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December 3, 2008

'Spinning a Web of Lies at Digital Speed'


Up top, the headline of Noam Cohen's interesting October 12, 2008 New York Times Business section "Link by Link" column about the amplifying effect of websites like Drudge and Digg in making stories big seemingly instantly — whether or not they're true.

Here's the Times piece.

    Spinning a Web of Lies at Digital Speed

    “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” — attributed to Mark Twain.

    In 1864, back when rumor still traveled by foot, a young messenger walked into the newsrooms of New York City’s press row with an Associated Press bulletin that President Lincoln had ordered the conscription of 400,000 additional troops for the Union.

    The news arrived at a precarious time for the newspapers — around 2 a.m. Even the night editors had left, forcing a skeleton crew to decide whether to rush something into the paper, or risk being scooped. Two papers took the bait on what soon was exposed as a hoax.

    But the news also came at a precarious time for the country: a conscription would have meant the Union army was in trouble, and the price of gold soon shot up. Two journalists from Brooklyn hatched the plan, knowing how best to sneak bogus news into print, and remembering to buy gold beforehand. (They were soon caught.)

    Markets exist to convert good information into profitable investments. And, in their deep agnosticism, they also exist to allow false information to create quick profits. During that brief window, false information may in fact be easier to exploit — it shows up just in time, and purports to answer the questions on everyone’s mind.

    And while the Civil War-era hoax had to use crude tools (war is going badly, gold rises in the face of bad news), Internet-fueled falsehoods and day-trading sites allow for highly tailored rumors to be quickly amplified and exploited.

    In recent days there has been a range of false reports that managed to gain great purchase across the globe while the truth is still logging on.

    Early in the month, Apple stock fell as much as 5 percent after a CNN-sponsored citizen-journalism site, ireport.com, published a false item from a user reporting that Steve Jobs, the company’s chief executive whose health has been a public preoccupation, had been rushed to the emergency room. The poster is still a mystery, though the Securities and Exchange Committee is investigating and CNN is cooperating.

    In September, United Airlines lost more than $1 billion in market capitalization when traders treated a six-year-old announcement of a bankruptcy as a new development.

    And in politics, it is common for rumors to be floated on sites like Drudge Report, forcing hurried denials and gaining life in the court of public opinion.

    While not involving the stock market, an example from the Drudge Report is instructive about how false news — in effect, reputational short-selling — spreads. On Friday, Sept. 5, Drudge Report hailed an exclusive about the newly nominated Republican vice-presidential candidate: “Oprah Balks at Hosting Sarah Palin; Staff Divided.”

    Oprah Winfrey later that day released a statement denying the report. But it was in the news enough for Tom Brokaw, of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” to introduce the subject to the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Joe Biden: “Do you think that some people will see that as an elitist position, that in some ways Democrats may be afraid of her, Sarah Palin?”

    With its oodles of information, the Internet is laden with falsehoods, but, in fact, these recent cases show how critical are amplifying sites like Drudge or Google News or Digg to getting reports from the backwoods before the public.

    Wander over to ireport.com, which CNN created in February 2008, and it can appear overwhelming. It was meant to be a clearing house for user submissions — as many 10,000 a month — that in the past were only culled by CNN staff, and it looks like one. It’s not the first place to go for stock tips. But the Steve Jobs item benefited from promotion on collaborative news-rating sites like Digg.

    While disavowing responsibility for the spread of the Steve Jobs item, saying that it never reached the coveted spot of being on Digg’s home page, the site’s chief executive, Jay Adelson, readily conceded that Digg had promoted other items that turned out to be false.

    “There is almost a short-seller mentality in the blogosphere,” he said. “We allow anyone to submit on a level playing field. We allow the digital democracy to be the fact checkers. There is definitely some risk to that.”

    While only 150 or so items make the Digg home page, Mr. Adelson said its tools for “syndicating” an interesting item to friends could help create a cascade, since the way young people “consume is through the push.”

    But he argued that transparency would be one way to counteract rumor-mongering on the Internet. The person who submitted the ireport item to Digg had the impersonal login “joshua’s iphone.” And Mr. Adelson mentioned the various red flags: the user first posted in July; none of his or her earlier stories made it to the home page; and the first story to gain any traction was the one about Mr. Jobs’s health. “These things matter to the digital citizen,” he said.

    Relying on the community and transparency is one method. Mr. Adelson says Google News tries to ensure reliability by vetting what news sources it draws from. And experimental sites like newstrust.net hope to create ratings systems from authorities who evaluate news articles on a range of criteria, and are themselves rated by the raters. (One of my articles was vetted by four reviewers and received a 4 out of 5 in terms of accuracy from its four reviewers.)

