Mystery man found dead in wall of women's washroom

The Core Shopping Center caters to the needs of Calgary, Canada's downtown office workers. Wandering its multiple floors over a series of city blocks, you'll find a mid-ranged food court, travel agencies, cell phone stores and stores flogging business attire – pretty standard stuff. Its white walls and polished floors give it an institutional feel that shouts "shop and bugger off." It's a mall! You could mistake it for any number of other shopping centers around North America, except for one thing: the Core has, or rather, had, a dead fella in the wall of one of its women's washrooms.

I spend six months of the year in and around Calgary and worked for a number of years managing mall cops. Lemme set the scene.

Instead of forcing maintenance personnel to rip a hole in a wall to access plumbing every time that there's a problem, a lot of mall bathrooms are designed to include small, lockable doors that provide access to the pipes. The wall that this door is baked into is often referred to as a "pony wall." Pony walls aren't designed for load bearing. They're there, primarily, to hide plumbing, HVAC and electrical conduits from folks using the building. It looks nice. In between a pony wall and the wall that lies beyond it, there's usually a small chunk of space – maybe one and a half feet feet deep – to allow workers to get parts of themselves and their tools into to make repairs. The access hatch for a pony wall can be locked and unlocked from the outside. Read the rest

Study: Bones found on Pacific island in 1940 are likely Amelia Earhart's

Aviator Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and almost made it around the world: her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Many hypotheses cropped up over the years to explain her mysterious disappearance. Perhaps she simply ran out of fuel far from land. Perhaps she was forced down and captured by the Japanese military. Or, maybe, she was stranded on a desert island. Read the rest

Cult of Personality: Two crime writers discuss the allure of cults in their own dark fiction

I’ve always been intrigued by cults. The idea that someone would be willing to give up everything: their wealth, family connections, personality or livelihood, to be a part of something presumably greater, something more all-consuming than religion, fascinated me. I knew, at some point, I’d want to write about it. I didn’t get the chance until I started my fourth crime novel, Blackout, which hits in May from Polis Books—the latest in a Miami crime series featuring recovering alcoholic private investigator Pete Fernandez.

Odd moment with a rubber chicken

It would be gauche of me to explain this wonderful moment of web video, but I feel obliged to protect you from any potential disappointment with respect to the interactions of rubber chickens and ceiling fans. It's a sample from this performance by Vitas, Russia's answer to Babylon Zoo:

(Nor is the the first wedding of Russian glam pop and chickens)

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Find out if you are a Twitter bot with Botometer

The Botometer is a simple single-serving website that reports whether any given Twitter account talks like a bot. It seems quite accurate, tracking not just the content but "sentiment" and its networking characteristics.

My account, @beschizza, has a "green" score of 38%, so I have passed my Twitter Voigt-Kampff test. But @boingboing scores 53%, perhaps reflecting its mix of human chatter and automated links to posts. (Trump also scores 53%, oddly enough.)

How should I interpret a bot score?

Roughly speaking, one can interpret a bot score as a likelihood that the user is a bot. As such, bot scores closer to the extreme values of 0% and 100% are more confident assertions of the account's bot-ness.

It's tempting to set some arbitrary threshold score and consider everything above that number a bot and everything below a human, but this is probably not the best way to think about it. Many accounts score in the "yellow" range of 40-60%. A middle-of-the-road score like this is a signal that our classifier is uncertain about the classification.

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Giant "void" detected in Great Pyramid

A new scanning technique has revealed what scientists believe is an empty space within the Great Pyramid at Gizeh. While it might be an architectural feature intended to limit the load upon the hallway beneath it, it could be a huge room. They also detected a smaller void at a different spot in the pyramid.

"We don't know whether this big void is horizontal or inclined; we don't know if this void is made by one structure or several successive structures," explained Mehdi Tayoubi from the HIP Institute, Paris.

"What we are sure about is that this big void is there; that it is impressive; and that it was not expected as far as I know by any sort of theory." ... Much of the uncertainty comes down to the rather imprecise data gained from muography.

