The article below is reprinted from Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S. by Alex Boese.
Technology junkies are always eager to buy the most up-to-date doodad that will make their lives easier in a thousand ways. They spend hours fantasizing about the cool new stuff engineers are dreaming up. (I know because I'm a technology junkie myself.) This may keep them off the streets and out of trouble, but it also makes them vulnerable to hoaxes. Technology junkies must watch out for three main categories of deception: phony product rumors, vaporware, and nonexistent products.
Phony Product Rumors
What they are: False leaks that purport to provide details about highly anticipated new products. Photos are often doctored or staged to add credibility. Hoaxes of this kind are typically work of amaetur pranksters, though some suspect that professional marketers use them to create buzz about upcoming products.
Example: Three days before the 2004 Apple Expo in Paris, while Mac fans were busy speculating what new hardware Steve Jobs would unveil at the show, photos appeared online showing a flat-panel contraption said to be the new iMac G5. The photos, supposedly taken in an elevator at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, turned out to be bogus. The so-called flat-panel iMac G5 was just a LaCie LCD monitor stuffed inside a PowerBook box.
Similar hoaxes preceded the arrival of the Tungsten T5 handheld and the newest versions of popular games such as Half-Life. As a result, tech fans have learned to take all rumors (even ones acocmpanied by photos) with a grain of salt.
What it is: Technology that a manufacturer promises will soon arrive in stores but that keeps getting delayed and never materializes because the imminent availability of the product was deceptively announced while the product was actually in the early stages of development and not ready for the market
Example: In 1997 the video-game maker 3D Realms announced it would soon release Duke Nukem Forever [wiki], a follow-up to its popular Duke Nukem. Nine years later, fans are still waiting. In 2003 Wired magazine, on its annual updated list of the top vaporware products, gave Duke Nukem Forever a lifetime achievement award for its perpetual vaporware status. Impatient fans have taken to calling the sequel Duke Nukem Whenever or Duke Nukem Taking Forever. One Wired reader pointed out that "NASA has planned, designed, developed and successfully landed a rover on Mars in the time this game has been in development."
Another notorious vaporware product is Microsoft's Longhorn operating system, which was supposed to be shipped in 2004 after long years of development, but didn't. A popular joke is that Longhorn has been renamed Longwait, and will eventually come bundled with Duke Nukem Forever.
[Note: Longhorn or Windows Vista was finally shipped in 2007, after the article was written]
What they are: Products that don't exist in any way, shape, or form. Such products are pure scams designed to bait suckers and their investment money. Often these products would have to defy the laws of physics to do what their inventors claim they do.
Example: The nineteenth-century inventor John Worrell Keely told investors he had developed a vibratory generator capable of producing enough power - using only a quart of water as fuel - to run a train for over an hour. (Devices that produce energy for little or no cost are a favorite of con artists.) For fourteen years, until he died in 1898, Keely strung his investors along with promises that the nonexistent generator was almost perfected. More recently, Czech businessman Sheldon Zelitt claimed to have invented GroutFree technology that could seamlessly join multiple LCD screens into one large screen, and was developing this product at Visual Labs, his company in Canada. With this promise, the company achieved a valuation of over $300 million, but when Zelitt finally gave a demonstration of the product, his investors recognized that what he was showing them was simply a forty-two-inch plasma television, available at any consumer electronics retailer. Faced with criminal charges, Zelitt fled to the Czech Republic. He was extradited back to Canada in 2005, where he's now serving an eight-year sentence.
Strange Computer Technology
Given the pace of technological change, it's difficult to predict what strange turns technology might take. But has technology really taken any of these strange turns?
1954 Home Computer
Did Popular Science magazine publish the image above in 1954, predicting that this is what a home computer might look like in the year 2004?
In 1954 computers really were this size, so if someone had tried to imagine what a home computer would look like fifty years in the future, they might have dreamed up a monstrosity like this (including the steering wheel).
