I'm sexy. You slept with me. Oh, did I forget to tell you I have HIV?

Nadja Benaissa
Singer Nadja Benaissa, 28, of the German band No Angels, had unprotected sex with her 34-year old boyfriend despite knowing she had HIV. He has tested positive for the disease.

She didn't tell anyone she had HIV because she was afraid of the consequences.

She said not telling was a "cowardly act."

She was found guilty in court and given a two-year suspended prison sentence and 300 hours community service.

Huffington Post>>

Postcards from a Ponzi scam

I take Stutz Drive, right off Tippecanoe Road,
to get to my investment company. It's right next to the
big Notify Technology building.

There's the familiar sign, for D. J. Harriett, Inc.

Patti, the receptionist, says hello, asks if I need some coffee.

I say hello to the little Cocker Spaniel, Snickers.
He's such a friendly dog. If he's here, it must mean
Dave's in his office. They're inseparable.

I look at the big photo hanging on the wall,
from the Caribbean cruise the office took.
Patti tells me they just got it framed.

I pick up the investment brochure.
I glance at a picture for a Pioneer Chicken restaurant...

...and a Better Business Bureau logo.
A woman walks by. I've never met her.
Her name is Marian. She's pretty new here.
I remember Patti said her husband recently passed away.
She seems nice.

Patti said to go on back. I pass Brenda's office.
She has a plaque with Psalm 86:11 on her office door,
the one that starts: "Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name."

Dave comes out and shakes my hand. He's a smart guy.
Always has a smile.

This is Honorable Judge O'Malley.
She's talking but I'm not really listening.
About 30 of us are crammed into this courtroom.
I hear "Ponzi scheme" and "200 investors" and "lost $7 million."
Dave looks frail. They said he has pancreatic cancer
and won't live long. He might get 5 years in jail.
Now he's out on bail. Someone next to me mutters,
"He won't suffer long enough."
DJ Harriet>>
Better Business Bureau>>
Google Maps>>

(All images are of the actual people, places, or things related to David J. Harriett's Ponzi fraud.)

From the FBI press release:

From August 1996 through January 2010, Harriett represented to more than 200 investors that he and his company, DJ Harriet, Inc., were approved “project managers” for the construction of new McDonalds and Pioneer Chicken franchise restaurants in the Northeast Ohio, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida, according to Harriet’s plea.

Harriett solicited investors for DJ Harriett, Inc. and, in exchange for their investment, provided investors with promissory notes that purportedly guaranteed the return of their investment, plus significant interest, according to his plea.

Harriet sent numerous letters through the mail to investors which falsely represented the success and growth of the company as well as the existence and success of franchise construction contracts. Harriett knew that neither he nor DJ Harriett, Inc. had any contracts with McDonalds or Pioneer Chicken, let alone franchise construction contracts. Moreover, Harriett also knew the investor money was not being put to any legitimate use, but rather was being used to make Ponzi payments to other investors, to operate DJ Harriett, Inc. and for Defendant’s own purposes and personal use, according to his plea.

Who changes their mind - heroes or liars?

When a man you like switches from what he said a year ago, or four years ago, he is a broad-minded person who has courage enough to change his mind with changing conditions. When a man you don't like does it, he is a liar who has broken his promise.

- Franklin P. Adams (1861-1960)

 Sculpture by Anthony Santella>>

How to hide anything

“If you need to hide jewelry from a robber,
or your stash from the man, this book’s for you, dude!”
– Anonymous made-up reviewer
How to Hide Anything by Michael Connor, published by Paladin Press (1984)

Your first clue that this book’s a bit dated might be the cover, showing a man hiding inside a freestanding stereo system with albums and stereo equipment secretly cut down to accommodate his crouching body. 

Would a “stereo cabinet” full of record albums work as an effective hiding place these days?

This short book wraps lots of words around slight concepts.

It’s for the paranoid or adolescent mind.

It seems the author walked around his home, yard and motel rooms and said, “Hey, where do I think I can hide stuff?”

It could expand your mind and make you think about where you can deceive people by hiding things. But I wonder, wouldn’t the police or thieves – with more experience in actually finding hidden things – have a little knowledge about hiding places?

(And maybe they’ve read this book, too?)

