Cognitive Daily

The current issue of WIRED reveals an interesting quirk of the human perceptual system:


Can you spot what’s wrong?


  1. #1 mph
    August 19, 2008

    The guy and the car have inconsistent shadows.

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    August 19, 2008

    Ooh, you’re right — and that wasn’t even the anomaly I was thinking of. I wonder how many problems we’ll be able to come up with.

  3. #3 j t d neil
    August 19, 2008

    The power lines passing in front of “Wired” cause the letters–the “i” and the “e” in particular–to look as if they are canted towards the center of the page.

  4. #4 Kevin Miller
    August 19, 2008

    The perspective’s wrong — or else that’s one *really* big car!

  5. #5 Irredenta
    August 19, 2008

    “Electric” is written “Electr ic”… if you cut the “r” from “Car” and paste it over the “r” in “Electric” it’s apparent that the gap between the “r” and the “i” is too wide.

  6. #6 Dan Eastwell
    August 19, 2008

    Yes, and the pylon’s on the horizon line – the wires go on from there over the horizon.

  7. #7 Eamon Nerbonne
    August 19, 2008

    The horizon is too low too, or that’s one misformed man (or this isn’t a flat plain). Basically, the entire picture just doesn’t add up.

  8. #8 Eamon Nerbonne
    August 19, 2008

    Oh, and the shadows are too soft considering the harshness of the light on the man’s body.

  9. #9 Alvin Brinson
    August 19, 2008

    A really, really bad photoshop chop job. Not sure other than the bad perspective, what the post is specifically referring to, however.

  10. #10 Stephen Williamson
    August 19, 2008

    I would say that the perspective is definitely wrong. If you eliminate the man from the photo it COULD be right, if the camera were very low to the ground for the shot. The man completely throws it off though, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was ‘shopped in (which is pretty common for magazines anyway).

  11. #11 Ben
    August 19, 2008

    I agree with all of the above. The guy really sticks out badly for me. It looks like a very bad photoshop job. The shadows comment was very interesting. Also note how it’s completely overcast, yet he’s very well illuminated. I suppose it’s possible that the whole piece was shot together, maybe with a low stand light of some sort hitting him at an angle from his height. It’s definitely trippy.

  12. #12 Elena D.
    August 19, 2008

    The power lines, they come up almost straight from the horizon, but suddenly widen out at the Tower. changing direction at that point. A real picture would have them coming out straight from the tower before flaring out so. But I agree about the shadows too, and the gap in Electr ic.

  13. #13 Will
    August 19, 2008

    The Title “WIRED” is behind the cables, whereas the headlines are in front.

  14. #14 Dave Munger
    August 19, 2008

    Irridenta, you spotted the problem I was looking for — it’s Electr ic.

    But it’s fascinating to see what everyone has come up with!

  15. #15 Janne Sinkkonen
    August 19, 2008

    WIRED and the text above it look a bit rotated, especially I and E, although I guess all the letters stand straight.

  16. #16 Ken
    August 19, 2008

    Is there a Perez Hilton, besides Paris Hilton?

  17. #17 6EQUJ5
    August 19, 2008

    The middle wire is wrong. The wires are hung on the arms of the towers. No wire should run through the tower itself.

  18. #18 Kat
    August 19, 2008

    There’s so many things wrong here I don’t even know where to start! Perspective is one thing… I’m seeing like 3 here. XD Plus, the shadows and some other things I’ve noticed… but it’s just plain crazy.

    In light of it, I love it! 🙂

  19. #19 Jared
    August 19, 2008

    Perspective is off: Car, Man, ground, power lines — new ‘compact’ car maybe? 😉
    Shadows differ: car & man have different shadows and the power lines have none.
    Ground image: looks like it is at a different magnification and cuts off after 60 feet or so
    Text: “Electr ic” spacing, power lines pass behind everything except ‘wired’
    Power lines and tower: way to close to the ground
    Impressions: No footprints or tire tracks in the dirt
    Clouds: inconsistent light direction compared to the rest of the scene.

  20. #20 Remis
    August 19, 2008

    Perez Hilton – he just DOESN’T belong in Wired…

    just kidding… the first oddity I noticed was the letter spacing thing, but I second Alvin & Ben: poor Photoshop job

  21. #21 peter
    August 19, 2008

    There is nothing ‘wrong’ with the cover. This is an exercise in how people will process something that they have been told is ‘wrong.’

