Virulent Word of Mouse

December 26, 2014

Top Technology events of the year, 2014

Filed under: Computer and Internet Humor,Internet economics,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:24 am

It is time again for the best technology events of the year. We have quite a lineup this year, including Sony, Aereo, net neutrality, Home Depot, and a few surprise guest stars.

As with prior years, the winner had to do something in the calendar year. The action had to involve information and communications technology. It had to be notable. And, finally, the award winner has to contain something that deserves a snarky remark. This is nothing to take seriously, and it is all in good fun.

59TH ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS - PRESS ROOMAs in past years, The winners of these awards win nothing at all except a little sarcasm and a bit of fleeting attention on this humble blog. There is a symbolic award. It is called a “Sally.” This is named for Sally Fields, who famously blurted out at the Academy Awards “You like me! You really like me!” Why is a technology award named for her even though she has no accomplishments in technology? Well, why not? The stakes are very low.

With no further run-up required, let’s get started.

1. The first Sally is for Original Script. It goes to Sony Studios – and, if you have a taste for the absurd, this story also wins for best dark comedy. No writer could have imagined this plot. This studio had been hacked a few years ago, but, apparently not learning any lesson, it failed to take standard precautions in its IT security – for example, the IT department did not encrypt its email password lists. Hackers released tons of confidential information, including lots of sensitive email. Then in a perverse blurring of the line between gossip and free speech, the Hollywood press pasted the confidential emails all over the online news – which, of course, will encourage another round of hacking of every other Hollywood studio. In a further plot twist, the hackers also included threats about a film being released by Sony, which includes a finale in which the president of North Koreathe-interview-2014-movie-poster is blown up. (Though in bad taste, this is supposed to be funny. Go figure.) Hey, no threat is too small for this studio! Sony gave theaters permission not to show the movie. After being criticized by many commentators, including President Obama, for letting free speech become the victim of online blackmail, the studio then reversed itself, deciding a few theaters could show the movie. Ah, this clear-thinking executive team then really pulled a good one, and decided to piss off those brave theaters by simultaneously releasing the film online for streaming. (Here is a quiz for moviegoers: where would you rather watch this film, in the safety of your own home or at a theater that might get blown up?) In some cities the patriotic left has rallied and made it their duty to see this second rate comedy in the name of not bowing to terror – what a publicity campaign! I can hardly wait to see what Fox News has to say about it. If that is not weird enough, then it just got plain weird. Somebody – the US government, Anonymous, or some serious hackers with an axe to grind? – did an old fashioned Denial of Service attack on all the servers in North Korea, rendering the Internet broken for the three dozen elite North Koreans who use it. Next thing you know the Cohen brothers will make a movie about all of this.

ellen-degeneres-snaps-academy-awards-selfie2. The next Sally is for the Best Supporting Actress in a selfie. The winner is Ellen Degeneres, whose star-studded selfie at the Academy Awards was retweeted two million times in two hours. It included Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, among others, and the social media world could not get enough of it. This record surpassed Barack Obama’s tweet on election night that said “Four more years.” The volumes were so high that Ellen’s selfie crashed twitter. What a world we live in! Or maybe it is not so novel: after all, this shows, yet again, that the US cares more about its movie celebrities than its presidents. Here is a question for you. Look at the photo closely. How hard is it to find Dory in the photo? Can’t see her? Keep at it. Trust me. Eventually you will learn something by Finding Dory. Still can’t find her? Find Nemo first. Find him and you have found her. (That was way too much work for such a weak joke. Apologies.)

3. Speaking of comic security lapses, this next award is for Best Special Effects by a retailer. The home-aloneSally goes to Home Depot. This is also a story of a firm not paying attention and learning lessons from the events around it. Home Depot allowed itself to be the victim of a large credit card fraud – 56 million credit cards in total. Ah, but it was not the largest theft ever, because Target had already been a bigger target, with 70 million stolen. But, hey, why does security matter? Can’t all credit card holders merely pass the costs onto their credit card company? Ah, it is not that simple. Home Depot is in a competitive industry, and customers have a choice. Customers who feel unsafe will take their business to a place that makes them feel safer, such as Lowe’s, Menard’s, Ace Hardware, and plenty of others. Have you been to a Home Depot lately? The lines are so short the place could be renamed Home Alone.

