. We should have covered up the little window...

When I got to the warehouse the cops were already talking to Matt out on the stoop. The metal doorknob on the building’s front door was dented on either side, like it had been pinched, and the cops said certain kinds of doorknobs and locks can be broken just by grabbing them with channel locks and twisting. Apparently we had that kind of doorknob. The same thing had been done to our apartment door...
Read the story: Burgled in Philly, ByGone Bureau>>

Found it here: The Philly unburglary, Kottke>>

What are "hidden mother" photographs?

There was no Photoshopping people 
out of Victorian tintypes, 
so other methods were used.

In early photographs, a subject had to sit still because of long camera exposure times. When that subject was a squirming baby or small child, they were sometimes held in a lap or reassured by an adult hand, either from a photographer's assistant, relative, nanny, or father, but primarily by the child's mother. Whether they're mothers or not, collectors call these photos "hidden mother photographs."

Since customers wanted photographs that showed only the children, photographers had to get creative to block out the other person.

A mother would drape herself in fabric or attempt to hide herself out of the camera's view. That way, after the photo was developed, it would be placed behind a mat or frame which would crop out the mother, thereby deceiving the viewer into thinking the child was posing alone.

There were many techniques used to disguise the mother.

Here, a mom simply holds her child.

When matted, mom is mostly cropped out.

Here, you can see the edges of the mat.

And the image of mom is hidden
(it's a haunting image, by the way.) 

How does mom hide?
Here, she's both a lap 
and the backdrop holder.

The "off to one side" technique

The "off to one side, disguised 
as a drape" technique

"Hopefully, nobody will notice 
my hand holding up the baby's head"

I think this baby noticed.
(The clamp.)

Here, mom disguises herself 
as a chair. Lots of cover is 
provided by baby's copious gown.

Now if the background had been black, 
this might have worked a little better.

The inadvertently floating baby - 
a Spiritualist portrait

This photo, taken at home, 
eliminates the mother, but how 
can it be matted?
Was she just camera shy? 
Or was she unclear on the concept?

Again the covering.
This one is creepy.
Notice that the hood has eye-holes.

Scratching out

Sometimes a photographer would scratch out or manipulate a photo to eliminate the face, which might have been done to remove the photographer's assistant from the picture.

Find the hidden mother

How good could a "hidden mom" hide? Test your skill and try to find where she's hiding in these 5 photos.



Mirror image

Puffy chair


See more hidden mother photographs at this Flickr group: Hidden Mother: Tintypes and Cabinets, Flickr>>
- The Invisible Mother, Retronaut>>

The brain-damaged magician

He works two days a week at P.J.'s Trick Shop

 The magical resurrection of Trent Rivas:
When he was born, he suffered a stroke. A lifesaving medical procedure caused a second stroke, leaving him with damage to about 85 percent of the right hemisphere of his brain.

Doctors said Trent would live, but the future looked bleak: His ability to think abstractly was gone; the part of the brain that processes emotions was damaged; cerebral palsy would inhibit use of the left side of his body.

The only way he could learn was through experiencing things, and repetition. He received physical and occupational therapy and went through the special-education system, his mother fighting every step to give him the best shot at a good life. She exposed him to as much as she could: music, movies and, around age 12, a magic show.

Two years later, they saw another magician, and Cathy Rivas noticed how the show held her son's attention. She bought him an instructional video that sat unwatched for a couple of years. Then one day she found him in the basement room where he spent most of his time, watching the video over and over, working out a trick one step at a time...
Read the article: The power of magic.When Trent Rivas is not performing illusions, he stares blankly and struggles to communicate. But learning magic has opened a door to an undamaged part of his brain — and to a whole new world, Chicago Tribune>>
Video, Chicago Tribune>>

Webcam hacker captured his victim's lives

"Luis Mijangos was an unlikely candidate
for the world's creepiest hacker."