The book throws all these hiding places at you, but doesn’t go into much detail about:
  • What exactly are you trying to hide, because different items need different hiding places.
  • Is it valuable? Can you lose it or can someone else throw it away by mistake if you hide it?
  • If it’s illegal and found, can you plausibly deny it’s yours?
  • How much do you need access to it?
  • Will the searchers find any clues that you’ve accessed your hiding place?
But I quibble. If you want a quick overview of where to hide things, I've summarized all the hiding places mentioned in the book. (I make no claims that any of this is practical or will adequately substitute for a safe-deposit box or a home safe.)

Where to hide things in your home:

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin and the switching gag

One of these drinks is Poisoned...
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin try deceiving each other with the old "switching the poisoned drink gag" on an episode of Saturday Night Live. This gag was likely an old vaudeville routine when Abbott and Costello did it in three different movies.

Here, in just a portion of the entire skit, Martin and Baldwin use the gag, but embellish it with secondary deceptive gags such as Martin having another vial of poison when his first attempt is foiled, or Martin distracting Baldwin while he's trying to clean up the mess from a foaming poison.


The mirror illusion - you want to walk through it, but you can't

A mirror table optical illusion for your home.
You can't walk through the doorway because there's a small round table blocking your way...

Created by designfront for porro.

This is similar to these other illusions: the painting that deceived George Washington, some of the lamps that are not what they appear to be, and the "glimpse mirror" real world optical illusion.

The untold secret of Psycho's shower scene

Is this really Norman Bates?
You can't trust anything in the movies. Here's where Hitchcock really cheated, explains writer Steve North.
"Sitting with (Anthony) Perkins and hearing his stories was a moviegoer’s dream come true, but I had to take a stab at bringing him back to the nightmarish shower scene. I told him what I had heard, and asked if he would confirm the secret of "Psycho": that during the filming of the horrific moment where Norman Bates, in drag, dispatches Miss Crane, Anthony Perkins himself was..."
The secrets of "Psycho's" shower scene. How I uncovered the shocking truth about Hitchcock's best-known moment - and why it still matters, 50 years on, Salon>>

Hollywood needs a fake crowd

1,500 of them were in the movie American Gangster.
They've been in the movies Iron Man 2, Salt, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Spiderman 3, Memoirs of a Geisha, Dodgeball, Million Dollar Baby and many more. You've looked at them but never seen them. They work in Hollywood, and they're all fake. They're cheap extras who don't complain. And you have to blow them up before they'll go to work.

They're inflatable extras.

The New Yorker>>
Inflatable Crowd>>

The deceptive joy of a light bulb

It amuses you when it's clinging there, disoriented.
Someone said it would be great if there were
two filaments, one for each socket,
so if one burnt out... Alas, only one.
This works because it's not a mysterious illusion where viewers wonder: "I wonder, how is it done?" It works because viewers pretty quickly know exactly how it's done, and then say to themselves: "That's clever. So simple. It's fun."

And then they smile.

The bulb was designed by Hironao Tsuboi.

You can buy it at the 100% store in Japan>>
Or here>>

Testimony "didn't pass smell test" - Ponzi fraudster gets 50 years

"A federal judge... sentenced a Minnesota man to 50 years in prison for carrying out a 16-year Ponzi scheme that netted an estimated $3.7 billion.

Thomas Joseph Petters of Wayzata, Minn., was convicted of multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering after a month-long trial in December.

Petters and a close circle of associates created the illusion of a successful company selling bulk electronic goods to big-box retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club. Federal authorities say it was all a façade. The group printed up false invoices and bank records showing Petters’ company was owed billions of dollars from retailers."

Minn. man sentenced to 50 years for $3.7 billion Ponzi scheme at Christian Science Monitor>>

But he has a tumor! From MinnPost>>

And his company bought struggling Polaroid. Now Polaroid's got to sell off their art collection - from The New York Times>> 

For legal junkies, here’s lots of info, from the U.S. Department of Justice>>

Twenty-one deceptive and vulgar words

Detail of the watercolor "A London Street Scene"
by John Orlando Parry, 1835.
I found a colorful dictionary of old slang terms called the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. I extracted my favorite entries that are related to deception. These words are all cant words, a secret jargon or slang used by 19th Century criminals, hustlers, thieves, rogues and tricksters, or those wanting to be associated with them.

There are a lot of good words, so I’ve only included the entries from A to B. (ADAM-TILER to BARGAIN.) I'll post some more in the future.



ADAM TILER. A pickpocket's associate, who receives the stolen goods, and runs off with them.

