Thursday, April 30, 2009

panic and the flu

I know this is no laughing matter, but finding humor during times of overblown fear and panic - i.e. swine flu pandemic - can be just what the doctor ordered.

Feeling some aches and pains and perhaps a bit feverish? Think it could be swine flu? Well, the only way to find out is gather all the facts and assess those symptoms for yourself. Check out the site for a funny little swine flu dandelion.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

the world's most influential person

It's official. The World's Most Influential Person is...

No, it's none of the above. It's moot, founder of 4chan.

A few days ago, followers of 4chan hacked into the TIME 100 poll and catapulted their 21 year old founder (a.k.a. Christopher Poole) to the top of the list through millions of dandelion votes. The poll closed today with moot way ahead of the pack with an average rating of 90 (out of a possible 100, I guess) and nearly 17 million votes. managing editor Josh Tyrangiel says, despite hacking the vote, moot is no less deserving than previous title holders, noting, "I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll," he says. "Doubting the results is kind of the point."

Indeed. Especially when the result is one gigantic dandelion.

Friday, April 24, 2009

virgle - the open source planet

Have you noticed all the talk about space on the web lately? First there was the story of NASA's space station treadmill named after Stephen Colbert, then news that Milky Way could taste of raspberries, and then Wired's showcase of these stunning space photos taken from the Hubble in early celebration of the telescope's 20th anniversary.

Now that I'm a blogger contributing to the space chatter is part of protocol. So, I decided to deep search the internet and see whether I could find any fun sci-fi dandelions hiding away in the black holes of cyberspace.

And I finally found one. It's called Virgle.

A year ago, Google announced a joint venture between the Virgin Group and Google called "Virgle." The goal: to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.

Starting 2014, Project Virgle will send spaceships carrying supplies and hundreds of Mars colonists, or Virgle pioneers, to the planet over the next 100 years. Project Virgle's ambitious plan also includes becoming the first open-source planet, relying on the diffused network of Virgle pioneers to create a civilization "whose development is driven by the unbound human imagination." If you are extremely gung-ho, you can apply to be a Virgle pioneer. I applied, but got shot down because I was "distressingly normal."


Thursday, April 23, 2009

moot is time inc's top dandelion

Seems like the infamous 4chan gang is at it again.

Time Inc. just caught a fun little dandelion called "moot" brought to them courtesy of 4chan. The uber-passionate followers of hacker's holyland have just hijacked Time's annual online poll of the top 100 most influential people in government, science, technology and the arts and flooded it with fake votes for "moot" (real name Christopher Poole), the 21 year old founder of 4chan.

According to FOLIO, hackers used “autovoters” to place more than 16 million votes for "moot" (that's seven times more than the next guy). They've also rearranged the top 21 names so that the first letter of their names—looking down the list—spelled out the phrase “Marblecake Also the Game.”

So, in keeping with Time's tradition, will "moot" be included in the magazine’s official list, which is schedule to publish on May 1? Voting closes on April 28 and considering moot's gigantic lead, he's bound to stay on top. Ooh, I can't wait to find out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

sound of silence

This past weekend, my whole family was closely watching a blog because of a scandalous post involving someone we know really well. Some of us barely slept, staring at our RSS feed to read the latest comment - usually nasty and admittedly, pretty darn juicy. Truth is, the blog post itself wasn't so horrible - it didn't reveal any names or facts, just an alleged scandal and a couple of initials. Nothing very risky. But people's comments? Well, they were something wicked.

It was like "Mean Girls" on steroids. Anonymous comments uncovered the real names behind initials (including a mother's maiden name), nasty rumors (sex, money, infamy), and other really dreadful dandelions I'd rather not say. As a voyeur I started to feel really guilty - perhaps I wasn't any better than the people posting comments. After all, the more they posted, the more I read.

But by Sunday the blog post was silent. The post and all comments had been taken down entirely. My guess is the blogger was threatened with a lawsuit. Which got me thinking...