From an article in GQ Magazine: some point, each of them looked up and noticed the same strange thing: the tiny light beside their webcam glowing. At first they figured it was some kind of malfunction, but when it happened repeatedly—the light flicking on, then off—the girls felt a chill. One by one, they gazed fearfully into the lenses, wondering if someone was watching and if, perhaps now, they were looking into the eye of something scary after all. Nila, for one, wasn't taking any chances. She peeled off a sticker and stuck it on the lens.

The more ubiquitous cameras become, the less we're aware they're even there. They stare out at us blankly from our phones and laptops, our Xboxes and iPads, a billion eyes and ears just waiting to be turned on. But what if they were switched on—by someone else—when you least expected it? How would you feel, how would you behave, if the devices that surround your life were suddenly turned against you?
Read the entire article: The Hacker is Watching. Every online scam begins more or less the same—a random e-mail, a sketchy attachment. But every so often, a new type of hacker comes along. Someone who rewrites the rules, not just the code. He secretly burrows his way into your hard drive, then into your life. Is he following your every move? GQ>>

He went to prison for a murder he didn't commit

 Tim Masters was 15 years old when 
Peggy Hettrick's body was found.

The story of a man who was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit:
Tim Masters, who seems closer to 30 years old than his chronological age of 40, is wearing faded jeans, a blue T-shirt, and well-worn, white running shoes. He has a reddish-brown mustache and a carefully groomed beard. His blue eyes convey an intense attention to detail as he talks about the treachery and turning points that have shaped his life since that morning nearly 25 years ago when he stumbled upon a corpse and became a suspect. The stigma hovered over him during high school and through an eight-year stint in the Navy. It peaked with his arrest in 1998 and his conviction for first-degree murder. It took everything he had to keep his spirit from folding into itself during the decade-long legal battle that ultimately won his release from prison. The events surrounding the case tore apart a town and challenged people’s perceptions of right and wrong, truth and justice, and who, really, were the good guys and the bad guys.
Read the entire article:  Presumed Guilty. The wrongful conviction of Tim Masters. 5280, The Denver Magazine>>

Photo: Drawn to Murder, 48 Hours Mystery>>

An optical illusion saved this child from falling

This boy (yes he's real) was in no danger of falling.

Artist Leandro Erlich makes playful interactive illusions. Watch the video to see people playing in one of them, which he calls Bâtiment, which is French for Building.

Bâtiment by Leandro Erlich

Bâtiment, Leandro Erlich au 104 by Palagret Leandro Erlich>> 

It's all done with mirrors.
The horizontal section on the floor 
is a building facade reflected 
in the huge tilted mirror above.

- I've written about this artist before. See the Deceptology entry The interactive optical illusions of Leandro Erlich>>

He pranked them with his own hair

He didn't even have to buy a wig.

In a good prank, your victims either scream "Oh my God!" or they spontaneously laugh. (And then they throw your wig at you.)

Josh update his video. Go here for the new version>>

Wig from my own hair prank

Found thanks to Art of the Prank>>
Wig ad is from a 1970 ad for "great wig buys" at Found in Mom's Basement>>

This French gang does underground good

Like the Harry Tuttle character in the movie "Brazil",
they want to fix rather than destroy the state.

A group in France known as UX (for “Urban eXperiment”) operates like a secretive criminal gang, except this is a gang of conservative physical-world hackers, fixing up problems by “restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.” They share some of the skills and obsessions as criminals, but they work as anti-criminals, exposing security flaws in museums and doing other good works:
What has made much of this work possible is UX’s mastery, established 30 years ago and refined since, of the city’s network of underground passageways—hundreds of miles of interconnected telecom, electricity, and water tunnels, sewers, catacombs, subways, and centuries-old quarries. Like computer hackers who crack digital networks and surreptitiously take control of key machines, members of UX carry out clandestine missions throughout Paris’ supposedly secure underground tunnels and rooms. The group routinely uses the tunnels to access restoration sites and stage film festivals, for example, in the disused basements of government buildings.

 One of their good works was secretly restoring a clock.

UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s...
So who are they, and what's their real purpose?
The members of UX are not rebels, subversives, guerrillas, or freedom fighters, let alone terrorists. They didn’t repair the clock to embarrass the state, nor do they entertain dreams of overthrowing it. Everything they do is intended for their own consumption; indeed, if they can be accused of anything, it’s narcissism. The group is partly responsible for the fact that it is misunderstood. Its members acknowledge that most of its external communications are intended as misdirection—a way to discourage public officials or others from meddling in its operations...
Read what happened after they secretly restored the clock, and other exploits: The New French Hacker-Artist Underground, Wired>>

Police respond to armed man on porch

Why did this man cause Tammy Moore
to be charged with inducing panic?

One night, a woman called 911 to report that there was a stranger sitting on her front porch:
“I turned on the porch light, and they’re sitting right there on the porch on the steps... It looks like they have a gun barrel sticking out of them.”
When police responded, they saw the man, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, clutching a beer bottle and brandishing a shotgun.

He refused all orders to drop the gun.

One deputy snuck up behind him and stuck his assault rifle into his back.

That's when the deputy realized the truth of the situation.

Tammy Moore, who was related to the woman who discovered the nighttime visitor, was charged with a misdemeanor offense. She was responsible for the man sitting on the porch. I'll bet she was charged because the police were not amused, because the man sitting in the dark holding the beer bottle and the toy gun was a mannequin.

Everything's clearer under brighter lights
at the police station.

- Armed mannequin prank angers sheriff. Woman accused of inducing panic after a 911 call, Dayton Daily News>>
- Are The Police Paranoid? Before it's News>>

How to smuggle drugs from Mexico

Use a "blind mule"

Mexican drug smugglers figured out a way to exploit the SENTRI pass system, which allows pre-approved drivers to cross the U.S. / Mexican border with minimal checks.

The smugglers spied on cars with SENTRI passes, looking for drivers with a predictable routine. They would follow a car on the Mexican side, copy down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and attach a GPS tracking device. Then they would use the VIN to make two sets of keys. One set would be given to smugglers on the Mexican side, and the other set given to smugglers on the U. S. side. One night, the smugglers would secretly open the car and place two duffel bags, each full of 60 pounds of marijuana, inside the trunk. When the car passed safely through the border and arrived in the U. S., the drugs were retrieved.

The scheme was foiled, but not before an innocent man from Juarex was arrested and jailed as a drug mule.

How were the smugglers caught and the innocent man freed? In this case, consistency was not a virtue, and a smart man noticed a pattern...

Read the entire story: 'Blind mules' unknowingly ferry drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border, CNN International>>

Bomb threats and the teenage brain

Teenagers have underdeveloped frontal lobes, 
which may impair their judgement.

A student brought a scribbled note he found in his high school bathroom to the assistant principal. It said:
bomb high school 1-18
Schools take these types of threats very seriously.

The police arrived, and so did the fire department. One half hour after the note was found, buses came and evacuated all 400-plus students.

Emergency Code Red alerts were sent to parents.

Less than an hour later, the state bomb squad arrived and swept the building with a group of trained dogs.

Nothing explosive was found.

Thomaston High School in Litchfield, Connecticut was safe.

However, when police interviewed the boy who found the note, they noted "some inconsistencies."

They discovered that he was the one who had written the bomb threat. Why?

He wanted to get out of a math test.

- Thomaston Student, 17, Who Claimed to Find Bomb Threat Note Is Arrested for Hoax, Litchfield County Times>>
- Bomb scare evacuates Thomaston High School, students sent home, The Register Citizen>>
- Brain bomb t-shirt, Spread Shirt>>

Which face do you trust?

An angel or a devil?

Some features look trustworthy, and some do not.
(Click to enlarge)

Alexander Todorov and Nikolaas Oosterhof at Princeton University conducted studies on the human face:
Taking what they have learned over time -- namely that, rightly or wrongly, people make instant judgments about faces that guide them in how they feel about that person -- the scientists decided to search for a way to quantify and define exactly what it is about each person's face that conveys a sense they can be trusted or feared. They chose those precise traits because they found they corresponded with a whole host of other vital characteristics, such as happiness and maturity.

