Alan Alda: Prognosticator

The following words were offered by Alan Alda in 2001, at the graduation of a friend’s daughter. Alda was referring to a piece written by a Chicago newspaper columnist named Mary Schmich, which was virally circulated on the Internet but erroneously attributed to Kurt Vonnegut.

And that’s what makes this Internet event a great image for the age in which we live. There are probably just as many lies going around now as ever before, but these days they’re traveling at the speed of light. There are just as many people who want to fool you into thinking they’ve got it all figured out for you, but now you don’t have nearly as much time to think it over.

And with the help of an engine for repetition that works on a scale unheard of in the past, the lies stick. People are still sending around the talk, thinking it was written by Vonnegut. I was sent a copy just last week.

It’s a delightful piece of writing. But if it’s presented as if it were by someone other than the person who wrote it, it steals that person’s good name and gives itself a certain credibility before it has a chance to earn it honestly. So, as good as it is, it’s a cheat. At least in the way it’s offered to us.

So, you may be thinking, big deal. It’s just a few good jokes. But think about it… It could be selling you anything. It could be a cult religion that could separate you from friends and family, or a quack medicine that could lead you paralyzed, or bogus political information that cause you to elect a numbskull to the presidency.

God forbid.¹

These are great words with regards to the internet and its impact on the dissemination of information – both genuine and bogus – but eerily prescient in view of the political developments of recent years. For what it’s worth, the entire book is a wonderful, human, and relevant read.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Alan Alda, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (New York: Random House, 2007), 121.

WOT: (Web of Trust) – A valuable extension

I’ve mentioned WOT in a number of my previous posts, but I thought I’d give it a bit more exposure, given the amount of scams, fake news websites, and general internet douchebaggery that is so prevalent right now.

Web of Trust is a FREE extension that adds a small circle after any clickable link on your computer to let you know how trustworthy that site is. Here’s an example – recently I was trying to remove a hijacker that redirected me to Spectrum’s search service when an unknown URL was encountered:

WOT

Notice that the circles can be green, yellow, and red – just like  stoplight. That’s your first clue – but it pays to drill down for more information as I mention below. Green is generally trustworthy, yellow is questionable, and red is downright dangerous. A gray circle with a question mark means there is no information (yet) about the site in question.

Some dangerous websites will be flagged by Google directly (Click image to enlarge)

Google1

If you have a paid version of Malwarebytes, known malware websites will be automatically blocked:
Malwarebytes

But if neither one of these help, WOT will give you a warning for red-circle links that looks like this (Click image to enlarge):

WOT1

You’ll notice that you get a summary of ratings and reasons why the website is not trusted.

In addition, search engine results can be previewed simply by hovering your mouse over the colored circle:

WOT2

and then you can follow the “click to view details” link to get a full page of information about the website.

WOT3

As with anything that is crowdsourced, one needs to be cautious. A tool like this could be used to give bad ratings to a website by an unethical competitor, so look at the dates of the reviews and get an overall feel for the page in question. In general, though, I’ve found that this tool tends to be self-correcting, so if one person rates a site untrustworthy for malware, and five other more recent users give reasons why it’s safe, I feel pretty confident that the first review is either spurious or outdated.

If you want to rate websites yourself, you can create a free account, log in, and provide details of your experience.

In addition to protecting you from viruses or other malware, WOT can be very useful for verifying whether news sites are reliable or not.

An example: Today on Facebook I saw a link to a story that there was a second shooter in Las Vegas:

Facebook

That yellow circle told me right off that this story is questionable. Hovering over the warning gave me this:

WOT4

And a subsequent search on Google for yournewswire.com confirmed that this is a notorious clickbait, inflammatory, fake-news website:

Founded by Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway in 2014. It has published fake stories, such as “claims that the Queen had threatened to abdicate if the UK voted against Brexit” (Wikipedia)

It pays to be safe, and it pays to be careful. This little extension works well with Window 10 and earlier versions (I’ve tried it on XP and 7 both), it’s free, and it provides a wealth of information about internet dangers. I highly recommend it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.