Virulent Word of Mouse

November 22, 2011

Word of mouth and pepper spray parody

Filed under: Amusing diversions — Shane Greenstein @ 11:41 am
Tags: ,

For better or worse, a decade of development in web technology enables the fast sharing of imagery. “Word of mouth” used to occur verbally, but some part of it now occurs online.

What has moved online soonest? Things that are easy to share with one click. It tends towards the quick hit: Pictures that tell a story, recommendations that require little elaboration, snappy and quick quotes or retorts, and other self-explanatory links.

I reserve a special place for parody, or humor with wide appeal, or sarcasm with gotcha-to-it. This happened during the Royal Wedding, for example. That was a situation where an event captured the attention of virtually the entire online world, and the parodies of the pictures spoke to a common perception.

A new image has recently made the rounds. It is interesting because it speaks to an event that occurred at University of California, Davis, in a protest that grew from the occupy movement. Some of the police used pepper spray. (more…)

October 16, 2011

The Neutrino Song

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations,Uncategorized — Shane Greenstein @ 6:30 pm

As Dave Barry used to say, I am not making this up: Somebody has written a song about neutrinos, and recorded a you-tube video. In an act of shameless self-promotion, the writers and performers of this song sent me an email after reading the neutrino jokes in the previous post. For your listening pleasure I am now sharing their song/video with you.

The name of the band is the Corrigan brothers. I must confess that I had never heard of this band before they sent me their email, though they appear to be established, and about as respectable as an Irish band can be (if they are not U2).  I also am impressed by how quickly they wrote their song and put together a YouTube video using so many Einstein images. I also have some grudging respect for someone who is trying to take advantage of a pop trend using YouTube. Part of their speed is due to their use of the same tune from a prior pop hit (about Barack Obama, no less), but why hold that against them?

To be sure, their chances of success are quite low, so only a foolish dreamer would try to start a viral campaign for their pop song this way. But who does not like foolish dreamers? There is a certain quixotic charm about bands who are trying to get ten percent of their fifteen minutes of fame writing songs about surprising results from a physics experiment.

Now, actually, as it turns out, there are several neutrino songs on YouTube. This idea has occurred to more than a few aspiring pop artists. <sarcasm alert> But none of the others sent me an email promoting their song. Sure, that is an arbitrary way to chose who to promote, but what did you expect, a critical review? This is just a blog about the online economy, after all. <end of sarcasm>

Anyway, back to the main point. This particular song is called “Einstein and the Neutrino.” Here is the video:

Here are the lyrics:

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS LIGHT NOW SLOWER THAN A NEUTRINO

We can believe it

We weren’t prepared

Does E STILL EQUAL

MC SQUARED

NOW THAT THE NEUTRINO

HAS TAKEN FLIGHT

AND IS SEEMINLGY FASTER

THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT

WAS OLD ALBERT WRONG

OH CAN IT BE

THAT FABOULOUS THEORY

RELATIVITY

IS BEING DEBUNKED

FOR THE FIRST TIME

BUT HE’S STILL MIGHT BE RIGHT

OLD ALBERT EINSTEIN

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS LIGHT NOW SLOWER THAN A NEUTRINO

NOW PHYSICS FOREVER

MAY NOT BE THE SAME

AND BOFFINS ARE GONNA BE

DRIVEN INSANE

IF LIGHTS NOT THE FASTEST

WHAT CAN THIS MEANO

AND IS SOMETHING FASTER

THAN THE NEUTRINO

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS SOMETHING ELSE FASTER THAN A NEUTRINO

Let’s not rush to conclusions let’s take our time

He still could be right old albert Einstein

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS LIGHT NOW SLOWER THAN A NEUTRINO

October 8, 2011

Neutrino jokes

Filed under: Amusing diversions — Shane Greenstein @ 9:58 pm

On the lighter side for today: a few jokes about neutrinos and time traveling. Feel free to contribute more, if you know any.

* We don’t allow faster than light neutrinos in here, said the bartender. A neutrino walks into a bar.

* Neutrino. Who’s there? Knock knock.

* A. To prove particles can travel faster than light Q. Why did the neutrino cross the road?

* Seen outside the CERN Lab: A seminar on time travel will be held two weeks ago.

* Want to hear a joke about neutrinos? It’d probably go straight through you.

September 11, 2011

Sports stories written by algorithm

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 10:14 pm

Have you suspected for some time that most writing about sporting events is formulaic? Well, suspect no more! It is possible to have a computer write a sports story merely from the box score.

No seriously. It is.

And there is some pretty interesting business economics in that example. Some professors from Northwestern figured out how to get a computer algorithm to write a story about a sporting event, like a baseball game, merely from the minimal statistics, like a box score. It is described in this article.

Now, seriously, there are two ways to read this article, and one of them is substantially more right than the other. The first interpretation would foresee a massive replacement of sports writers with computers, a.k.a. the substitution of computing for labor. The second interpretation would foresee the growth of a new service, the creation of stories for events that previously did not receive them — such as local high school games.