  22. #22 Jon H
    August 19, 2008

    The lighting isn’t really an issue. They wouldn’t use pure natural light, they’d use a reflector and/or flash on the person, but probably not on the car because the car is shiny and there would be reflections.

  23. #23 rraabfaber
    August 19, 2008

    You’re all nuts. It’s the pink WIRED logo. What’s up with that?

  24. #24 zb
    August 19, 2008

    What’s right?

  25. #25 Dave Munger
    August 19, 2008

    The “right” answer (i.e. the problem I had noticed) is that there is extra space between the r and ic in “Electric.” The designers clearly moved the ic over so that the whole word would be legible. Because of the discontinuity introduced by the man’s head, we don’t notice the extra space.

    But all the other answers are interesting too!

  26. #26 José Tafla
    August 19, 2008

    You don’t stand under power lines. You stay away from them.

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    August 19, 2008

    But is that really a problem, or are they just moving the text so we don’t actually think they’ve invented an “electrc” car (pronounced “Electerk”).

  28. #28 Juergen Hartl
    August 19, 2008

    All the design critics out there are right. But what is really wrong with the cover is:
    “One man audacious plan…”
    Where is the car industry???

  29. #29 Darth Brooks
    August 19, 2008

    The right rear tire is not touching the ground.

  30. #30 --bill
    August 19, 2008

    It’s interesting that everyone critiques this as if it were a photo, or as if it’s supposed to be a photo. It’s not–it’s a collage, a collection of disparate images assembled together. Why interpret the ways this image fails to be what you expect as `mistakes’?.

  31. #31 Patrick
    August 19, 2008

    That poor man must have suffered a horrible injury to his right leg at some time in the past, because his right foot is too long and his lower right leg is too short in proportion to the left side of his body.

    How does he manage to walk?

  32. #32 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 19, 2008

    Those are not appropriate shoes for a desert hike.

  33. #33 David Marjanović
    August 19, 2008

    The middle wire is wrong. The wires are hung on the arms of the towers. No wire should run through the tower itself.

    Depends. I’ve often seen a middle wire.

    You don’t stand under power lines. You stay away from them.


    The right rear tire is not touching the ground.


  34. #34 Susannah
    August 19, 2008

    Someone wasn’t thinking. At first glance, looking at it as a cartoonish situation, the man, not dressed for the hike and looking disgusted, is walking away from the car.

    The connotation is that the car left him stranded miles from nowhere.

    Wrong impression.

  35. #35 Wayne
    August 19, 2008

    The middle wire on the top of the electrical tower is likely the ground conductor. It’s there to conduct lightning strikes to the ground. It’s not always at the top, but it’s a common configuration. See for some examples.

  36. #36 David Reymond
    August 19, 2008

    “Photoshop” objections: Strange perspective is likely caused by use of a wide-angle lens(see, this can explain why the man seems disproportionately large, as does the distance between the near power lines, lighting on the man is likely from a flash or reflector to the right of the camera, the shadows from the power lines don’t show because the daylight is diffuse, as can be seen by the edge of the shadow of the car

  37. #37 Kevin Canini
    August 19, 2008

    Everyone’s comments about the wrongth of the images are boring. What’s interesting is the obvious gap between “Electr” and “ic”.

  38. #38 --Lisa S.
    August 19, 2008

    I wondered whether the exhaust pipe was missing or merely obscured, then figured an electric car doesn’t need one anyway.

  39. #39 Michael MacAskill
    August 20, 2008

    Lesson from the ecological approach to visual perception:
    (1) The horizon intersects any object at the same height as the observer’s eye.

    Therefore this must be a collage rather than a genuine photo as the horizon line intersects the man at crotch height (meaning the photographer was kneeling if the horizon and man were taken in the same shot). The horizon should intersect the car at the same absolute height but instead it intersects at just below the top of the wheel. So the car (assuming it is not monstrously oversized) and man can not have been taken in the same shot with the horizon.

    Plus the cables should converge at the horizon, but still appear to have a gap between them, so also cannot have been taken in the same shot as the horizon.

    For reference, see JJ Gibson’s and others’ writings on ecological perception.

