Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for August 2007

Michael Duff thinks you're Uber!

The Internet can be a sleazy, confusing place – filled with spammers, con artists, unethical advertisers and traps for the unwary.

I fell for one of these traps last month and now I’m paying the price. I signed up for a social networking site called Uber that promised to let me create, share and collect media – whatever that means.

I got an e-mail invitation from a friend and signed up, thinking that he had discovered some kind of hidden gem on the Internet.

I signed up for the service and foolishly allowed them access to my Gmail address book. I wanted Uber to search my addresses and match them with the names of people who had already signed up.

Instead, it sent out invitations to every person I had ever sent an e-mail to. Every friend, every vendor, every co-worker, every blogger and every ex-girlfriend on my list got an e-mail begging them to join Uber and hang out with me.

I don’t know how it works in your life, but I’m not actually on speaking terms with everybody in my address book. Some of these people have rejected me. Some of these people have been rejected by me. Some of them are people who wrote me hate mail. And some of them don’t remember me at all.

Some of them are family members that I like to keep at arm’s length. Some of them are friends I haven’t seen since high school. Some of them are readers who contacted me and never got a proper response.

Some of them are celebrity bloggers that I was trying to suck up to. Some of them are executives in my company who barely know I exist. And some of them are editors who like to send me work e-mails at home.

But Uber doesn’t care about any of that. Uber wants them all. The invites go out, and the next day I get a dozen confused responses.

Some of them ask me who I am and how I got their address. Some of them remind me that we agreed never to speak to each other again. And some of them want me to write them back, describing every major event of my life since high school.

I should have known better, but even the most experienced Internet user can hit the wrong button now and then. And if you’re one of those unfortunate people who got an invitation to join Uber – please accept this apology.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 31, 2007 at 14:30

Posted in Best Of, Columns

Barechested Putin woos Russian voters

The Internet is currently buzzing about the naked chest of Vladamir Putin, pictured here in all its pale glory.

The Russian press is going nuts over this. They think Putin has bared his flesh in an attempt to boost his power and seduce voters — proof, they say, that he does not plan to relinquish power at the end of his second term.

Putin has certainly increased his credibility with female voters. Posters on his presidential web site are all aflutter about his “vigorous torso”.

I'm not an expert on Russian politics, but I think this may be more about personal ego than anything else.

Two questions come to mind: First, how long until George Bush follows Putin's example? And second, does having a nice physique make a president more or less likely to become a dictator? I think most dictators lean toward pudgy — probably from spending all that time in bunkers.

I think most men become dictators precisely because they're not attractive. If Hitler and Stalin had done a little better with the ladies during their civillian lives, they wouldn't have needed to conquer half the world to get a date.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 26, 2007 at 01:17

Posted in Politics

Duff: DefCon hackers teach 'Dateline' reporter just how deep the deep end is

Imagine this as a Hollywood movie. An intrepid young reporter (I picture Nicole Kidman) sneaks into a notorious hacker convention and captures their secrets with a hidden camera.

Although she features the wholesome blond looks of a high school cheerleading coach, she blends in with the geeks by wearing glasses and slouching a lot.

After risking life and limb in a series of convoluted plot twists, the reporter makes it back to her network and exposes dark secrets from the digital underground.

That’s the Hollywood version.

Here’s what happened in real life. “Dateline” producer Michelle Madigan, who really does look like a cheerleading coach, tried to sneak into DefCon 2007 with a hidden camera.

She refused press credentials and ignored convention rules in hopes of getting some confessions on camera. Good strategy for a Michael Bay film, but not so smart in real life.

DefCon is the most elite hacker convention in the world, an annual gathering of security experts and shady characters from all over the digital world.

These are arguably the most paranoid people on Earth, and “Dateline” thought it could catch them with their pants down. Instead, convention attendees turned the tables on Ms. Madigan and ran her out of town on a rail.

Instead of scooping her fellow reporters, Madigan fled the scene in disgrace, while her (properly credentialed) colleagues caught the whole thing on tape.

DefCon devotees are used to getting official attention. The convention is so well-attended by law enforcement the hackers have actually made a game of it.

Every year they play “Spot the Fed” – a game where attendees vouch for each other and pick out law enforcement professionals in their midst.

