Pink Floyd gives us another mystery, Acme Co., the "I Am Rich" iPhone app, the worst novel ever, rocket mail, and Miss Russian Army

Today, we examine the Russian Army's beauty pageant, Atlanta Nights, I Am Rich, the Acme Corporation, the Publius Enigma, and sending mail by rocket.

Pink Floyd is a band well-known for being a very influential rock band, but also for the subtle mysteries in their music, such as the Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz synchronization. One of their lesser-known mysteries is the Publius Enigma, a riddle posed for the release of The Division Bell, and named after the usenet posts under the alias "Publius" (used by some of our founding fathers to submit the Federalist Papers). Probably the earliest viral marketing, the 1994 campaign was undertaken by the record company EMI (rather than the band), and while the riddle was posed, it was never made clear what the challenge was, nor has a solution ever been officially declared correct. It seems that the campaign was abandoned before it was able to be solved, though that has never been confirmed either. A post by Publius to Usenet (identity confirmed by the words "Enigma Publius" being used in on-stage pyrotechnics in July concert) offered this:
AS SOME OF YOU HAVE SUSPECTED, "The Division Bell" is not like its
predecessors. Although all great music is subject to multiple
interpretations, in this case there is a central purpose and a
designed solution. For the ingenious person (or group of persons)
who recognizes this - and where this information points to - a
unique prize has been secreted.

    How and Where?
    The Division Bell
    Listen again
    Look again
    As your thoughts will steer you
    Leading the blind while I stared out the steel
      in your eyes.
    Lyrics, artwork and music will take you there
I, like many others, don't have a clue what is even really being asked. Thus, the only plausible solution offered was equally enigmatic, and its supposed confirmation as correct was rejected as being false (especially since no prize was ever confirmed).

If there is one think that adolescent geeks like, it is rockets. I've made a few Estes kits back in my youth, but I never took model rocketry as a hobby very seriously (my older brother, on the other hand, was a physics fanatic before computers captured his attention). As a military man, I'm more interested in the "blowing stuff up" aspect than the aeronautical and astrophysical aspects. That said, I think the concept of rocket mail deserves some attention, and not just because I was briefly a postal clerk. The idea of postal delivery on a missile sounds like the sci-fi fantasy of the early 20th century, but there have actually been some uses, with varying degrees of success. Friedrich Schmiedl successfully delivered 79 postcards in Austria in 1931, while Gerhard Zucker's attempts a few years later resulted in explosions that destroyed the parcels. Stephen Smith made about 80 successful deliveries in India between 1935 and 1944, while there were a few successes between New Jersey and New York in 1936. In 1959, the submarine USS Barbero used a Regulus cruise missile to deliver postal covers from sea to a station in Florida, and the Soviets experimented likewise a few times near the end of the Cold War. The concept never caught on because it was cost-prohibitive (indeed, the vast majority of mail delivered was commemorative instead of actual letters), though a 2005 delivery in California suggests that reusable rockets may make it feasible in the future.
Note the cancellation stamp for USS Barbero, making it highly prized amongst astrophilatists.

The Russian military is a bit dichotomous: the conscripts are regarded as pretty poor soldiers, but the professionals (especially the special forces like Spetsnaz) are rumored to be some of the most bad-ass in the world. Russians are also infamous for some gender relations that puzzle Westerners. That makes it a bit odd to consider Miss Russian Army, a beauty pageant for female soldiers. Though originated as a way to increase recruiting amongst young males, the inaugural 2005 contest did seem to help stem to diminishing prestige... depending on who you ask. Unlike traditional pageant, there are no bikinis or evening gowns; rather, female soldiers parade teh catwalk in uniform to patriotic songs. They also drill, perform exercises (like crawling through obstacles), and fire weapons. The 2005 winner was Lieutenant Ksenya Agarkova, a navy engineer.
The 2005 contestants, Agarkova is 2nd from the left in the top row.

Ah, the Acme Corporation, a staple of products for any slapstick cartoon. We know it best from watching Wile E. Coyote fail to capture Road Runner with the products, which tend to fail spectacularly. The first appearances were in Harold Lloyd's silent comedies of the early 1920s, with the name probably taken from the trend of businesses using the name to appear near the front of alphabetized listings. The cartoon trend of crazy products that never work as expected with the Looney Tunes cartoons of the late forties and early fifties. The company has a vast array of virtually any product imaginable, and one of the running gags is that some of them seem to be specifically designed for Coyote's mad quest (i.e. the Acme Giant Rubber Band, subtitled "(For Tripping Road Runners)"), though he often misses warning labels that foretell disaster (such as "guaranteed for the life of the user").
This ad in a 1902 Sears catalog ironically sells anvils, another staple of Looney Tunes.

One of the things I remember best about the video game Maniac Mansion in the early 1990s was a bit about "Three Guys Who Publish Anything", and thinking "wow, I should write a book and send it to them!" Little did I know that vanity presses don't usually work out for authors. For example, PublishAmerica was one such, who had a reputation for printing pretty much anything... for example, one fella had a manuscript accepted that repeated the same 30 pages ten times. When the publisher bashed sci-fi and fantasy authors as egotistical blowhards who can write anything and make money off of it, a group of them hatched a revenge plot: to write a novel named Atlanta Nights so horrible that it would be unpublishable by anyone who actually read it. Under the direction of James D. Macdonald, dozens of authors submitted chapters replete with deliberate flaws, such as obvious nonstandard spelling and grammatical errors, nonsensical passages, and no coherent plot. Chapters 13 and 15 were written by two authors using the same outline, 4 and 17 are word-for-word identical, there are two chapters 12, no chapter 21, and 34 was written by a computer program that copied text patterns from the other 40. Characters change gender and race, die and reappear without explanation. The finale revealed that all the previous events of the plot had been a dream, although the book continues for several more chapters. The manuscript was sent under a pseudonym not known for sci-fi writing, and PublishAmerica offered publication in December 2004. The authors collectively decided not to accept, and the offer was withdrawn the day after they made the hoax known (though they did publish it with Lulu under the name Travis Tea). The whole text is available here.

Speaking of crap and money, there is the iPhone app I Am Rich. Available from the App Store, it costs the Apple-imposed cap on pricing: $999.99, €799.99, or £599.99. When launched, the screen shows only a button, which when clicked, offers this "poem":
I am rich
I deserv [sic] it
I am good,
healthy &
It has no other functionality. The developed, Armin Heinrich, claims it as a work of art, and netted between five and a half and six thousand dollars from the eight purchases (Apple earned about two and a half grand from it, but probably lost most of that when it offered two refunds). There is a similar scam app by the same name on the Windows Phone Marketplace for $499.99 (Microsoft's price cap) by DotNetNuzzi, and the Android Market boasts I Am Richer for $200 (Google's price cap). Apparently two of Heinrich's customers were brain dead enough to send him emails expressing satisfaction with the app. I want to stay neutral, but I have to ask: WTF?
Straight from the App Store. It's not a joke, don't buy it unless you have a grand to waste.

That's if for today, kiddies. Happy reading!

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