"Humans seem to be wired to look to faces to understand the person's intentions," said Todorov, who has spent years studying the subtleties of the simple plane containing the eyes, nose and mouth. "People are always asking themselves, 'Does this person have good or bad intentions?'
...the scientists found that humans make split-second judgments on faces on two major measures -- whether the person should be approached or avoided and whether the person is weak or strong.
Read more about their research: Whom do we fear or trust? Faces instantly guide us, scientists say, News at Princeton, Princeton University>>
Graphic from The Boston Globe>>

Deceiving you with fragments of an alley

It's not about fooling you completely

It's obvious that this isn't real

You just have to look more closely

This distorted, fragmented view of an alley that doesn't exist is an artwork called "Deconstructing Ways". It was installed by Isidro Blasco on the end of a building for an art festival in Sydney, Australia. If you saw this out of the corner of your eye or were not consciously viewing it when you were walking by, you might be fooled into thinking it's "real." It's an optical illusion that's not a perfect illusion, which makes it more interesting when you finally notice it. Click on a photo to make it bigger.

- Deconstructing Ways by Isidro Blasco in Mullins St and Market Row, invisiblespice>>
- Off the Grid, Exploring the Sydney Laneway, Untapped Cities>>
- Art and About ... Deconstructing Ways by Isidro Blasco, Sydney Daily Photo>>
- Art and About Sydney>>
- Isidro Blasco>>

It looks fake but it's real (iced tea in Bangkok)

There's obviously something fake 
with this tea pouring picture.

Sometimes a mad skill can make the real look fake, as this video of a man making tea in Thailand demonstrates.

Thai Iced Tea

Fancy Creamer Pouring In Hot Lipton Tea, Fake Food Online>>

Tech guys copied tactics of fake Nigerian prince

The geeks donned Nigerian princely robes

The information technology administrators knew company data was being stolen, so they tried a little trick and discovered how. From InfoWorld magazine:
Sometimes you have to don Nigerian princely robes to know just how likely your network is to get hosed, learned one IT admin at a midsize financial company in the Midwest.

"We've spent well into six figures on perimeter security, antivirus, and antimalware software to keep customer data and get through audits. But even so, in the last year and a half we've had no fewer than six breaches with data being stolen or compromised," says the admin.

"Then over drinks one day, a buddy who is a security consultant casually mentioned that human compromises were just as common as technology vulnerabilities."

Keen to quantify this collective brain fail, the admin's team set up a test.

"We took the roster of employees of our two largest offices and checked their corporate email addresses to see which were accessible off the Web. Out of 178 employees, 138 corporate email addresses were easily discovered -- like two or three clicks off Google. That alone surprised me."

The team then set up a phishing email and sent it to all 138 employees. (A phishing email contains a legitimate-looking link that actually links to something bad - like a virus.)

"Now I know why those Nigerian princes keep bothering people," the admin says. "Our current malware technology caught only 58 percent of our home-brew phishing mails. On top of that, because we didn't use the usual Nigerian-prince or $1-million-estate-up-for-grabs schemes, we managed to get 64 out of 138 to click on our 'malware' link."

Needless to say, the results raised eyebrows in the corner office.
Read more IT tales, some involving deception: Stupid user tricks 6: IT idiocy loves company. IT fight club, dirty dev data, meatball sandwiches -- nine more tales of brain fail beyond belief. InfoWorld>>
The photo is Sani Abacha, a former president of Nigeria>>

Do financial crooks ever pay back their victims?

This guy's a generous criminal

I've read about crooks being required to pay back their victims, and I've always wondered: how can they pay back any money if they're in prison?

Turns out, they can't.

Especially the ones accused of huge financial crimes.

The newspaper USA Today examined hundreds of cases where criminals were ordered to pay over $25 million in fines or restitution, and discovered that the government has collected only 2 cents for every dollar owed.

Three reasons:
  1. Courts order criminals to pay without considering how much money they have.
  2. Criminals like to spend money.
  3. They've hidden their stolen money so it can't be found.
Swindlers rarely pay huge, court-ordered fines, USA Today>>