  40. #40 bridget dunham
    August 20, 2008

    The man is too big in relation to the car and power lines.

  41. #41 Russ
    August 21, 2008

    Most of the issues identified are not really mistakes or even in need of improvement. It is interesting that so many people seem to have converged on a perceived perspective/horizon issue when this is clearly a collage and not meant to appear exactly as a single photographic scene.

  42. #42 Henkjan Honing
    August 21, 2008

    For a parallel in Music, see “You don’t have to be an expert to know that something isn’t right with the song”

  43. #43 Bari Dosk
    August 21, 2008

    Cover is according to american superhero myth so it’s basically OK. Perspective issues doesn´t matter.

  44. #44 Amiya Sarkar
    August 21, 2008

    The horizon seems sharply delineated. By the way, when do we get the answers?

  45. #45 grandma
    August 22, 2008

    his arms are too short

  46. #46 i&i
    August 22, 2008

    At first sight, what seemed wrong were the shadows. But what’s “wrong”? I agree with those who say that the cover isn’t meant to be for real; it’s a collage.

    Gee whiz, it’s Wired. It’s what Wired does, no? Eye bleedin’, mind twistin’ graphics like it’s 1998 all over.

    In any case, this is a magazine cover. The point isn’t to replicate reality. It’s to make you get close enough to the magazine to read its cover lines and turn the page and eventually buy [into] it.

    In this case, it works well in that it sets up some sense of where the writer is coming from.

    My take without reading the article – the cover works hard to make me think that this is a critical, contrarian, left field, typically Wired blah blah blah on the electric car and its creator:

    – the car is facing left: into the past?

    – the man is in the middle of a “tric[k]”

    – with the wires coming out of his head, he looks like a puppet

    – he’s walking. why, the car doesn’t work?

    – the way the letters fall on either side of him, the space this creates, makes it look as though he’s just beamed down from the enterprise: a man out of place?

    – what’s he doing in a desert?

    – the wires remind me of the opening credits of a 1970s UK cult children’s tv series, the changes, set in a near future in which the ordinary folk had turned against the machines…

    Perhaps what’s wrong with the cover is that it leaves me with the impression that I’m going to get the standard Wired angle here: the old “gee whiz, but is it?” routine.

    Old question, I know: does anyone read Wired anymore?


  47. #47 Jim
    August 23, 2008

    To me the worst things are that the man is lit from his left (see very dark shadow on his right arm), rather than from above, and that his right arm is about 4″ longer than his left even though it’s further back. Does he know his belt buckle is not centered?

  48. #48 Pete
    August 24, 2008

    In addition to the above comments:

    His shoes are different colors !

    His right leg is broken just above the ankle.

    His left fore-arm is too short.

  49. #49 Timothy Reeves
    August 25, 2008

    Let me guess…his electric car ran out of juice and he has to walk to the rest of the way to his destination.

  50. #50 Sharon
    August 26, 2008

    I honestly don’t care if the word Electric was split, if it was suppose to look like a photo or a collage, if the perspective is right, shadows wrong, and so on. After all, it is only a cover meant to grab the attention of it’s readers. However, I really have a problem with the the color of the print! I don’t know what that says in yellow and the gray lettering is hard to read. Print should be bold and readable.

  51. #51 Lojiko
    August 27, 2008

    The power lines don’t meet before they hit the horizon … or else they’re going over a hill.

  52. #52 Tom
    August 27, 2008

    How about the light gray text and the black text making a 3D effect so that “future ELECTRIC CAR” sits out in front of “the of the”

  53. #53 Arun Rabindar
    August 29, 2008

    When you walk, your right arm and left leg are in the same phase and left arm and right leg are in the same phase to maintain stability. Here it’s just the opposite and seems wrong to me.

  54. #54 venom
    September 1, 2008

    The guy looks like he is floating to me probably because of bad photoshopping

  55. #55 JOLIE
    September 23, 2008

    the proportion of the three objects in the picture is inconsistent

  56. #56 duplexa
    September 23, 2008

    The tower must be unreasonably tall, given its distance shown in the picture – it’s standing right on the horizon. Even a mountain wouldn’t be so freaking tall.

  57. #57 Bernhard Bang
    October 9, 2008

    A man next to a car is supposed to be a woman wearing much less clothes?

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