I think we will see more of the latter in the next few years.

First of all, the computers do not yet employ that extra verve or wordplay or attitude that makes for great sports writing. Someday computers may be able to imitate human sarcasm and punning and passion, but not yet, not whimsically. So the best sports writers are in no danger of losing their uniqueness, the voice that gives their writing value. Second, there is considerable demand for the second type of service. There are lots of sporting events played all over the country. A routine sports story would enhance a web page, and add just a nice element to a summary. Lots of places will pay ten dollars for that (which is what the price is today), and that price will decline with time.

Think about it: Much of sporting news follows a routine canon, a contest with ups and downs and comebacks and heroism and more. These are played out every day on high school playgrounds and in many others places, but the only stories ever written are those written in the heads of the right fielder. Now we have another source.

Onward to a new form of journalism!

August 25, 2011

The Grip of the Grid

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Essays,Online behavior — Shane Greenstein @ 10:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

The grid has a grip on the rhythms of my family. This is not news, really, but it took a new setting, a vacation, to make apparent what should have been obvious.

This August my wife and I went west for a vacation out west, in this case, to Lake Tahoe. It was a good vacation, but not an escape from the familiar. As with prior vacations, this one became a catalyst for reflecting on the role of information technology in our lives.

Perhaps resistance was futile, but mine was pathetic. I submitted my family to the grip of the grid almost from the outset, when I purposely rented a house with a broadband Internet connection. It even had a wireless modem.

This post will talk about how the grid took over our vacation. Ultimately, the grip of the grid never loosened completely. In retrospect, this was not all bad.

(more…)

June 12, 2011

The meaning of free Wi-Fi: A traveler’s vignette.

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Essays,Uncategorized — Shane Greenstein @ 10:02 pm

Abundant outlets and free Wi-Fi can improve the mood in a lonely terminal. Those outlets were meant for cleaners with vacuums, but some time ago serious road warriors began using them for their laptops and mobile devices. Free Wi-Fi simply makes those devices more useful.

Terminal 1 in the Toronto Airport contains that combination of Wi-Fi and outlets, especially the part devoted to local flights in Canada, operated by Air Canada. Last Thursday evening this terminal was sparsely populated. It served as my prison and home for a few hours.

The Wi-Fi and electricity flowed freely that day, as did the advise from strangers. This post describes what happened.

I did not try to have a day that illustrated the various meanings of free. It just happened.

(more…)

May 27, 2011

A brush with lightning

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 11:39 am

What is the lightning drill for the Internet age? I had never considered the question until a lightning flash brushed our home.

Every camper knows the drill for the outdoors:  One, count the seconds after the flash. Two, watch for the next flash and count again.  Three, run away from any tall object that might act like a lightning rod.

What is the equivalent act for the Internet age? It seems to be this: One, install a surge protector in every socket. Two, pray that they work.

That is the point of this post. Surge protectors are part science and part talisman. That is because there is no way to test them in advance. Will they really do their job? What would you do to find out prior to an electrical storm?  For my part in it, I relied on faith. I had no interest in climbing up on the roof, flying a kite like Benjamin Franklin, and directing the lightning towards the home, just to see if the surge protectors would hold their ground.

Installing surge protectors always felt like taking an umbrella to the parade to make sure it did not rain.  I just hoped that installing them would raise the probability that lightning would hit my neighbor.

Look, it is not as if I have been waiting with bated breath to find out whether these things work or not. But, finally, last Sunday the moment came. An electrical storm arrived. The lightning flashed. I think the surge protectors worked, but I am not really sure. This is just a little unsettling.

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May 7, 2011

Warhol iconography on web time

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 10:31 pm

Web-time is faster. That is no secret. More people participate in more sharing of information in more places at a greater speed. Faster, quicker, bigger, wider. More people in more places communicate and share more information.

The type of imaginative satire that would have taken Andy Warhol months or years to develop can now be done in a matter of days. If crowd-sourced, the compilation can easily exceed anything that anybody alone could have imagined. On web time everybody is famous for fifteen nanoseconds.

Which means cultural cycles beat to a faster rhythm. Fads grow quickly among the online hoards, and just as quickly become replaced by new fads.

Sometimes, however, it is astonishing. In a blink an iconic image becomes established.

Even more astonishing is the speed of the next stage. In a blink newly minted iconic images transform into parody.

As illustration, consider this now iconic photograph, taken by the White House photographer, released on Monday, May 1, after the death of Osama Bin-Laden.

It has become known as the “situation room photo.” Over lunch at work my colleagues and I have had conversations about “that photo from the situation room.” Everybody knows it.

It deserves the attention. The photo shows an intense meeting among US leaders in the situation room during the execution of that raid. Obama is hunched over. The VP looks up from his laptop. Hillary Clinton covers her mouth, as if in shock. It is a great photograph, capturing the intensity and tension of the moment.