4. And now it is on to the Best Actor in a legal thriller (or the worst if you do not like the outcome). aereoNow that Apple and Samsung have stopped suing one another, high tech legal warriors have had to look outside of patent law, and, instead, look at copyright law! So Aereo gets this Sally. It lost its court case with the Supremes, 6 to 3. What part of Copyright law did they violate? Well, well, well, a typical Mission Impossible movie has a less convoluted explanation than this, so stay with me. This plot involves Aereo’s attempt to receive over-the-air signals of television programs and resell a service to homes. How did this work? Aereo hoped to help users escape their cable firm, where the charges are at a very high level. Aereo tried to find a new delivery method and escape retransmission fees from cable firms to content firms, which find their way into prices… How did it do that? Aereo asked, “Why can’t a firm just tap into that over-the-air signal?” Well, as it turns out, that might be illegal, according to US copyright law…. To avoid violating that law Aereo allocated a specific antenna for every household. Why did it have to be done this way? Um, stay with me… the answer has to do with an obscure part of copyright law that covers the conditions for paying retransmission fees, which the US Congress invented a few decades ago, but nobody actually anticipated that these retransmission fees would become as high as they have become, and Americans must have their football on Sundays, and it is the only reason most households still subscribe to cable, and if they could just find a way to get their sports over the air, then the entire US entertainment system would be toast…..Oh, this is too much! It is too convoluted. I give up! Can Tom Cruise just step into this plot and fix it? Please, please, please, can we change the channel?

5. Every year there is a special Sally reserved for Once-in-a-Lifetime achievement. The winner this FCC-logoyear has to be in recognition of the 3 million comments received by the FCC about net neutrality. This is a record for anything the FCC has ever done. Heck, that agency is lucky if anybody other than two dozen lobbyists ever show up for their hearings. So can you imagine it? Three million comments?! What an illustration of participatory democracy! Isn’t that just awesome? Except for one little problem. To whom do we give the Sally? Do we give it to Tim Wu, who coined the term “Net Neutrality,” but could not win his race for Lieutenant Governor of New York? No, he has tenure, so it is not as if he is out of a job. Perhaps it ought to go to Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, who is bravely conducting this exercise in online democracy in the face of presidential pressure and Congressional opposition. No, because we could just as easily give it to Verizon, who brought the ill-conceived lawsuit that generated this crisis, in spite of the fact that the old net neutrality rules really did not hurt them at all. Or perhaps it ought to go to the intrepid computer linguists who tried to analyze the words in the corpus of 3 million comments. They sought to figure out the fraction of comments which were pro or against net neutrality. No, not them. As if there was any suspense on that question? Duh. I think the Sally really should go to Marty Parker. Who, you may ask, is Marty Parker? Retired engineer, grandfather to my niece and nephew, and all around online maven, Marty believes so much in digital democracy that he personally penned three comments himself for the FCC. He can receive the Sally on behalf of all the online idealists out there. (For the nit picky among you, this does not violate the rules about favoritism towards relatives. He is my brother’s father-in-law, and we are not related by blood. However, he does subscribe to this blog, and I am not above favoring loyal subscribers. So there. Way to go, Marty!)

healthcare-gov-logo6. Speaking of Obama, a special Sally this year has to go for most boring sequel. The winner is the Obamacare web site, It went back up and, unlike its predecessor’s debut, it worked. Right away. And it kept working. Millions of people use it now and it just keeps working. No crashing. Just like any other web site. Ah, this is dull, nothing to see here. That is the problem with sequels. Once the story becomes routine it’s boring. Let’s move along.

7. Now it is time for the Sally that rewards the most obnoxious violation of privacy. Sadly, this no-privacyseems to be turning into an annual award, and once again reminds us that free speech needs to be used responsibly. In other words, the winner (or loser) has to be the hack of the iPhone cloud that leaked naked photos of Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence, among others. Look, I just cannot maintain the snarky tone on this one. It is hard enough to be a celebrity, but not everybody is as shallow and attention-hungry as Kim Kardashian, and the online world should not presume everyone is a potential target for an immature joke. Why can’t online society let famous women retain what little of the privacy they have left? Please just leave these people alone.

gal-alice-wonderland-24-jpg8. Speaking of tasteless, now it is time for the Sally for the Worst Horror Movie of the year, and this year they get a special Red Queen award for taking “off-with-their-heads” too far and too literally and without enough makeup. Yes, this award goes to the losers at ISIS – or ISIL or the Islamic State or whatever they call themselves. They did something truly horrific, filming their beheadings and pasting them on YouTube for the world to see. Quite a few commentators have noted the irony of using modern Internet video technology to publicize such a barbaric action, marrying the best and worst of human invention.  Look, once again, it is difficult to maintain sarcasm on this topic. I think I speak for most civilized people in saying it would be ok if YouTube decided to ban beheadings in its terms of service.

(Ah, let’s lighten it up again, and change the tone. For a moment there I was becoming preachy. Yes, now and again, even your truly wishes we lived in a better place.)