This non-invasive technique has been developed over the past 50 years to probe the interiors of phenomena as diverse as volcanoes and glaciers. It has even been used to investigate the failed nuclear reactors at Fukushima.

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Crowdsourced sleuthing exonerates politician viewing "dirty" pic

What happens these days when a photographer's photo inadvertently shoulder-surfs your phone screen? If you're a politician and the content vaguely resembles porn, internet sleuths are on the case. In one case this week, depending on your point of view, the results were a disappointment or a relief. Read the rest

Arc Symphony is a Playstation game that never existed. Or did it?

Arc Symphony is a text-only game about being a fan of an elaborate Japanese Playstation RPG in the 1990s. Designed to evoke an old-timey USENET group and the ancient DOS PC used to connect to it, it's a perfect and mysterious capturing of a long-gone moment. To promote it, the creators commissioned designed jewel cases, complete with glossy booklet (no disk, of course), in perfect imitiation of a PSX game that never existed.

At shows, people spot the clever mockup and say, hey, I remember that game.

People tell them they remember playing it.

People insist they remember. There are fansites.

Arc Symphony works because of Park and Evan’s marketing of it—it becomes easier to pretend to be a fan of the game when they’ve managed to slip a little nostalgia for it into your drink. Both Park and Evans were very surprised by the success of their campaign, and how quickly it got away from them.

“It’s actually really unsettling when it stops just being indie game devs having fun with each other,” Park said, “and starts being, well, rewriting cultural memory…”

Previously: Nomen Ludi, the game you can't quite remember. Read the rest

What was in the safe

About a year ago, I reported my discovery of a mysterious old safe at the back of a closet in the old house I'd just bought. After much fooling around with combinations and pointless gadgets in my spare time over the course of many months, you finally insisted I call in the professionals. I ignored this plea until you summoned them yourselves.

It took a little time to actually find one, though: the skills it takes to crack a 1920s safe are both uncommon and in-demand, and local locksmiths in Pittsburgh ultimately sent me on to master safecracker Gary Timchak.

He drilled a hole, slid a rigid borescope within, and had it open in minutes.

What was inside? Spoilers are below! Read the rest

Investigators uncover identity of mystery man found dead on remote moor

Last year I blogged about the mysterious death of a man found on a remote English moor. Found with only a pocketful of pills and no identifying documents, "Dovestones" sent investigators hunting worldwide in search of answers. They found them: Dovestones was 67-year-old Londoner David Lytton.

Officers identified the smartly dressed man in CCTV footage from Ealing, west London, where he is believed to have started his journey on the morning of 11 December. He arrived in Manchester shortly after midday after taking a train from London Euston, then went to Greenfield, Saddleworth, and visited the Clarence pub at 2pm, where he asked the landlord how to get to the top of the 460-metre (1,500ft) Indian’s Head peak above Dovestone reservoir.

Despite being warned about treacherous weather conditions by the landlord, Mel Robinson, he left the pub and was spotted by witnesses walking up the hill at about 4.30pm.

His body was found the next morning by a passing cyclist on a boggy section of track. He was wearing slip-on shoes and had £130 in cash in his pockets, along with three train tickets, including a return ticket to London. He was carrying no documentation.

The mystery of how and why he died near a mountaintop remains. The suicide hypothesis, based reasonably enough on the presence of strychnine in his body, seems solid. But why travel all the way from Pakistan? Why there? Read the rest

Three-year search for missing flight MH370 called off

Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370 pitched somewhere in the vast oceans west of Australia three years ago, the only evidence washing ashore thousands of miles away. The search for its remains, and those of hundreds of missing passengers and crew, has been called off.

Families of the victims of flight MH370 say a decision to halt the search for the Malaysian airliner that vanished in March 2014 is "irresponsible". ... More than 120,000 sq km (46,300 miles) of the Indian Ocean has been searched with no results. Pieces of debris have been found as far away as Madagascar. But only seven have been identified as definitely or highly likely to be from the Boeing 777.