AMBASSADOR. A trick to duck some ignorant fellow or landsman, frequently played on board ships in the warm latitudes. It is thus managed: A large tub is filled with water, and two stools placed on each side of it. Over the whole is thrown a tarpaulin, or old sail: this is kept tight by two persons, who are to represent the king and queen of a foreign country, and are seated on the stools. The person intended to be ducked plays the Ambassador, and after repeating a ridiculous speech dictated to him, is led in great form up to the throne, and seated between the king and queen, who rising suddenly as soon as he is seated, he falls backwards into the tub of water.

AMUSERS. Rogues who carried snuff or dust in their pockets, which they threw into the eyes of any person they intended to rob; and running away, their accomplices (pretending to assist and pity the half-blinded person) took that opportunity of plundering him.

ANGLERS. Pilferers, or petty thieves, who, with a stick having a hook at the end, steal goods out of shop-windows, grates, etc.; also those who draw in or entice unwary persons to prick at the belt, or such like devices.

APPLE-PIE BED. A bed made apple-pie fashion, like what is called a turnover apple-pie, where the sheets are so doubled as to prevent any one from getting at his length between them: a common trick played by frolicsome country lasses on their sweethearts, male relations, or visitors.

AUTEM MORT. A married woman; also a female beggar with several children hired or borrowed to excite charity.

Real head, fake decapitation

"Decapitated Dave" by A.M. Kuchling
A photo taken at the 2002 exhibit "Magic: The Science
of Illusion" at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Here's another person's photo, of "Headless Pam."
These real heads are sitting inside a contraption which uses a clever arrangement of mirrors to hide their bodies. To the audience, the trick is "Where's the person's body?" The science of optics explains how.

Here's a visual explanation of a similar illusion used on the cover of the publisher Dover's reprint of a magic book from 1876, Modern Magic: A practical treatise on the art of conjuring by Professor Hoffman.

The "Sphinx" was another headless illusion,
first introduced in 1865.
While the science museum was explaining the optical principles involved, the first Sphinx illusion used theatrical principles to deepen the mystery. The head was disguised as a Sphinx, so the audience did not immediately think it was a real head without a body. They were wondering how a realistic-looking head could speak. To an audience in 1865, discovering the secret to the illusion was not about optics, but about sound and mechanics. How did the head speak? (The telephone wasn't invented until the 1870s.) And if it was some sort of mechanical automaton, how did all those mechanics fit inside a small chest holding the head that was placed on a table? (I love the type of box the newspaper writer compares to the head box in the following passage.)

Here's the description from Modern Magic, which quotes a contemporary newspaper account:
…Most intricate is the problem proposed by Colonel Stodare, when, in addition to his admirable feats of ventriloquism and legerdemain, he presents to his patrons a novel illusion called 'the Sphinx.' Placing upon an uncovered table a chest similar in size to the cases commonly occupied by stuffed dogs or foxes, he removes the side facing the spectators, and reveals a head attired after the fashion of an Egyptian Sphinx. To avoid the suspicion of ventriloquism, he retires to a distance from the figure supposed to be too great for the practice of that art, taking his position on the borderline of the stalls and the area, while the chest is on the stage. Thus stationed, he calls upon the Sphinx to open its eyes, which it does - to smile, which it does also, though the habitual expression of its countenance is most melancholy, and to make a speech, which it does also, this being the miraculous part of the exhibition. Not only with perspicuity, but with something like eloquence, does it utter some twenty lines of verse; and while its countenance is animated and expressive, the movement of the lips, in which there is nothing mechanical, exactly corresponds to the sounds articulated.

This is certainly one of the most extraordinary illusions ever presented to the public. That the speech is spoken by a human voice there is no doubt but how is a head to be contrived which, being detached from anything like a body, confined in a case, which it completely fills, and placed on a bare-legged table, will accompany a speech, that apparently proceeds from its lips, with a strictly appropriate movement of the mouth, and a play of the countenance that is the reverse of mechanical? Eels, as we all know, can wriggle about after they have been chopped into half-a-dozen pieces; but a head that, like that of the Physician Douban, in the Arabian tales, pursues its eloquence after it bas been severed from its body, scarcely comes within the reach of possibilities, unless, indeed, the old-fashioned assertion that “King Charles walked and talked half-an-hour after his head was cut of” is to be received, not as an illustration of defective punctuation, but as a positive historical statement.
Living Room Scribbles>>
Modern magic: A practical treatise on the art of conjuring>>

Simple deceptions to make you laugh

Two Australians entertain.

In this clip, you'll see how the simplest illusions - even when you know how they're done - work.