This year they changed it to “Spot the Undercover Reporter.” Madigan made a break for it and was in the parking lot before they got her picture up.

Madigan’s experience proves that the only thing more dangerous than a paranoid computer genius is a paranoid computer genius with a sense of humor.

Here’s a free clue for “Dateline”: ambush journalism is just one step above paparazzi stalking, and if you want to infiltrate a hacker conference, recruit the skinny guy with the four-day beard, not the student council blond.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 24, 2007 at 14:48

Posted in Columns

How to scare an atheist

Publish a story with the headline, “Gaping hole in universe discovered

“What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the universe,” Williams said in a statement.

The astronomers said the region even appeared to lack dark matter, which cannot be seen directly but is usually detected by measuring gravitational forces.

The void is in a region of sky in the constellation Eridanus, southwest of Orion.

Scientists will quickly find a rational explanation for this, but I already know. Obviously something came through that hole, ATE ALL OTHER INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, and will one day come for us.

Planet Earth must immediately cease all radio broadcasts. Maybe we can hide until the sun goes out.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 24, 2007 at 08:24

Posted in Science

Duff: Fan commentaries bring power to the people

Duff: Fan commentaries bring power to the people

For some of us, the best part of the movie starts on the way home. I find the most enjoyable part of a film is the post-credits recap, sharing favorite moments and making idle observations with friends.

By the same token, I think the best part of a DVD is the commentary – listening to actors, directors and film crew talk about how the film was made. For years, film commentary was the province of creators and critics. Now, thanks to the Internet, anyone can do it.

Fan commentaries are MP3 audio files, distributed free over the Internet. Download the file, cue up your DVD, turn the sound down and press play on your MP3 player. It’s like watching the film with a whole new gang of friends. Fan commentaries come in all shapes and sizes ranging from sharp and technical to silly and profane.

Most of the good ones are a mix. There are hundreds of great fan commentaries available on the Net. A simple Google search for “fan commentary” will bring up hundreds. But for my money, the best fan commentaries on the Net come from a gang of Australians at MMMcommentaries.com.

A perfect mix of smart and funny, the gang at MMM reviews genre films and science fiction classics. They’ve dabbled in “Star Trek” and reviewed a ton of “Doctor Who,” but their masterpiece is a “Star Wars” marathon that covers all six films. There’s plenty of technical stuff in here (and plenty of cheap laughs) but what stands out about the MMM gang is their love of story.

They’re not afraid to dive into the plot and dig into character motivation. Sitting through “Star Wars” with the MMM guys will bring out hidden gems in the classic films and make it easier to endure the prequels. And let’s not forget the international angle. The MMM guys would be funny in any language, but the Australian idioms really make it for me.

I take a lot of technology for granted these days, but part of this still feels like magic to me.

I’ll spare you the corny speech about world peace and the international brotherhood of science fiction fans, but clearly, the world is getting smaller every day.

Fan commentaries are just another example of the Internet turning consumers into participants. What used to be passive, static media is now a starting point for fan edits, forum discussions and unfiltered commentary.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 17, 2007 at 14:49

Posted in Columns, Movies

Don't date him, girl!

Hottest site on the net right now is Don't Date Him Girl.Com, a million-dollar idea if I ever heard one.

Billed as a clearinghouse for information about cheating men, the site includes names, photos, and detailed profiles written by women who have been wronged.

DDHG offers snappy design, great marketing, practical advice, and a healthy dose of revenge, all with a pink-tinted female-empowerment vibe.

I think it's a great idea, even if the majority of guys are named Michael…

My favorite part is the He Said/She Said section, where men can defend themselves against the women who profile them. Men can deploy their best excuses (“I didn't know we were exclusive!”) and women can tear them apart.

Then the community can press a button and vote for who they believe.

Clearly a Web 2.0 solution to the problem of cheating men. Now if we could just adapt this technology for presidential candidates…

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 15, 2007 at 13:15

Posted in Culture

Mass Effect promises old-school scifi action

Check out this new video for Bioware's Mass Effect.

Bioware has always been good at storytelling. They made the award-winning Knights of the Old Republic, arguably the best Star Wars story told on any platform since the original trilogy.