Such an icon was just asking for a bit of humor. It did not take long.

Look at this parody, which has come out in the last few days. It includes one additional participant, a little girl covering her ears. Where have you seen that little girl?

Talk about iconic photograph. That little girl came from a photograph taken Saturday of the balcony of the royal wedding, where the newlyweds kissed for the crowd. That little girl gained worldwide fame for covering her ears when the crowd roared.

Look, it is funny to have her in the situation room. Give somebody some credit for imagination. I had a great laugh. Didn’t you?

Now, here is my point. Once you get the idea behind the parody, there is no reason to stop with little girls. Within days others have started to paste lots of different people into the situation room. These parodies are all over the Internet.

If you are curious, see a whole list of them here.

Think about this for just a minute. The royal wedding resulted in a bunch of iconic photographs. The kiss on the balcony emerged as one, especially due to the little girl covering her ears. Her actions tell a story about the level of noise.

One image from one newly minted iconic photograph then got merged into another newly minted iconic photograph, resulting in a marvelous piece of Internet humor.

So that is the consequences of living in Web-time. Iconic images emerge with astonishing speed. Iconic images get merged easily. Iconic images descend into parody quickly.

If Warhol were alive, he would have laughed too. On web time everybody is famous for fifteen nanoseconds.

(Thanks to Marty Parker for showing me the parodies).

************************************************

Late follow-up: Alert readers have sent email. The little girl’s name is Grace Van Cutsem. She is three years old. Little Grace is getting more than her fifteen nanoseconds of fame. She has been put in many pictures, not just the situation room. If you would like to see some, click here. 

March 4, 2011

Apple and the Charlie Factory

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor — Shane Greenstein @ 3:22 pm

Or was that Charlie and the Apple Factory? No, wait, wasn’t that Willie Wonka and the JAVA Applet Factory? Oh, whatever.

Here is a little humor at Apple’s expense, care of the creative video makers at College Humor. It is a parody of the the movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In case you are confused, let’s set a few things straight. This is not a parody of the recent remake starring Johny Depp, which was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (using the title from the original book, written by Roald Dahl). Instead, this parody plays off the first movie, the one that starred Gene Wilder.

It even includes a few songs (Ahhhhhhh, that will make one sentimental). It is a wonderful way to waste three minutes. Enjoy!

My favorite line:

“I-Phone 5s! What do they do?”

“Slightly better camera and it doesn’t drop calls… as much.”

What is your favorite line?

February 13, 2011

What do you mean it was Hiybbing?

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Considering topical questions,Online behavior — Shane Greenstein @ 10:47 pm

I was sitting at my computer one afternoon several days ago staring at a blank screen, when the news walked in. If a computer screen could blare a headline, then it blared something incomprehensible.

Google accused Bing of copying its results, implying the hint of scandal. Google  uncovered the conduct through some clever sleuthing, and was proud of itself. Bing responded with indignity and complete disregard, accusing its rival of exaggerating.

Joshua Gans put his finger on one key aspect of this situation in a recent post, and I would like to take the spirit of his suggestion and push it further. Gans believes we need a new word to describe what happened. I concur.

To be frank, at first this was not obvious to me. With a few days gone, however, calm returned, I began to look back on this episode and grin. There is something rather amusing and absurd about this spat. In the first place, in the greater scheme of things the details behind this episode will not amount to much, so they did not deserve the hyperbole that either Google or Bing brought to their public pronouncements.

Yet, there is something rather engaging about the way Google set a little trap. They used a made-up word, Hiybbprqag, and planted it on the web to catch Microsoft imitating Google’s search results.  I cannot shake the amusing image. Twenty engineers sat in their homes, with instructions to enter some made up words, such as hiybbprqag, and then they anxiously waited two weeks to see if Bing would take the bait.

<sarcasm alert> Just think of what a good Hollywood script writer could do with this material. If you had asked me last year I would not have thought it was possible to make an entertaining Hollywood movie about a self-centered Harvard undergraduate who implements a social networking site more successfully than a few others classmates, but I was wrong. If that movie could work, then  Google’s antics have so much more potential. This is the fodder for a trilogy of movies about high-tech competitive intrigue. Nerd wars here we come. But I digress. <end of alert>

Anyway, let’s all lighten up. It is just a little spat between rivals.

Gans’ observation mixes a serious bit of analysis with tongue-in-cheek amusement (which is Gans usual disposition towards life, and the primary reason he is good for an extended conversation on any occasion. But I digress once again). He observes that our language for competitive rivalry is not appropriate for what we all observe in this spat. That is part of the problem with the news reports about the episode. What we observe is neither imitation in the usual sense, nor quality competition in the usual sense. It is something else, something slightly different, something in need of a new label.

Bravo, Joshua. The spirit of this observation is right. That said, I do not entirely agree with Gans’ implementation, and that is the point of this post. I would like to suggest a new word.

(more…)

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