9. Now it is time for matters of commerce, and every year a Sally has to go to the most interesting markus-notch-perssondeal of the year. There were many candidates (e.g., Whatsapp or Nest). We are living in a boom time and the bubble has not yet burst, so there are surely more to come. But this year the Sally goes to… Markus “Notch” Persson, who had founded Mojang, along with Jakob Porser and Carl Manneh. Notch was the lead designer for Minecraft, Mojang’s big hit, which was recently sold to to Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Notch is widely admired online for his creativity and independence, and he has inspired a big online following. Quite a few users have admired the way Minecraft combined a zombie game with a sandbox creative game, and left it open ended enough so it appealed both to new users and experienced users (which is NOT an easy thing to pull off). Notch gives inspiration to programmers everywhere – if a company run out of Sweden can make it big, so can a company from anywhere. If that that is not enough, however, Notch gets the award for what he did next. He bought the most expensive house in Beverly Hills for $70 million, outbidding Jay-Z and Beyonce. Who knew? Even Swedish programmers prefer L.A.’s winter over Stockholm’s. Ah, California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Now there is a pretty little song for you.

justin-bieber-baby10. Let’s end on an even more sarcastic note. Here is the Sally for the worse song of the year. It goes to Justin Bieber for being the second person to have a YouTube video downloaded more than a billion times, joining the Gangum Style video, which was the first to achieve this feat. Justin gets it for the song “Baby.” You may be wondering, “Why give it to Justin? Isn’t he a publicity hungry and spoiled rich little cutesy who is close to outstaying his welcome in the hearts of preteen girls?” Yes, but I think I speak for all parents of young daughters when I say that I am grateful to hear anything other than the songs from the movie, Frozen.  Thank you Justin. May pictures of your many pretty little cheeky punim continue to appear in the online gossip pages, and may it help to distract kids from singing a Disney song. (But, hey, come to think of it, yes, I do want to go build a snowman. It would be nice to get outside.)do-you-want-to-build-a-snowman-23

Well, that is it for this year. Comments are welcome. Surely some notable events were missed.

And *sigh* now that I mentioned it, I cannot get those stupid little songs out of my head. Argh, we all just want to let it go.



December 18, 2013

Top Dozen Tech Events of 2013

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:48 pm

It is time to look back, and give some awards for the best events in information and communications technology. And what a year it was — with Snowden, Healthcare IT, the Twitter IPO, and plenty of other events deserving both recognition and sarcastic observation.

Just like last year, there are four criteria for winning. The winner had to do something in the calendar year. The action had to sally-fields-the-flying-nuninvolve information and communications technology. It had to be notable. That is not asking much, so the final feature is the most important: The award winner has to contain something that deserves a snarky remark or a bit of sarcasm. Like last year, every winner gets a virtual trophy called a “Sally,” affectionately named for Sally Fields. Why her? Because she memorably said, “You like me, you really like me.” That label is meant to convey a simple message: none of this should be taken too seriously.

Here are a dozen. If you disagree with my choices for awards, feel free to suggest your own in the comments section. Let’s get to it. (more…)

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?

January 28, 2011

A little play on words: A broken blackberry

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor — Shane Greenstein @ 2:25 pm

If you are among those who have not seen the following, then go watch and enjoy. Here follows a little play on words, aimed at the pretensions of modern computing and communications, a wonderful way to waste three minutes and laugh at ourselves.

Oh, the video is titled “My Blackberry is Not Working.” It will be quite apparent why. And do stay for the end. The last pun is a groaner.

June 29, 2010

A Modest Moment for Mobile Maps in Midtown Manhattan

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor,Maps — Shane Greenstein @ 10:25 am

Let me start by getting one thing out of the way. I am not just another doofus guy who has trouble asking for directions. If anything, I ask too much.

Nonetheless, I do have a tendency to get lost. Nothing unusual made me lose my way on a beautiful evening in early June in Midtown Manhattan. I was late for dinner because I could not find the restaurant.

The plot of this story is simple. I was lost, but the map program in my iPhone helped me find the restaurant. It is just a little vignette, a modest and self-deprecating story that illustrates the wondrous capability of mobile maps.

The point is also simple. There is nothing particularly special about the use of the technology. Using mobile maps has become routine, almost mundane.

If you stop and think about it, however, this mundane and routine event represents a big change, especially in comparison to a decade ago. It builds on a remarkable combination of  technologies. These all must work together rather seamlessly to make that routine moment possible. That is the deeper point behind this post.

Two warnings before starting the story. First, this story is a shaggy dog. I will try to deliver it with a sense of the absurd and a touch of dry humor, but if you do not have five minutes to read a lot of trivial detail, then do not read this post.