Now they're trying their hand at original scifi. The producers describe it as “classic” scifi from the 70s and 80s. Flashy action-movie goodness, made immersive and interactive.

Almost enough to make me buy an X-Box. Almost.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 14, 2007 at 13:28

Posted in Games

Duff: Internet encyclopedias break all the rules

Duff: These days, encyclopedias face competition that breaks all the rules

Everybody knows what an encyclopedia is. It’s a 50-pound collection of paper and cowhide, slowly aging on your bookshelf, oblivious to changes in culture, politics and world geography. For decades, the encyclopedia has remained constant, quietly taking up space in the living room, dusted off to settle bets and contribute to school reports.

But now the encyclopedia is changing, and the grand old encyclopedia companies are facing a new kind of competition. It’s called Wikipedia, and it breaks all the rules. Historically, encyclopedias have been cloistered, academic exercises. Wikipedia accepts contributions from anyone and is edited by a core group of volunteers.

In 2005, the journal Nature submitted a variety of encyclopedia articles for peer review. They found an equal number of serious errors between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the realm of less serious errors, Wikipedia led with 162, while Britannica had 123.

But all errors are not equal, and Wikipedia is subject to bias in ways that conventional encyclopedias are not. Wikipedia runs into trouble when it tries to cover controversial topics – when multiple editors advocate conflicting points of view.

Conspiracy theorists have tried to hijack Wikipedia’s coverage of the Kennedy assassination, and podcast pioneer Adam Curry was accused of deleting segments to hide the contributions of others.

The Wikipedia entry for Lubbock looks pretty solid. If any sharp-eyed readers want to take a crack at it, use your favorite search engine to look for “Wikipedia Lubbock” and share your findings in my blog.

That brings us to the next major complaint against Wikipedia: the notion that most of its scholarship is plagiarized, copied without permission from legitimate encyclopedias. Wikipedia has its problems, but it does excel in one field. Wikipedia does a great job covering things that aren’t deemed respectable enough for mainstream encyclopedias.

Wikipedia may not be the best place to find facts about the Kennedy assassination, but if you’re looking for “Star Wars” trivia or biographies of anime characters, Wikipedia’s coverage is superb. Wikipedia is great for trivia and pop culture, but if you’re looking for something to help Junior with his school reports, buy Encarta on CD-ROM.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 10, 2007 at 14:50

Posted in Columns

Shades of Dawkins

Double-posting today because I can't resist this image.

Richard Dawkins is perhaps the most famous atheist in the world — an outspoken educator and defender of evolution. In October 2006, Dawkins spoke at Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Dawkins' lecture was attended by a large group from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Liberty students dominated the Q&A portion of Dawkins' presentation, questioning him with varying degrees of hostility and outrage.

A Quicktime video of Dawkins' speech is available here.

A casual observer might watch this and think Dr. Dawkins doesn't have a friend in the world. But now we have visual evidence to the contrary.

This picture cracks me up. I've never seen the good doctor smile quite that widely before, and I've never seen him photographed in that particular shade of red.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 7, 2007 at 13:45

Posted in Religion, Video

Fake blogger revealed!

Fake celebrity blogs are a time-honored net.tradition, as old and irreverent as the Internet itself.

Now one of the most famous fake bloggers has been revealed, not as a new-media posterboy, but as an old-media veteran with a secret wild side.

The writer of the infamous “Fake Steve” blog is Dan Lyons, a technology editor at Forbes.

For years, Dan has been pretending to write in the voice of Steve Jobs, poking fun at the arrogance, the attitude, and the Boomer pretensions of Apple's famous founder.

Tech-savvy readers can easily kill an afternoon catching up with Fake Steve. My recent favorite is this entry about Rupert Murdoch's bid for the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile I just want you to know how excited all of us in Silicon Valley are to see you guys finally getting to experience first-hand the “creative destruction” that you're always celebrating in your own pages. Especially all of you guys who have delighted in tormenting Apple over our accounting practices. We'll be sending you each a special little gift — a black necktie. Marc Benioff is sending miniature coffins filled with breath mints.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 7, 2007 at 13:04

Posted in Apple, Journalism