NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day tends to be a beautiful high-resolution image of a far-off nebula, one of the moons of Saturn, or perhaps a comet streaking through the heavens. But the most startlingly unexpected image in the Astronomy Picture of the Day archive may be a photograph dated April 1, 2005, that conclusively establishes the presence of water on Mars.
It was only a matter of time before someone achieved a technological breakthrough to lift body art above its humble drunken-sailor beginnings. That breakthrough was announced and documented on April 1, 2006, when the trusted HowStuffWorks Web site revealed the secret behind the animated tattoo--the Programmable Subcutaneous Visible Implant (PSVI). Warning: The article's graphic photos of the PSVI implantation procedure are definitely not for the squeamish.
Buoyed by the article's success, HowStuffWorks followed it up last April with another behind-the-scenes look at tech implantation: How Cell-Phone Implants Work.
ThinkGeek, the Web-based retailer of "Stuff for Smart Masses," usually observes April Fool's Day by posting new products that not only serve as a catalyst for mirth, but often defy the laws of physics. Starting in 2002 with the Desktop Zero-Point Power Generator, which converted abundant and "naturally occurring" electromagnetic energy into 120-volt AC power ("less than 600 rem of residual ionizing radiation!"), ThinkGeek went on to offer CaffeDerm caffeine-delivering dermal patches (reminiscent of Nicarest smokable nicotine sticks, reported in the Onion back in 1998); a Buzzaire caffeine inhaler; a PC EZ-Bake Oven (fits in a 5¼-inch drive bay); wireless extension cords; the vinyl-ripping, 2-terabyte, 33-pound iZilla Media Monster digital media player; and a USB desktop tanning center.
But latter-day Edisons at ThinkGeek outdid themselves with the Screened Sphorb, a device so unbelievably awesome that its accompanying QuickTime video--to say nothing of the attendant text description--don't begin to capture its multifaceted brilliance. What self-respecting geek could pass up a product that lets you "mod elementals AND screen drive in twice the time using only half of the optional memory pods, while the other half waits to achieve a normalized state"--for a mere US$39.99? Best of all, legacy Sphorbs are fully engaged in the emulation process! Caveat emptor: No matter what assurances ThinkGeek's Screened Sphorb page makes about availability, the item may remain on back order indefinitely (or infinitely).
3. Beyond Buggy
Usually, the moderated posts on the Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems (a.k.a. Risks) focus soberly on news about security flaws in computer programs--and the life-threatening unintended consequences of those programs. But around the first of April each year, Risks takes a decidedly silly turn, featuring satirical, sometimes macabre, and possibly fictitious reports of technology gone wrong.
Examples from the April 1, 2006 issue include reports about a motorist trapped in a traffic circle for 14 hours by his car's malfunctioning lane-keeping software; and about the announcement at Cambridge University of new full-scale mapping software (where 1 kilometer of the real world is represented by 1 km of the map) that had revealed errors in the location of actual roads and buildings. (Spokesperson Lewis Carroll assured reporters that the maps would be annotated to reflect the real-world errors.)
Then there was a post about the "successful" evacuation of an Airbus 380 in 90 seconds. The latter quotes a statistics-enamored Airbus source, who downplayed reports of injuries during the record- (and femur-) breaking deplaning: "In a group of 853 people, the chances that one person has a broken leg and doesn't yet know it are substantial. The test showed that everyone came out at least as healthy as when they went in."
The Web-browser business is highly competitive, and developers like the Mozilla Foundation, Microsoft, and Opera are always trying to outdo each other with breakthrough enhancements. So it seemed like business as usual when, on April 1, 2005, Opera issued a press release announcing Opera SoundWave, described as an exciting platform-independent real-time technology for short- and medium-range interpersonal communication.
The company stated that it had accidentally discovered SoundWave during an R&D study to speech-enable Opera's e-mail client, and included a link to a demo of the analog-signal-processing technology.
We hoped that continued healthy competition in the browser market would prompt further advances in Web-enabled communications, but Opera's ill-advised 2006 venture into stock photography was a disappointing follow-up.
On April 1, 2007, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' blog, The PETA Files (say it out loud), contained a brief entry regarding a new US-based antihunting group called Hunting Is Downright Evil (HIDE), which had developed an ingenious new plan to protect local deer from hunters--first tranquilizing them (the deer, not the hunters), then painting them with a camouflage pattern, and finally rereleasing them into the wild. It certainly gave a new twist to the term "deerhide."
Despite the telltale date right next to the blog post's title, dozens of commentators blasted away at HIDE, PETA, and each other until sunset. Only at 5:44pm on April 1--after a score of vitriolic denunciations of deer painting, hunt interference, and "tree-huggin' idiots"--did a lone voice finally interject: "Y'all know what day it is, right?"
Needless to say, most subsequent commentators persisted in not getting it. PETA was no newcomer to the art of the prank, either: In 2000, the organization announced plans to sabotage a Texas bass fishing tournament by knocking the fish out with tranquilizers. It's a joke, son.