What is the extent of our responsibility for dandelions that we post or get posted on our blogs? Bloggers might be ethically obliged to remove libelous comments, especially when anonymous, but I wonder whether leaving them would be considered illegal. I also wonder about all the dandelions that bloggers post unknowingly - at what point are those considered crimes?

Well, apparently when they're written with the intent to harm others. At least in South Korea.

Yesterday, a famous South Korean blogger Park Dae-Sung, better known as Minerva, was acquitted on charges that he posted false information about the South Korean economy which inadvertently sunk the foreign currency market costing the government billions of dollars. Minerva was acquitted because the judge found that he posted his statement unknowingly and therefore did not intend to harm the public. This, of course, after spending 100 days in jail.

So what of the anonymous mean commenters? In that case, perhaps the blogger is responsible because he's hosting the forum that allows the harm to take place. But rather than leave it to the law (and who knows what rights they'll take away), it should be our responsibility as readers to weed out the dandelions from the daisies. That to me sounds better than the sound of silence.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

madonna's fantasy paparazzi

I don't normally read celebrity news, unless it's about Madonna. I can't help it because she's just fabulous. So, of course I was totally disturbed to hear that she fell off a horse this morning while riding in Southampton because of some nasty paparazzi. According to Madonna, the paparazzi jumped out of the bushes and totally freaked the horse out resulting in Madonna falling and suffering some minor scrapes and burns.

But, apparently this is just a dandelion. An update to the story in the NY Times this evening notes that the fall is real, but according to a photographer/ paparazzi who was at the scene before and after the fall, Madonna was on her own. The only photographer who happened to be there was her host, fashion photographer Steven Klein. So, no paparazzi in sight?

I can't actually fault Madonna for blaming the paparazzi. She might as well have someone to blame and they're the perfect target. But, Madonna creating dandelions? I thought she was a lot more fabulous than that.

Friday, April 17, 2009

pareidolia: my new fave word

So, I learned a new word today that I can’t pronounce but love: pareidolia. According to Wikipedia, it’s that vague and totally random stimulus – like an image or sound – that you perceive to be real, but isn’t. Kind of like a dandelion, except dandelion is prettier and easier to say.

Pareidolias are those animals you see in the clouds, but really aren’t, or hidden, demon messages played in reverse, like Obama’s “serve scathum.”

I learned this new word after watching this strange video discovered by a boxing enthusiast blogger, Forgetomori. The video is an Ali vs. Foreman fight from the 70s. At about 5:45-5:46, a glowing Michael Jackson – circa this millennium – suddenly appears. Is it a hoax? A dandelion/pareidolia? Note to viewer: it takes a little while to get to the MJ mark, but the video is worth watching - Ali is amazing.

My guess is that Michael Jackson is just a dandelion/pareidolia – it’s not really him, but some freaky image on an old t-shirt. But blogger Forgetomori thinks it could be digitally altered since the suspect MJ has transparent black hair. Though even he says that if it’s an edit, it’s a heck of an editing job.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

a brave new world

This week, a UK university announced a research task force to predict the next big thing online, that is, in terms of social media. This is all being done in the name of dandelions. And ethics, of course, but that’s part of catching dandelions.

The two-year project is called the Ethical Issues of Emerging ICT Applications (ETICA). Researchers will be tasked with identifying the new communications technologies – like Twitter – that are likely to emerge in the next 10-15 years and examine some of the ethical implications that can arise.

For example, email gave rise to spamming, e-commerce and internet banking brought about phishing, and SMS and phone cams opened up the door to “sexting.” While the internet has made it easy for us to adopt new communications tools quickly, we seldom think of the ethical downsides. Like the teenage girls possibly facing jail time and being labeled sex offenders for taking nude photos of themselves and texting them to their lovers. Apparently this is not only unethical, it's also a serious crime. Though I'm still struggling to understand exactly what makes it so horrible. If the photo has only been shared between two consenting lovers, where is the crime? Perhaps it lies in its potential. But, potential has never been a crime.

