Tag Archives: This Is True

Review: This Is True vol.8 – Invisible Man Disappears From View

This Is True vol.8Randy Cassingham has been collecting and sharing strange news stories for almost 20 years now on his newsletter, This Is True. Often funny and always thought-provoking, this e-book collection features weird-but-true stories ranging from outrageously funny to just plain outrageous.

The format — all single-paragraph stories, each with a headline and tagline — makes this a good book to keep on your phone to pick up whenever you have a few minutes. Watch out, though: it’s way too easy to read “just one more story”…over and over and over!

Some stories feature follow-ups, such as a couple who marketed a bizarre invention who later brought it to “Shark Tank,” or how politicians’ careers fared after some embarrassing incident. Others feature links to expanded stories on the author’s blog, opening the story up to additional related thoughts or discussion.

One of the interesting things about this book is that it spans 2001-2002, so it offers a look back at the post-9/11 days, the paranoia of the anthrax scare, and the early spread of “zero tolerance” school policies. It’s an interesting view of some of the events that have shaped today’s political climate.

Invisible Man Disappears from View is currently only available for Kindle, though Cassingham plans to expand to other e-book platforms in the near future.

This is True: Stranger Than Fiction

This Is True is a weekly newsletter rounding up weird news from around the world, summarized with witty comments by Randy Cassingham. It’s usually funny, sometimes sad, sometimes infuriating — but it always makes you think.

I’ve been a subscriber for years, and highly recommend it. One of the things I like about it is that he makes more effort to verify the stories than the typical “odd news” wire service that simply repeats something printed in a distant newspaper without realizing that it’s the local equivalent of the National Enquirer or Weekly World News. (Did anyone ever actually verify that Wii Fit nymphomaniac story last month? As near as I could tell every single article used the same tabloid as a source.)

Check out today’s sample story for an idea of what to expect.

Cassingham also links to interesting news items on Twitter and on Facebook, though not the same articles

Spam Filters Gone Wild: This Is True

Waaay back in the dark ages of the Web (somewhere between 1994 and 1997) I discovered a weekly email newsletter called “This Is True.” It collected strange-but-true news stories from around the world, summarizing each in a short paragraph with a witty one-liner at the end. I subscribed to the free edition, and later to the full version, which had about twice as many stories. I even picked up a few of the books collecting past stories (at a con, I think, but I can’t remember which con).

Eventually I got too busy to read them, and the back-issues piled up unread, and I decided to let my subscription lapse. But earlier this year, I decided to re-up with the shorter, free version, and it’s still as good as ever.

This week’s issue included a disappointing story: even though they practice — in fact, probably helped originate — responsible list management, Yahoo is blocking them as spammers. Why? Because people are signing up for the list, then deciding they don’t want it anymore, and instead of unsubscribing, hitting the “Report as Spam” button. Yahoo has apparently taken those spam reports at face value, and blocked everyone’s copy of the newsletter.

Clearly, some people are unclear on what “spam” means. It’s not just “mail I don’t want.” It’s mass mail I don’t want and didn’t ask for.”

That, and I’m sure some people don’t realize that their reports are being used to train everyone’s filters. I remember a co-worker explaining a few years ago that he’d trained Gmail to send the SourceForge newsletters (or something similar) straight into his spam folder. I commented that they might be using that data to train their sitewide filters, and he said something like, “I hope not.”

Using user feedback to train sitewide or network-wide (such as Cloudmark, or Akismet) filters is a powerful technique. Some people will catch the leading edge of a spam attack, and that data can be used to protect others as the attack continues. Some will check their mail sooner, and that data can be used to re-filter messages that have been received, but not yet viewed.

Unfortunately, it also can give a lot of power to people who are either unclear on the criteria being used or have an axe to grind, unless you include measures to (a) contain the impact or (b) keep track of each reporter’s reliability. I know Cloudmark factors in the reporter’s reputation, for instance. And I suspect that AOL does, at least in some cases, limit measures such as blocking to specific recipients, but I can’t be certain.

Anyway, to summarize:

  • Use the Report Spam button responsibly.  If you actually subscribed to it, it isn’t spam unless they refuse to remove you from the list.
  • Check out This is True.  You may laugh, you may groan, you may think, or you may get pissed off at the world — or all of the above.  It’s certainly worth a look.

(I really should have finished writing this yesterday, before someone submitted the original story to Slashdot. Posting about it to get the word out seems kind of redundant now. Heck, now that I think about it, I should have submitted the original to Slashdot. Oh, well.