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.

The Internet Doesn’t Have Everything Yet

I have written before about things I’ve lost over time, seen in a magazine or a book or elsewhere, and my efforts to re-locate them. As time goes on, more and more material gets uploaded to the Internet, but despite some successes, there are many lacunes.

I remember a great advertisement that appeared at the end of the 90s or thereabouts – it was, if I’m not mistaken, for the Sony Nightshot video camera, and showed – taken in infrared light – a cat and a dog surprised in a compromising position on the couch. The caption was something like “You’ll be surprised at what you can discover when you come home unexpectedly.”

I know that ad existed, because I can see it in my mind’s eye as plainly as could be desired, but thus far I have found no hint of it in the course of as many searches as I know how to do. It appears to have vanished without a trace. Now that may be the result of an unfortunate urban legend which sprung up around the time of the Nightshot’s introduction, specifically that you could see through clothing with it – but I’m surprised I can’t locate this particular ad copy, because it was funny.

I guess some things are either lost forever, or I’ll just have to keep waiting until someone finds it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Catacomb Saints: How many clickbait titles can you come up with?

From Wikipedia:

Catacomb saints are ancient Roman corpses that were exhumed from the catacombs of Rome, given fictitious names and sent abroad as relics of saints from the 16th century to the 19th century. They were typically lavishly decorated with gold and precious stones.

There’s no question the subject is of some interest to scholars and historians – I’ve seen a few of these in my peregrinations around the world.

5e6e225a-ba61-4cb1-a06e-1391ed1123f8

“Though selling the relics would have been considered simony, enterprising church officials still managed to raise funds while countering the iconoclasm by charging for transportation, decoration, induction and blessing.”

And keeping in mind that fundraising was foremost among church leaders then as now, it’s not surprising that so much effort was put into the preservation and illumination of these relics. Some of the bodies may have been of early Christian martyrs, but none were of any particular religious significance. Dressing them up and giving them the name of a saint, however, was the 16th-century equivalent of The National Enquirer or Buzzfeed.

These relics have been around for a long time, but when the Internet discovers something, it’s often presented as a “stunning new find” or some other silliness – anything to get eyeballs on ads, as you can see below.

Let’s look at the kinds of headlines one sees with a simple search for “Rome jeweled skeletons:”

  • These Skeletons Were Found In Roman Catacombs And You’ll Never Believe What They’re Wearing
  • Unbelievable Skeletons Unearthed From the Catacombs Of Rome
  • Meet the Fantastically Bejeweled Skeletons of Catholicism’s Forgotten Martyrs
  • Beauty from the crypt: Europe’s jeweled skeletons
  • 19 Bejeweled Skeletons That’ll Blow Your Mind
  • Incredible skeletal remains of Catholic saints still dripping in gems and jewellery discovered by ‘Indiana Bones’ explorer
  • Beauty Beyond the Grave: The Story Behind Europe’s Bejeweled Skeletons
  • Secrets of the Catholic Church: Unbelievable Jeweled Skeletons Discovered in the Catacombs of Rome
  • The ghastly glory of Europe’s jewel-encrusted relics
  • THE JEWEL-ENCRUSTED SKELETONS OF ROMAN MARTYRS
  • The Catacomb Saints – So-Called Saint Skeletons Dressed in Jewel-Encrusted Gold and Silver
  • Skeletons Unearthed From The Catacombs Of Rome Have Jeweled Beards
  • Bones with Bling: The Amazing Jewelled Skeletons of Europe

As mentioned above, many of the referenced articles try to make it appear as though these relics were just recently discovered.

Click through for a collection of these images.

PS: if you do this, screw you. (Text like this often appears when you copy and paste from a website):

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2413688/Incredible-skeletal-remains-Catholic-saints-dripping-gems-jewellery-dug-Indiana-Bones-explorer.html#ixzz3cyd8uT2J
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

This is the 21st century equivalent of blinking text. It’s annoying, no soul in their right mind would ever incorporate it into a cross-post, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

It pays to shop around

Had a little accident with my oven a while back. The front glass got broken, and I went hunting around for a replacement part.

GE’s offering:

GE PartSelect

Are you out of your Vulcan mind? That’s extortion! Well, that was disheartening. Let’s see if we can find a competitor or aftermarket alternative.

PartsDirect

Well, Sears PartsDirect did a little better, but a bit more searching came up with this:

BlackDrive Glass

Why a black sheet is so much less expensive than a white one is totally beyond me, but I ended up saving over $300.00 just by settling for a black front instead of a white one, and the contrast looks very good.