It's 2017 and they still dress airline pilots up like commodores and let them turn off the transponders. Read the rest

I'm helping launch Echoes of Sherlock Holmes at LA's Chevalier Books tomorrow night

In 2014, lawyer and eminent Sherlockian Les Klinger comprehensively won the legal battle to establish that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain and available for anyone to use, abuse, alter, celebrate or mock; now with a new anthology of completely unauthorized Sherlock tales, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, Klinger and co-editor Laurie R. King have shown just how much life there is in the old tales. Read the rest

Mysterious "ping" heard in Arctic

Ships in the Arctic Ocean report that an odd pinging sound emanating from the bottom of the sea can be heard through their hulls. The Canadian military, fortified with Scooby snacks, is on the case.

From The Guardian:

Several reports were passed to the military, which sent a CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft to investigate on Tuesday under the mandate of Operation Limpid, a domestic surveillance programme designed to “detect, deter, prevent, pre-empt and defeat threats aimed at Canada or Canadian interests”.

In a statement, Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said: “The Canadian armed forces are aware of allegations of unusual sounds emanating from the seabed in the Fury and Hecla Strait in Nunavut. The air crew performed various multi-sensor searches in the area, including an acoustic search for 1.5 hours, without detecting any acoustic anomalies. The crew did not detect any surface or subsurface contacts.

Read the rest

Mountainside "suicide" baffles investigators in England

An old man lay by the path on a crag in the cold Peak District December. Dead, with a bottle of pills in his pocket and no identification, "Dovestones" sent investigators the other side of the world in search of answers. Who was he? Why strychnine? Why there?

The last person the man is known to have spoken to was the landlord of The Clarence pub in the village of Greenfield, where many walkers set off from.

He walked in at about 14:00 on the day before his body was found. “He just asked for directions to the top of the mountain,” says Melvin Robinson. “Just the top of the mountain.”

More, from William Atkins at The Guardian:

On 22 February, a routine toxicology report revealed an unusual alkaloid in his system: strychnine. Strychnine has been banned in the UK since 2006, when its only remaining legal use, in the killing of moles, was deemed unduly cruel. “There are very, very few deaths by strychnine poisoning,” Coleman says. “It’s a terrible death.” As a pesticide, it remains available in other countries, including Pakistan, where it is commonly used to cull feral dogs. When the empty thyroxine sodium bottle was analysed, it bore traces of the poison.

By interfering with neurotransmitters that moderate nerve function, strychnine causes muscles to contract uncontrollably. It is partly the violence of its effects that accounts for the poison’s regular appearance in Agatha Christie’s novels. The ultimate cause of death, which does not come quickly, is asphyxiation.

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Photos of 1930s rural America ruined with hole punches, creating the greatest photoshop challenge ever

The US Farm Security Administration commissioned hundreds of thousands of photos in the 1930s and 40s, representing an unparalleled record of the times. Unfortunately, as revealed in an exhibition curated by Bill McDowell, many of the shots were badly damaged with hole punches. The results are an unsettling, inadvertent commentary on the depression and the lives it ruined – and also an incredible challenge for photoshoppers.

Easy mode (Five-bedroom house, Meridian Homesteads, Mississippi, 1935)

Hard mode (Mr Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota, 1937)

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I found a locked safe hidden at the back of a closet in my new house

Moving into the house we just bought, I found to my delight a mysterious locked safe at the back of a closet. I've asked a few people how to get into it, and the consensus is either to use powerful microphones to listen in on the tumblers (apparently stethoscopes don't really cut it) or to see if the hinges are weakened by time and can be removed by force without damaging the door or the mechanisms.

Before I get cracking, though, what do you think? I asked the previous owners for the code, but they don't know. They just assumed it was empty. It's a Yale safe.

I know that it's probably full of air, but you never know. Read the rest

Doctor Who's real name is d³∑x²

Honestly, some parents. What on Earth were they thinking?

The Doctor's real name revealed in 1980 comic book. Credit to u/swanzie for image. [r/doctorwho] Read the rest

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