My classmate Hayley is right – the rapid spread of technology is outdating the law, and it’s at the point where the law is no longer in control. Prosecutors feel that they have to apply the most serious offenses possible, probably because it’s the only way for them to feel they’re still in charge. But, is it right? A harsh punishment for a cybercrime like “sexting” – for which no law can be applied – is a symbol of society’s insecurity. It’s a brave new world vs the savages. And the savages seem to be winning.

So, I wonder about this ethical task force. While on one hand identifying and understanding how a problem can form can lead to it not forming at all, the flip side is it might just be a way for prosecutors to regain control – to be prepared to apply different degrees of the law to actions that don’t really merit prosecution. And that’s actually what the main objective is. According to the story, ETICA will devise a method to grade and rank the ethical issues. “They will then focus on the top five issues they consider to have the highest priority and will make recommendations to policy makers based on their findings, as well as investigating governance models to see which are most likely to successfully address the ethical issues identified in the project.”

Unfortunately, I think that unless our own ideals and beliefs evolve as quickly as our technology, we won’t really find a way outside the ethical circle. Our old rules crafted generations ago don’t apply anymore, but our society is too afraid to let go of what it has always known. What society doesn’t realize is that we’re already in the middle of a revolution. I'm optimistic - it might take some time, but I don't believe fear will win this battle.

Ok, one last thought. Aside from it being extremely hard, if not impossible, to predict future ethical drawbacks, imagine if you really could predict that next big thing. What would stop one of these researchers from partnering with Google or some venture capitalists and try to make the next big thing happen? Because I’m sure the next big thing would pay much better than the research job, despite it being interesting, albeit rather challenging. Now that I think about it, I’m not so sure this ethics team will last those two-years after all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

little madoffs

A Slashdot reader picked up on this news item from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about the little Bernie Madoff's that have sprung up on YouTube.

Online video promotions promising fast cash - called cash gifting programs - are nothing more than ponzi schemes, writes the BBB. According to video analytics, there are nearly 23,000 cash gifting videos on YouTube with a staggering 59,192,963 views. Must be the bad economy.

The videos never ask for money directly. Instead, they send you to a site where you sign up for a gifting program with a fee anywhere from $150 to $5,000. To entice you, the schemes are touted as fundraisers for a "good cause" or "to help people help themselves." Once you "donate" your money, you're then asked to convince others to join because the more people join, the more money for you.

The worse part about these schemes is they target women's clubs, community groups or church congregations. Or, worse yet, they target the people - in this tough economy - who are struggling the most.

The BBB offers some tips on how to steer clear of those nasty little Madoff's. If you think you've encountered a dubious gifting scheme, ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I have to make an “investment” or give money to obtain the right to recruit others into the program?
  • When I recruit another person into the program, will I receive what the law calls “consideration” (that usually means money) as a result?
  • Will the person I recruit have to make an “investment” or give money to obtain the right to recruit and receive “consideration” for getting other people to join?
If you answer "yes" to any of the above - chances are you've just caught a dandelion.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

happy easter

I remember one Easter - when my nephew was about six or seven years old - and I told him that the Easter bunny was just a big dandelion. I don't know who was more shocked - him or me. Him for finding out that there was no bunny (though he took it like a man) or me for learning that his parents hadn't yet told him the truth (I was mortified). Think about it, I said, can a bunny lay eggs?

Actually, his parents were the most shocked of all. I got some dirty looks and a little bit of "how could you?" Though even with all the drama, we all knew it was time he found out. Had it been today, all he would have to do is search Wikipedia to know he had been duped. In any case, it was a great moment for my nephew who grew up a little that day.