But Popular Science never published such a picture. The photo was created in 2004 by Danish software sales and support technician Troels Eklund Andersen as an entry in a Fark Photoshop contest. (Fark is a popular weird news website - its Photoshop contests challenge Farkers to digitally alter images in amusing ways.) Andersen took a photo of a submarine's maneuvering room from an exhibit at the Smithsonian, made it black-and-white, then pasted in the teletype printer, the old-style television, and the man. Then he added the text at the bottom. He never imagined the image would end up fooling thousands of people, but that's what happened once it started circulating via e-mail.
It even fooled Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, who displayed it at a computer conference as proof of the impossibility of predicting future technology. The image was one of the most forwarded e-mail attachments of 2004.
The perfect gift for the technologically challenged. This gadget plays a "customizable rewind sound" when you put a DVD on it. It also comes with a USB port for rewinding MP3s. Sold by 1783 Productions, LLC.
(Image Credit: DVD Rewinder)
Did Microsoft engineers install a computer system inside a portable toilet, thereby creating the iLoo, the world's first Internet-enabled Johnny-on-the-spot?
On April 30, 2003, as part of Microsoft's goal to allow people to log on "anytime, any place, and anywhere," MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, announced the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world's first Internet-enabled Porta Potti. The iLoo would include a wireless keyboard, a height-adjustable flat plasma screen, a six-channel surround-sound speaker system installed under the sink, broadband Internet access, toilet paper conveniently printed with URL suggestions, and (last but not least) a toilet outfitted with vacuum suction to guarantee maximum hygiene. As the press release declared, this was no "bog-standard affair." Microsoft promised the iLoo would debut at music festivals throughout England in summer 2003.
The media was incredulous. Wouldn't the queue for this thing be miles long? Were beer-soaked, sweaty music festivals really the ideal place to introduce it? And what about keeping it clean? God only knew what fluids would get on that keyboard.
Microsoft representatives explained that a security guard would be posted outside the toilet, and a cleaner would swoop in between uses to keep it spotless. Nevertheless, reporters kept asking questions with increasing concern, until, almost two weeks after the announcement, Microsoft abruptly admitted that the entire thing had been a joke. There was no iLoo, the company said. It was just a flight of fancy.
This was strange, since Microsoft had never before issued a fake press release. Not even on April Fool's Day. But the next day the software maker changed its mind and stated the iLoo actually wasn't a hoax. The project had been under serious development in the United Kingdom, a Microsoft representative said, but "corporate headquarters in
By this time everyone was confused. Was the iLoo real, or wasn't it? And why was the company changing its mind so often? Microsoft never explained. It has stood by its final statement that the iLoo was a real, but never completed, project. (Though one gets the feeling that the software giant wishes it could flush the entire iLoo episode down the toilet. When I queried them for details they politely, but firmly, stated they weren't able to help me.)
Is there software that will keep pesky bugs and flying insects away from your computer as you work?
Thai computer programmer Saranyou Punyaratanabunbhu wanted to help computer users work without fear of bug-borne malaria, a big problem in Thailand. So he developed software that makes computer speakers emit high-pitched frequencies inaudible to the human ear but annoying to mosquitoes. The software was downloaded fifty thousand times in the first three days after it debuted, and Saranyou soon came out with a version 2.0 that also repels cockroaches and rats. A South Korean company, SK Telecom, now offers anti-mosquito software for cell phones. So the software does exist. The more relevant question is whether it works. Probably not. Pest-control experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln note, "There is no scientific evidence to suggest that cockroaches (or any other insects) respond negatively to ultrasonic sound waves." Even if it did work, there's one more thing to consider before installing it on your PC: some users report getting headaches after sitting for hours in front of a computer emitting a high-pitched whine.
The excerpt above is reprinted with permission from Hippo Eats Dwarf: a Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S, by Alex Boese (also the curator of the excellent website Museum of Hoaxes). The book covers hoaxes and other shenanigans from the present day pop culture, and includes subjects like photography, eBay, ads, business, politics, and war.
The book Hippo Eats Dwarf got its title from this news clip that circulated in print and on the Net:
Highly enjoyable. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0156030837/qid=1144080057/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-1890863-1239127?s=books&v=glance&n=283155 [Amazon]
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