Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dr. Uba... FAKE

The South African interwebs is up in arms about one  Dr. Uba, who apparently offers cash for body parts. In flyers distributed in Johannesburg and a website, Dr. Uba offers "keen cash" for eyes, penises and kidneys and more.

This, understandably, quickly drew a lot of attention. Twitter exploded with outrage, Reddit got in on the act, the police was apparently sniffing around, and I was notified about the site via email and Facebook by several independent sources. Since human body parts are sometimes used for "muti" (traditional African medicine) and since this kind of quackery flourishes in South Africa, alas, Dr. Uba existing didn't strike me as impossible. But, as I've pointed out before, doubt will set you free. With some ninja internet skills and the help of several friends, I manage to uncover that Dr. Uba is nothing more than a guerrilla marketing campaign for the upcoming South African horror-film "Night Drive" (a trailer is here).

To make a long, convoluted story very short... The first indication that Dr. Uba wasn't real was that the Whois for the site revealed it was registered to one Jonathan Merry (this is he, I think) who works for a design / marketing company. Additionally, if you phoned Dr. Uba's clinic, all you got was voicemail. Much more significantly, the Whois description of the site is "spoof site of fake doctor". That confirmed the site is a fake, but not why it was being faked. Contacting Mr. Merry revealed few additional details (he was constrained by his client, apparently), so the motives for site remained hidden. Then, rather anticlimactically, the site was edited so that clicking on any of the links showed:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fun with Fauna

My family and I went hiking in the Tonquani Gorge (in the Magaliesberg, just north of Pretoria) last weekend. Much fun was had by all. And, to my delight, I caught a freshwater crab. It was hiding in a crevasse about 2m up the rock face,  next to a gorgeous waterfall. 

Pics or it didn't happen, you say? Well.....

Nothing to see here, move along...

Angela's son, amazed.
Note: no crabs were harmed in the making of this blog post. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Video: Optogenitics is Nature's Method of the Year

Long-time readers will remember a guest post by my friend Hugh Pastoll about optogenetics. I didn't catch it at the time, but Nature declared optogentics its 'Method of the Year' for 2010. An explanatory video below (direct link):

(Video found via Ed Yong).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fun with H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken, the American satirist, critic and all round cynic, was quite the quotable fellow. I recently dug out some of my favorite quotes (which I shared on Twitter earlier this month - you should follow me) and I figured they deserved a blag post of their own. So...

"The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind."

"To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!"

"Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true."

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."

"The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading."

"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind — that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty and the democratic form is as bad as any of the other forms.
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech — alike for the humblest man and the mightiest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent with living in organized society.
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I —But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant."

Check out Mencken's Wikiquote page for more fun....

The African science, rationalism and skepticism blogroll for January

The updated African science and skepticism blogroll for January... If you know of blogs not listed here, please let me know. Also: add it to your blog! Tweet it! Do a post like this one! (Email me, and I'll send you the HTML).

Note: I generally remove blogs that have been inactive for more than 6 months, so if you're no longer on the list and have resumed blogging, please email me.