    Fabrice Florin, the founder of News Trust, said sites like his would be crucial to flagging inaccuracy, though he said, “we probably wouldn’t be as effective in less than an hour,” a time span when most of the damage is done in these false reports. He said three reviewers would be enough to warn readers, “if the reviewers are trustworthy.”

    The only long-term hope, he said, was news literacy training for the public, one of New Trust’s missions. “Our little brains were never in a position to handle that much information,” he said.

December 3, 2008 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

My life as a generic website icon


Above, as seen on instablogs.

Here I am


at Facebook.

Twitter looks like



I can't speak for you but me, I like what Facebook's done with my hair.

It's perfect.

December 3, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Painter's Pyramids


From the website:

    Painter's Pyramid™

    Elevating a project on a board with nails or screws driven into it is an old finisher's trick that gives access to multiple surfaces at once.

    These simple supports do the same thing and are quick to set up, non-marking, and compact to store.

    Molded from a solvent-resistant polymer, they will not react with finishes or wood.

    The tip presents a small contact surface to prevent blemishing the finish, and is rounded to minimize denting all but the softest material.

    Each support is 2 inches high and has a load rating of 200 pounds.

    They nest together neatly for storage.

    A real time saver.



10 for $6.50.

December 3, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

iPod Voice Controller


Prediction: voice control will be built in to all iPods within three years.

For now, you're stuck with this kludge.

On a related note (file under "real soon now"), I am so excited about being able to narrate a live streaming iPhone video that appears in real time on bookofjoeTV.


For now, you'll have to be satisfied with this item's baby step in the right direction.

From websites:

Hands-Free Voice Controller For iPod


Active or got your hands full?

Control your iPod with just your voice.

When you're jogging, wearing gloves, working out, can't see the display or just can't stop to use the iPod click wheel, the hands-free controller responds to your voice commands.

Just speak to adjust the volume, play, stop, go to the next track, go to the previous track or replay a song.

For example, saying "volume up" or volume down" increases or decreases the volume level by one step.

Ready to use out of the box and compatible with all iPod headphones, speakers and automobile audio systems that use the 3.5mm iPod headphone jack.

The device plugs into your iPod's dock connector and it draws its power from the iPod, thus requiring no batteries.

Although it recognizes English, it can be trained to recognize non-English command equivalents.


Screen features on/off indicator light.

Device offers bass enhancement.

Includes lapel clip and neck strap.

1-1/2"W x 1-1/2"H x 1/2"D.

Compatible with: 1st and 2nd generation iPod Classic; 1st and 2nd generation iPod Touch; 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation iPod Nano; iPod Mini; 4G and 5G iPods; iPod Photo; iPod with color display


"Although it recognizes English, it can be trained to recognize non-English command equivalents" — way cool.


December 3, 2008 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How Not To Get Divorced After Christmas — by Diane Benussi


The highly regarded British divorce lawyer's above-titled book can be downloaded from the Internet.

There are two versions: Women's and Men's editions (above and below).


Free — 'cause you're gonna need every penny for the alternative.

[via Mrs. Moneypenny's November 29, 2008 Financial Times column]

December 3, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

War Hammer Back Hair Shaver — 'Manscaping since 2003'


Wrote Dave Barry, "This product comes with detailed instructions for use, as well as this Safety Note: 'Wear thick pants, shorts, or a thick towel and eye protection when using this product.'"

From the War Hammer website:

    War Hammer™

    Let's face it: back hair on a man isn't attractive — it's the equivalent of a woman with hairy legs.

    But for men there is no easy way to rid yourself of back hair — until now.

    The Razorba® [ray-zor-buh] is the convenient do-it-yourself painless embarrassment-free solution to back hair.

    Far better than laser hair removal, back waxing, and hair removal creams.

    The patented Back Hair Shaver™, ergonomically-designed and tested by men with back hair, holds your favorite razor.

    It solves the problem of back hair by letting you shave at your convenience any time you need to.

    To use, simply insert a razor into the Razorba, apply shaving cream and shave.

    It's quick and easy to insert or remove any standard razor.


    • Fast, convenient back hair shaving

    • No embarrassment

    • Do it yourself

    • No pain

    Not available in stores — sold direct from the inventor to you.



December 3, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

American Heart Association Recipe of the Month: Bacon and Cheese Roll — 'It's what's for breakfast!'


From Milena


comes news


of this tasty treat.


I wonder how long


till the AHA's lawyerbots


come streaming out of their nest


with a cease-and-desist?

December 3, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Bushnell Backtrack Personal Locator


A minimalist GPS unit that does one thing: after you park, you push a button to mark the spot and then hours later, when you emerge into the vast sea of cars at some mega shopping center outside a store opposite the side you went in, it guides you right back to your vehicle.


Sounds good to me.

2-15/16"Ø x 9/16"W.


Requires 2 AAA batteries (not included).

From the top: Pink, Grey, Green or Camo.



December 3, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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