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Spring Asstroturf Season: Slashdot Gives Us Three Lessons

Date/Time Permalink: 04/12/12 12:03:42 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

There's something about late spring that seems to bring the corporate asstroturf out of the woodwork (oops, I made a "Freudian typo" there!). College graduation is coming up after all, with all those fresh new students hitting the market and becoming truly adult consumers for the first time. Gotta get ready for them. Today's front page of Slashdot brings us not one, not two, but three examples.

The first is rather telling: An unnamed company employee posts about how their company asked them to asstroturf, posing the ethical question to the hivemind. The comments are surprising in their lack of condemnation, kind of "Meh, if you want to, everyone else does." Most of them say to go ahead if they feel the social marketing hype is warranted. Almost nobody raises the ethical issue of an employee posing as a customer giving fake reviews of their company's product. Certainly nobody brings up the potential violation of FCC law.

I always get the blankest looks when I bring up that 2009 FCC ruling. You can hear the fact bounce off the skull with an audible "thud".

Next, a story posts alleging that the media is unfairly biased against poor widdle Microsoft, while all the other tech companies "seem to get away from missteps unscathed". The Slashdot crowd barely has time to shovel themselves out from under this mountain of manure when one AC posts pointing out that in fact, the piece author is a paid Microsoft evangelist, a fact not immediately evident from the bald story.

I'm tempted to tweet him a link to the comment. I see the hornet nest, I have a rock in my hand... no, no, put it down Pete! You're too busy now.

Finally, another whooping pile of Micro-bull posts on Slashdot about how the desktop game of Freecell was allegedly "solved" by crowdsourcing, in one of those feel-goody "see Microsoft is really open-participation-friendly after all" pieces. See, Freecell deals hands based on seed numbers, which you can type in yourself, and they had to test whether every hand could be solved fairly. They supposedly proved only one hand couldn't win. The problem is, this story is completely false. A group of players couldn't solve the hand, but that doesn't prove it by itself. Wikipedia lists the full research on the game mechanics and notes that up to 1282 games are unsolvable, depending on how high you count. It is computer simulations, not humans, who prove Freecell games unsolvable.

If you want to explore the software that was used to find all 1,282 unsolvable games of Freecell, it's Don Woods' Freecell solver...

An open-source program, of course!

Well, I've got my lawnmower, so I'm ready for spring!

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