Second, this story ends up sounding like a walking commercial for Google Maps. Honest, that was not my intent. All of it actually happened. (more…)

May 25, 2010

Making humor out of technological absurdity

Filed under: Computer and Internet Humor,Internet economics,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 2:44 pm
This absurd little autobiographical story captures a wonderful slice of the modern technological experience. We have all been there: The gizmo does not work; The call is important to the service provider when it is not; The customer is on an endless hold; The user is ultimately helpless and baffled by the entire episode.
Throughout the ordeal the author shows patience and good humor. It is worth a read. (Thanks to Marty Parker for the recommendation).
Is it technology or is it magic?
A computer, a router and a gizmo: When things fall apart, who are you going to call?
By Barry Goldman
Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of “The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators.”
May 23, 2010
My computer stopped working. No Internet, no email. The little picture of a computer that lives at the bottom of my screen and usually has happy computer beams coming out of it lost its beams and showed a red X through its heart. I called customer support.

The automated voice told me the system was experiencing technical difficulties in my area and the anticipated time of restoral was three hours from the time of outage. I have heard this message before. It’s as phony as the made-up word “restoral.” I pushed on. The voice said I could get answers to most questions by logging on to the system’s website. I gritted my teeth and stayed on hold.

Eventually a person came on the line. What was my phone number? What was my four-digit secret code? What was my favorite restaurant? When I was able to convince her I was who I said I was, she asked me what she could do to provide me with excellent service. I explained my problem, and she said she could help me.


February 25, 2010

Norwegian humor about encyclopedias

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 10:52 pm

A wonderful piece of Norwegian humor came my way from Terje Wiesener, a student at the Sloan/MIT. This is worth sharing.

Terje read my business case about Encyclopedia Britannica. This case focuses on that firm’s crisis in the early 1990s, as it reacted to the introduction of CD based encyclopedias, namely, from Encarta. (If you want to read the case look here.)

That made him think of this comic, which he emailed to his instructor, who emailed me. He is delighted to share with you:

If you do not speak Norwegian, you probably need some help. Ah, here is Terje’s translation, quoted directly from his email:

“Square 1: (Pretty self-explanatory)

Square 2: Hold on… Honey, can you come here for a sec?

Square 3: – Ok, can you please repeat that?
– Uh, well… This great encyclopedia could now be yours for…

Square 4: (On the phone) -Knut, listen to this!
(The woman) – Ency-hahaha! What are we, The Flintstones? (Laughing maniacally)”

(If you care to look, here is the web site for all these comics.)

So what do we learn from this example of Norwegian humor?

First, some Norwegians have a recognizable sense of humor. (Not a surprise, but we have to start somewhere.)

Second, the decline of encyclopedias is a general phenomenon, recognized by comic writers in most of the developed world. That includes Norway. (Also not a surprise.)

Third, well — whatdoyouknow? — most Norwegians have heard of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. (To my mind this latter observation is a bit more surprising than the first observation.) Perhaps there is also something universal about “Yabba-dabba-doo.”

And for good measure, here is a small epilogue: Terje also passes on the following information about the norwegian equivalent, Store Norske Leksikon. They are in bad financial shape. Their ad revenues declined recently after they launched their free web service in 2008. Here is the wikipedia entry about them.  I particularly like the other article he recommend, a Google-automated translation of this Norwegian news article.

Thanks Terje!

January 28, 2010

A few laughs at Apple’s expense

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor — Shane Greenstein @ 11:57 pm

It was only a matter of time. A company that takes itself so seriously is just asking for parody and online ridicule. Apple was going to get it sooner or later.

The over-hyped launch of the iPad has generated more and more humor. For example, consider this amusing parody of the iPad and iPhone.

This fake ad is clever. Somebody went to a lot of work.

Notice the clean finish. They even got the fonts right.


But my favorite is a recent YouTube video by the Onion. It is about an Apple product called “The Wheel”, a new product Apple has just launched.

Watch the entire video just to get to the best line — near the end. While listing all its wonderful traits, the announcer says breathlessly, “Virtually unbreakable unless dropped or hit.” Well, there you have it! Bless them.

If you have not had enough, then try this video from the folks at College Humor.

It is not as good as the video from the Onion (but nothing ever is). Still, it has its moments — for example, when Steve Job (imitator) in the video takes credit for inventing the printing press. Still, not too many laughs in your five minutes, so if you are pressed for time, skip it.

The same outfit also did a parody of an iPhone commercial that was shorter and more pointed. Many more laughs per minute. I liked it a bit more.

Seen any other Apple humor? Make some suggestions.

October 29, 2009

The Internet has a birthday and turns 40

Filed under: Computer and Internet Humor,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 11:14 pm

National Public Radio has started a series on the history of the Internet. The reporter tried to go back and find the first Internet message ever sent.

He concluded it was sent on October 29th, 1969, between UCLA and SRI (Stanford Research Institute). Here is a link to the story.

In the process the reporter uncovered one trivial but amusing factoid, but also over-interpreted the events. In this post I want to explain why the factoid is amusing and why the report misinterpreted it.


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