The Internet makes comparison shopping so much easier than it used to be. Back in the day, the Yellow Pages and a telephone was all we had, and one was limited to a very local search. I’m grateful for the miracle.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“Content from the Web”

Most websites have them. Clickbait links that are randomly generated by affiliate marketing programs like Google’s AdSense. Here’s an example from one of my favorite news aggregators, Newser.com:

Content

This isn’t content; every single one of these are advertisements, and direct users to deceptive or disreputable websites.

These links lead to the following websites, from left to right and top to bottom:

1) Instantcheckmate.com: Flagged by WOT for spam and scam. Sample comment: “Started receiving huge amounts of spam immediately after they got my email. Luckily I did not give my credit card details to these scammers!

2) TotalLifeGuru selling a product called Test X180 Ignite. Your “free sample” will cost you $4.99 S&H, for which payment you will be required to provide your credit card information. Per their terms and conditions, you will automatically be enrolled as a “member” in their Test X180 Ignite VIP Membership Program. As a reward, 18 days later, and every 30 days thereafter you’ll get a new supply for only $79.95 plus $4.99 S&H plus tax. And you can be very, very sure that this program is either impossible or ferociously difficult to cancel. But they have your credit card, and those charges will keep coming, and coming, and coming, just like the Energizer Bunny.

3) Again, TotalLifeGuru recommending a penny auction site called Quibids. Flagged by WOT for scam, misleading claims or unethical, poor customer service experience, and others. Penny auction sites are a guaranteed money loser for all but a very few. From the AARP website:

“That $30 camera represents 3,000 bids. At a dollar a bid, the website could take in $3,000 on that auction item; not a bad haul for a $600 camera. However, even if you are the winner, you will likely end up paying more than the final sale price, depending on how many bids you submitted along the way. For example, if you placed 100 bids at a dollar each, your out-of-pocket will be $130. Still a good deal, but not as fantastic as it might appear at first.”

4) Weekly Financial Solutions recommending a loan program called “EasyLoanSite,” with the headline ”

Little-Known Government Lending Program Offers Ridiculously Low Mortgage Rates!

EasyLoanSite functions much the same way as “Lower My Bills;” in other words, they will gather as much personal information from you as you are willing to provide, “recommend” a few mortgage loan affiliates, and sell your information to every marketer in the world and a few on Rigel V. A sample comment over at ripoffreport.com

Filled out all the requested information to get an estimate of what I would save by refinancing my mortgage…when I get to the final screen they say “sorry we’re not able to help you but here’s a list of mortgage companies (ads) we recommend you contact.”

5) Again, TotalLifeGuru selling a product called Probioslim. Your “free sample” will cost you $2.99 S&H, for which payment you will be similarly required to provide your credit card information. Per their terms and conditions, you will automatically be enrolled as a “member” in their Probioslim VIP Membership Program (sounds very similar to the program mentioned above in No. 2.) Similarly, 18 days later, and every 30 days thereafter you’ll get a new supply for only $69.95 plus $4.99 S&H plus tax. The most unsettling part of this agreement is as follows:

I understand that this consumer transaction involves a negative option and that I may be liable for payment of future goods and services under the terms of the agreement if I fail to notify the supplier not to supply the goods or services described.

This is legalese authorizing the company to bill you for future shipments, even if you failed to read the fine print. Companies that operate in this manner have the ethics of a hungry honey badger, and should never be dealt with. Their products are also, in all likelihood, ineffective garbage with no discernible value.

6) Leads you to a long, noisy whiteboard presentation for Pimsleurapproach.com, about which I have already written on two occasions. The Pimsleur approach as marketed by Simon and Schuster is great. I love it as a springboard into a language. Pimsleurapproach.com, however, uses the same ghastly marketing techniques of offering you a cheap intro, followed by a membership program that will send you a new “evaluation” course every 60 days, for each of which you will be billed only four easy installments of $64.00 unless you cancel – which will be very hard to do. This bottom-feeder company thrives on those who don’t read the fine print and who won’t understand why their credit card is being billed for so much and so often.

7) One more TotalLifeGuru shill page for a vitamin called “GetAwayGrey.” A mix of common ingredients mixed with wild claims, this vitamin compound claims to reverse grey hair.

bullshit1

Stay away from such rubbish. It’s like taking sugar pills, but very expensive ones: $29.95 plus S&H for a month’s supply of worthless trash.

8) Lastly, another TotalLifeGuru web page hawking Kerafiber, junk you put on your head to minimize the look of balding. A recent user review at Amazon:

Clumpy, powdery and a waste of money. Would never leave the house with this on. Nothing natural looking about it.

At least this website doesn’t sign you up for a recurring and annoying autoship program without your consent. Regarding TotalLifeGuru, I wonder how many junk products his website shills for, and how much they get for redirecting traffic to these worthless products?