Happy Easter to all the big and little kids who learn to grow up a little today. May you keep catching dandelions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

getting their own voice

A little bit of screaming goes a long way. That's what small businesses are realizing as they finally get their own voice on Yelp.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how small businesses were accusing Yelp of writing dandelions about them when they declined to advertise on the site. Now, Yelp has announced that it will finally allow small business owners to respond publicly to reviews they think are inaccurate. Starting next week, small business owners will get a chance to "correct or add factual information" on reviews about their business. That means they get to fight back against dandelions. It's about time.

I'm glad that Yelp has realized it can't just give a voice to the consumer without also giving a voice to the small business owner. While some small businesses have fought back dandelions in their own creative ways, it's the first time they are able to take the fight where the fight started. Although chief exec, Jeremy Stoppelman, has said Yelp wants to only protect the consumer's voice and that businesses are his last priority, he's realizing that small business owners are not the behemoth bully businesses he originally set out against. In fact, you can argue that Yelp - through the collective voice of consumers - has become the big bully. At least the big bully is realizing it can't sustain a business on a bed of little dandelions.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

fix news

I don't mean to rip into Fox News (again), but they keep creating paranoiac dandelions so I can't help myself. Maybe Fox News should be called Fix News because they certainly need rewiring (pun intended). Recently they've accused the White House of trying to impose Islamic Sharia law in the U.S.

Apparently, an email posted in 2007 in National Review’s blog claims that Yale Dean Harold Koh, State Department Legal Adviser nominee, had said — at a speech before the Yale Club of Greenwich — that Sharia law could apply to the U.S. However, the White House states that the allegations are untrue, and even Fox can't verify the claim.

But because they are "fair and balanced," Fox decided to run the story anyway. 'Coz why the heck not create some more dandelions and a little paranoia to go along with it?

Regardless of whether this is a dandelion, not all aspects of Sharia law may be so horrible. A quick search on Wikipedia - admittedly not the most reliable source - illustrates that there are many parallels between the U.S. Constitution and Sharia law (prohibition of illegal drugs, for one). And, apparently there is even controversy surrounding suggestions that English common law was inspired by medieval Islamic law. Ok, so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself and that's a dandelion too...

Monday, April 6, 2009

serve scathum

The more I research dandelions, the more I realize how crazy some people really are. Apparently this video is just for fun? It's totally ridiculous and utterly stupid, for sure, but funny? Ok, so I did chuckle (out loud), but the scary thing is that there are many loopy people who actually believe that Obama is the antichrist. It's the definition of agnotology.

Not sure if I heard "serve satan." Sounds more like "serve scathum" to me, but honestly you dandelion creator people... really? I can't believe people have the time to make these. There is even an entire YouTube channel devoted to Antichrist Obamanation (I am not making this up) that includes videos relating Obama to the antichrist, i.e., speech reversals, biblical code, Nostradamus. Totally out of control, isn't it? At least now we know where Fox gets their news...

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Is Google really in talks to acquire Twitter? Maybe, but news in the blogosphere is that CEO Evan Williams wouldn't sell Twitter even for $1 billion. Hmm. I sense a dandelion. 

Official word from Twitter is: "Our goal is to build a profitable, independent company and we're just getting started." So maybe they've cracked the revenue issue and are about to roll out their solid business plan in the form of strategic partnerships (think ExecTweets). According to Kara Swisher of D: All Things Digital, an imminent deal is inaccurate and pure speculation. While it would make sense for Google to acquire Twitter there is "nada" going on - just some talks and maybe a partnership, but that's about it. 

However, she does go on to say that this could change anytime. "Google or anyone else could plunk down more than $1 billion in cash, and I cannot imagine Twitter's investors would or could resist. Nor should they." So what's the real story? And what nascent company wouldn't bite at $1 billion? Not that I'm saying Google or Microsoft would even pay that much. But...