Umbilica Brothers>>

A train runs through (and below) this fake house

You can't see the train that runs beneath this house
because it's not a house.
The Metropolitan UK railroad line at Leinster Gardens, Paddington, London has been running since 1868. (The railroad itself is the world's first underground railroad, starting in 1863.) Part of the route is above ground, part below, because the old steam trains needed to vent outside of a tunnel. To make way for the train, they demolished the original houses at 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens, but didn't want to spoil the view from the street with a view of a railroad track, so they built a fake, five-foot thick, five-story-high concrete house to match the neighboring houses.

It's said that pranksters used to send various people and businesses to that address, including at one time fashionable people invited to a dance.

Some of the clues that it's not real -
fake doors and fake blackened windows.

A view of the back of the faux house.

A better view of the train tracks.

Most ads really appeal to only two men

"The philosophy behind much advertising is based on the old observation that every man is really two men - the man he is and the man he wants to be."

- William Feather

Cheating woman sues her cell phone carrier for destroying marriage

The cheating woman, Gabriella Nagy,
wearing her wig and dark glasses disguise.
A married woman in Toronto had a brief affair. She used her cell phone, listed in her maiden name, to communicate with the gentleman.

Meanwhile, the married woman's husband wanted to combine their communications, internet and cable TV services, so he called their provider, Rogers Wireless.

Rogers Wireless consolidated the woman's cell phone bill with the services her husband wanted to combine. They sent a global invoice for all services to the couple's home under his name.

The husband opened the bill and saw many hour-long cell phone calls between his wife and one number. He called the number, spoke with the gentleman on the other end, and discovered the affair.

The husband left his wife.

The wife was deeply embarrassed. She became distraught and emotional. She lost her job.

So she decided to sue the cell phone company for violating her privacy.

She said if they hadn't bundled the bills, her husband would never have seen her bill and he wouldn't have discovered her affair and left her. She is suing Rogers Wireless for $600,000 for alleged invasion of privacy and breach of contract.

Rogers Wireless says they are not "responsible for the condition of the marriage, for the plaintiff's affair and consequential marriage break-up, nor the effects the break-up has had on her."

Lesson one from this story: you probably shouldn't cheat. Adultery when discovered is oftentimes unhealthy for your marriage.

Lesson two from this story: if you're going to cheat, be more discreet. Don't use your own cell phone, don't have long conversations on your cell phone, get electronic invoices sent to an unknown email address and for God's sake use a different cell phone company.

Lesson three from this story: don't blame a company for ruining your life when it wasn't a company that caused you to cheat or to be caught. It was you.

Gabriella Nagy has now set up a Facebook page for CHIRPP (Citizens Helping Individuals Reform Privacy Policies), a grassroots movement advocating to reform the privacy policies and practices of large corporations.

Toronto woman sues Rogers after her affair is exposed, The Star>>

Dead nine-year girl pranks Google

She was at 16 Middle Rd, Worcester WR2 4HT, United Kingdom.
Google map's street view is captured by camera cars roaming neighborhoods. On a street in the UK, they passed the body of Azura, a nine-year-old girl, lying face down on the side of the road. Azura was supposedly pulling a prank on her friend, and "thought it would be funny to play dead." It probably wasn't as funny for the first person to see the photo. (And don't bother looking for her. Google removed the image.)

Community Terrified By Google Street View Prank, The Escapist>>

Maybe his medicine was homeopathic - Cons from 100 years ago

"I commenced selling the bitters on Main Street."
O. Henry is a writer most famous for his short stories such as The Gift of the Magi, where a man sells his watch so he can buy his wife jeweled combs for her hair, while she cuts off her hair to buy him a fob for his watch. Many of us have likely read it in school as an example of "irony."

He also wrote a book of tales about grafters, or petty con-artist grifters, in a kind of homespun style. This story's about a patent medicine swindler pretending to be the Indian medicine-man Dr. Waugh-hoo.

Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet by O. Henry, 1907. Published in the book The Gentle Grafter.

Jeff Peters has been engaged in as many schemes for making money as there are recipes for cooking rice in Charleston,” S. C.

Best of all I like to hear him tell of his earlier days when he sold liniments and cough cures on street corners, living hand to mouth, heart to heart with the people, throwing heads or tails with fortune for his last coin.

“I struck Fisher Hill, Arkansaw,” said he, “in a buckskin suit, moccasins, long hair and a thirty-carat diamond ring that I got from an actor in Texarkana. I don't know what he ever did with the pocket knife I swapped him for it.