The bottom line is that every one of these “Content from the Web” links are worthless, deceptive and, to my way of thinking, unethical. Companies that value their reputation would do well to stay away from programs that inject such garbage onto their websites.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Curiosity and Learning

A recent article in Science Daily outlines some research on how the brain changes in response to curiosity. Executive summary: “The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic.” I’ve long known this about my own mind – if I get really curious to learn something, it absorbs more easily and sticks around longer.

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. […]

Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward. […]

Third, the team discovered that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit.”

The full article is worth a read.

Bill Watterson illustrated this principle delightfully almost 20 years before this study was ever done. Calvin and Hobbes find a snake in the garden. They marvel at its fluidity, the flicking tongue, wonder how they sleep with their eyes open, what they eat, and realize they know nothing about snakes. Hobbes suggests that perhaps Calvin’s mom would get them a book. It’s a captivating idea, until Calvin realizes that it’s summer vacation, and he’s determined to learn nothing, whereupon Hobbes intones, “If nobody makes you do it, it counts as fun.” The last panel makes the whole strip:

Cool1

The problem with curiosity today is captured by Randall Munroe in his wonderful XKCD panel:

the_problem_with_wikipedia

This holds true not just for Wikipedia or TV Tropes (Stay away! Stay away!) but for the Internet in general. Falling down the rabbit hole makes time compress in a way that Isaac Asimov could never have imagined.

That said, I would have paid dearly for the internet when I was a child in the 50s. I wanted to know things. I wanted to understand things. But I didn’t have the patience to search the World Book, or the Brittanica, or the Americana, or the card catalogs, only to come up with results for a single topic.

On the other hand, given what’s out there, it’s probably a blessing that it wasn’t available.

Doonesbury - Truth of the Net

I struggle enough as it is.

one

The Old Wolf has spok… ooh squirrel!

The Internet: A repository for all things arcane.

Edit 8/25/2015: This post was based on a link to Grooveshark, the most awesome music streaming service since Napster. Unfortunately, a number of circumstances led to their demise. I have left the original link up for historical reasons, and added a new link to the song in question.

In a recent post I saw on Facebook, a friend of mine was sharing some thoughts about dealing with ADHD in children. I mentioned that I’ve had the problem since childhood, and that ultimately it never goes away – one simply has to deal with it. Another friend remarked that it was interesting how I have been able to channel mine into insatiable curiosity. This struck me, because I had never really made the connection in a conscious way, although I have long been aware that I have a burning need to know things.

The capsule summary of my senior year at Camp Wildwood in Bridgton, Maine, describes me as an energetic tripper despite my 85-lb bulk (I was tiny until I hit 11th grade), and mentioned that however unorganized my body of knowledge, I seemed to be an inexhaustible source of interesting bits of information. So you see, it had begun early, and never ended. I used to read the encyclopedia for fun.

Then came the Internet. By the holy skull of Mogg’s virgin aunt, it’s a miracle I get anything accomplished at all – but it’s both a blessing and a curse. I’ll have something rattling around in my mind, and before the days of  Google, I had no way of locating, categorizing, elaborating on, or filing it away as “done” unless it could be found in a printed resource. But with the Internet, and billions of people contributing content on a daily basis, many of the things that I would never have been able to locate have actually shown up. I mentioned a few of them over here at “The Lost Cartoons” and “Vintage Toys I have Loved” (among many others) but there is always something which tasks me.

Today I got to put another one to rest.

Back in the 80s there was a wonderful radio station in Salt Lake called KKDS (or K-Kids). It played a constant stream of amazing and delightful music and features for children – the Chicago Tribune mentioned it, saying:

WPRD-AM, now broadcasting news from the CNN Headline News service, was the first affiliate for the Imagination Stations Network, which was based in Orlando and had hoped to broadcast nationally to at least 100 affiliates by the end of its first year. When it ceased broadcasting 11 months after it began, the network had only one other affiliate, KKDS in Salt Lake City.

I was sad to see it go, and our children loved it.

Remember the Sinclairs, stars of the TV show “Dinosaurs?”

sinclairs

One of the songs from that show that was played frequently on KKDS was  “I Can Do Whatever I Want”. It has been available on a CD, but up until now, nowhere else. Believe me, I’ve looked. And I didn’t want to shell out $30.00 or more for just the one song that I liked. My wife will confirm that I liked the song, because I periodically sing the refrain when I’m feeling a bit contrary.

But now there is Grooveshark, one of the better online music services out there. And my song – my cherished, silly song – [New Link] finally showed up. So now I can file that little bit of ephemera away, I know it’s out there, I can listen to it whenever I want (’cause I’m a dinosaur!) and move on to the next 50 billion items.

Its a curse, but I’ve learned to live with it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.