I don't want to start any dandelions of my own, but my guess is that there is a deal in the making and it's befitting that it would be with Google. Why? Because Twitter CEOs, serial entrepreneurs Evan Williams and Biz Stone have a history with Google - they created and sold Blogger to Google in 2003 -  and Twitter's real time feed could be the future of search, which is at the heart of Google's business.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

we're related?

This past Wednesday, the "We're Related" team - a highly popular Facebook application - sent 19 million Facebook users the following message:

"Barack Obama (Washington, DC) has confirmed you as his fourth cousin once removed on We're Related."

To see the how they were related, the lucky cousin followed a link to a landing page that showed him Obama's family tree and how he was connected. 

I have to admit, even though it was clearly an April Fool's joke, I was kind of jealous that I wasn't one of the lucky cousins. Then again, perhaps that would have been weird and slightly incestuous considering I find the man totally sexy. 

Anyway, the joke drew thousands of hits on the "We're Related" application page as traffic to the site increased more than five fold. "Our traffic has skyrocketed to five times our normal traffic. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are visiting the application per hour. Plus, we have become a trending topic on Twitter," said Jason McGowan, chief social officer of which developed the "We're Related" application. Apparently, reactions had ranged from total excitement to anger (?) to warnings about fraud and viruses. 

I do love that thousands of people fell for this - I probably would have too.

P.S. Thanks to Migs for sending this dandelion.

Friday, April 3, 2009

how to spot a dandelion

I love this little tip from New York Times' Tech Bits. Think you might have spotted a dandelion? Check the URL.

Phishers and jokers trick people like you and me by disguising a friendly URL in front of the symbol S3. So next time you see a URL like it's a dandelion.

According to the Times, a lot of people and companies use Amazon's S3 service when they don't want to invest in their own server. While S3 may have real advantages for small companies - inexpensive data storage - it does have upsides for pranksters too. The source of the link is difficult to trace. Apparently, the trick is most commonly used by people who want to steal your online banking password, so make sure you check the URL before entering that safety pin.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

flat belly dandelion

If you are sick and tired of these flat belly ads following you all over the web, join the club. I know it's that time - before summer - when people's bodies emerge from hibernation. Do I want a flat stomach? Well, who wouldn't? But there's something a little scam-suspicious.

An article on The Big Money gives a pretty good overview of how these dandelions work. Because networks like Google, Yahoo or MSN will reject these shady vendors immediately, they use middlemen called "affiliate networks" to act as a bridge between them (the vendors) and "affiliates" (ordinary folks) to place the ads in the network. "Affiliates" create a landing page and plant the ads all over the web hoping to drive traffic to the free 2-month trial offer. And, they usually do. "Affiliates" get paid on how much traffic they send to the site and apparently the money is pretty good—"affiliates" claim to bring in more than $10,000 a month (woah!).

Of course we all know that the secret to a flat belly is not some fake product that is fakely free. (Just ask Lindsay Lohan.) The flat belly is a dandelion.

In fact, the whole thing is just a scam. After your 2-month free trial, good luck getting someone to pick-up the phone to cancel the offer.

How do you think they make their money?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

discounted dandelion

This being April 1st, fantastic dandelions abound in cyberspace; it's dandelion heaven. I can't possibly list them all for you, so I decided instead to post my favorite. This year's winner: Expedia's trip to Mars.

For only $99, a savings of more than $3 trillion (major recession stimulus - cheaper than an NYC subway pass after May!), you can book a trip to Mars and stay in a luxury hotel with zero-gravity bedding, a hovering pool, holographic dining and martian mud massages. Oh, and not only is it very inexpensive and the ultimate treat, it's perfect for the entire family too. Dust surfing - take lessons from Johnny U's dust surfing experts - are all the rage, as are Super Low-G martian arts (watch out Nastia Liukin) and Rover Rides.

After a slingshot around the Moon, the faster than light technology ensures that the flight will only take a few days (not light years). So book now! Personally I'd take the nouveau spaceship, but the retro and classic ships (think Apollo 13) albeit slightly cheaper, will get you there just fine.