“I was Dr. Waugh-hoo, the celebrated Indian medicine man. I carried only one best bet just then, and that was Resurrection Bitters. It was made of life-giving plants and herbs accidentally discovered by Ta-qua-la, the beautiful wife of the chief of the Choctaw Nation, while gathering truck to garnish a platter of boiled dog for the annual corn dance.

The Star of David optical illusion artwork

An optical illusion of the Star of David
using mirrors, created by Ofer Rubin
This three-dimensional optical illusion uses three lines, two candles, and two cleverly positioned mirrors to recreate a complete Star of David with candles between each point.

It is not the same illusion as Kanizsa's triangle, which also makes the Star of David. But in this optical illusion, even though it also makes a six-pointed star, it's almost impossible to see the star instead of seeing two triangles.

Of course, it's a deception - the triangles aren't really there, either.

Star of David blog>>

Secret magician gimmicks you never see, part 5

A Dave Powell Remote Controlled Card Fountain
This is part five in a series exposing all the secret gimmicks that magicians hide and you never see. Gimmicks are the secret assistants for magicians. In the past, a secret assistant might have crouched under a heavily draped table and pulled a thread. Today, the magician's secret assistant is likely to be a thread. And without the assistance of these gimmicks, some miracles would be completely impossible.

<< Go to The technology of magic gimmicks, part 4

The Impromptu Ghost Glass II Kit
A Pair of Fickle Fire Gimmicks
The Kirkendall Double Reel Floating Card Gimmick
The Sanada Gimmick

A Jar of Slush Powder

The Expandable Zombie Gimmick

Chinese Playing Card Juicing Kit

Why do kids lie?

There's no big mystery why kids lie - they're just copying their parents. In an article in New York magazine:
They learn that honesty only creates conflict, and dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict. And while they don’t confuse white-lie situations with lying to cover their misdeeds, they bring this emotional groundwork from one circumstance to the other. It becomes easier, psychologically, to lie to a parent. So if the parent says, “Where did you get these Pokémon cards?! I told you, you’re not allowed to waste your allowance on Pokémon cards!” this may feel to the child very much like a white-lie scenario—he can make his father feel better by telling him the cards were extras from a friend.
My favorite quote from the article:
In the thesaurus, the antonym of honesty is lying, and the opposite of arguing is agreeing. But in the minds of teenagers, that’s not how it works. Really, to an adolescent, arguing is the opposite of lying.

"Who broke this?"
"Okay. I'm going to tell you, okay.
First... okay I'm going to tell you.
First. First, I wasn't in here, right?"
The best illustration of a kid lying comes from genius comedian Richard Pryor:

Learning to Lie, New York>>

Advertising cigars with a card shark

This dude abides tobacco.
"I'm a card cheat. Come buy tobacco from me..."

I discovered this guy in a magazine about antiques, where they explained the origins of cigar store Indians and other tobacco advertising figures. Because they were associated with tobacco, most of the wooden figures used in early tobacco advertising were American Indians, but gradually others appeared.

The magazine said that this carved figure from around 1880 is called a dude. He's wearing flashy clothing and is postured to look like a slick con artist or card shark. Since many of these dudes smoked expensive cigars to indicate their success, they were a natural for advertising cigars and tobacco.

But after more research, I discovered the term "dude" was really a slang term for a strutting, foppish young man in the late 1880s who emulated fashionable English clothing styles, and didn't refer specifically to a cheat.

Also, that type of gentleman was sometimes called a "racetrack tout," or someone who didn't cheat, but sold advice on gambling, especially on horses.

So I guess when you look at that guy, you associate him with a haughty, well-dressed Englishman selling gambling advice at the racetrack.

And you think cheat.

(To read more than you ever wanted to know about the origins of the word "dude," read a reprint from Comments on Etymology at The Dudespaper>>)

Antique Arts Journal>>

Oodles of tobacco advertising figures at Cigar Store Indian Statue>>

The sewage prank from the movie Brazil

The smug repairmen from Central Services confront our hero.
In Terry Gilliam's brilliant 1985 film Brazil, our hero, Sam Lowry, with assistance from renegade repairman Harry Tuttle, gets revenge by pulling a seriously messy prank on two incompetents from Central Services.

Earlier, the mysterious Tuttle had fixed the malfunctioning air conditioning in Lowry's apartment, which in this world is considered a major crime.

In this clip, we'll discover that whoever designed this system should not have made the tubes for the air conditioning and sewage interchangeable.

This classic film is the best adaptation of George Orwell's book 1984 that is not based directly on the book 1984.