Ping book cover and funny Amazon review of UNIX ping
This week hundreds of users submitted fake one-star reviews throughout Amazon’s Kindle store (as a protest of high ebook prices). But there’s also a tradition of random pranksters spontaneously slipping fake reviews onto the site — simply to amuse their friends.

And some of their most famous fake reviews can still make me laugh…

1. I was as surprised as anybody that Amazon was selling a plastic bottle of “Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz.” And I was even more surprised it had received 759 five-star reviews (and a total of 1,215 reviews).

“So Tasty the Monkeys of Tuscany Weep as it’s Exported”
“Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal?”
“Can fight zombies.”
“Warm.”

There’s something strange going on here — the gallon of milk was priced at $160. And don’t forget to click on the “related images,” which apparently show a satisfied Tuscan customer, bicycling with a refrigerator on his back. Instead of investigating the milk itself, the reviews become miniature satires, calling attention to the absurdity of selling milk through a Seattle-based web site.

“My milk came by UPS via Amazon Super Saver shipping (great value!). Unfortunately, it arrived warm and mildly chunky. As such, I’ve had to downgrade my rating to only four stars. It’s still the best milk $700 can buy

Eventually, even The New York Times ended up writing an article about the fake reviews, noting wryly in their headline that “all of a sudden everyone’s a milk critic.”


2. It was an even stranger day when Amazon’s educational science supplies finder turned up Uranium Ore. “So glad I don’t have to buy this from Libyans in parking lots at the mall anymore,” wrote one reviewer (who awarded the product 5 stars.) “The quality of this Uranium is on par with the stuff I was bying from the Libyans over at the mall parking lot, but at half the price!”

And amazingly, 1,377 of 1,437 people found the following review helpful.

“Ok for cleaning teeth, not so great for killing ants…”

In the mix are some finely-tuned jokes about the half-life of radioactive materials. (“I purchased this product 4.47 Billion Years ago and when I opened it today, it was half empty.”) And there’s also some advice for suggested implementations. (Like “Don’t use in a teleportation device!” and “DO NOT USE AS LUBRICANT!!!”) But one user issued a warning not about the product, but about the shipping.

“I was very disappointed to have my uranium confiscated at the airport. It was a gift for my son for his birthday. Also, I’m in prison now, so that’s not good either.”


3. Over 200 different reviews have turned up for the Bic crystal ballpoint pen. (“Worked fine with my right hand, but when I came to use my left hand my writing came out looking like the work of a complete imbecile…would caution left-handers to ‘try before you buy’.”) Within 24 hours, a link to one review actually drew over 1,000 positive votes on Reddit. (“Since taking delivery of my pen I have been very happy with the quality of ink deposition on the various types of paper that I have used…”) One reviewer was delighted to discover the product, because “I have been meaning to upgrade from my HB2 pencil for some time, but I have been wary of making the jump.” But someone calling themselves “Flabbergasted” instead wrote an outraged review complaining of “Blatant false advertising…

“I ordered 300 of these individually gift wrapped for a client’s wedding and was horrified to learn 14 minutes before the reception that this is NOT REAL CRYSTAL!!!”


4. I have a personal fondness for some of the first fake reviews ever submitted. Once upon a time, back in 1995, there was a web site where random wise guys submitted alternate captions for the newspaper comic strip “The Family Circus.” It continued for over four years, until Bil Keane’s lawyers finally showed up and purged them from the internet — but the site’s contributors had also apparently slipped in some fake Amazon reviews of the cartoonist’s books. (“Since Bill Keane’s extradition from Guatemala, his work has not been the same…”) One amazed author at the literary site Feed honestly suggested the reviews were “revolutionary”, protesting the “insipid commentary” that usually clogs Amazon’s review section.

He noted Amazon had just faced a controversy about whether they were accepting bribes for listings in the staff-driven “What we’re reading” section, then suggested the fake reviews were “poetic justice.” An embarrassed Amazon quickly deleted the funny Family Circus reviews, but eventually some quotes also turned up in a Village Voice article asking the ultimate question: who’s reviewing these reviewers?

“While I agree that Daddy’s Cap Is on Backwards has its moments of drug-inspired poetry, frankly I was disappointed that Keane appears to have abandoned the thematic thread that ran through earlier classics including . . . the quintessential Don’t Bother Mommy When She’s Drinking.”


5. It’s also been more than 10 years since John E. Fracisco submitted his review of a famous children’s picture book — but it has to be considered one of the most famous, since 9,846 of 10,193 people marked his review “helpful”. The picture book tells the story of a fish-catching duck who works on Chinese fisherman’s boat — though Fracisco’s review apparently mistakes “The Story About Ping” for a manual on the UNIX operating system command for testing connection latency. But he still enthusiastically plows through his review, describing the book as “an insightful and intuitive explanation of one of Unix’s most venerable networking utilities…[though] I would have expected a more detailed overview of the ICMP packet structure.”

“Even more stunning is that they were clearly working with a very early beta of the program, as their book first appeared in 1933, years (decades!) before the operating system and network infrastructure were finalized…”

The Onion mocks the Kindle

November 8, 2010

Last week The Onion made a funny, fake announcement about the president of Amazon. “‘The Kindle Is Easier To Read In Bright Sunlight,’ Amazon CEO Shouts At Customers In Apple Store.” It’s a nod to Amazon’s war with the iPad, but the fake headline got a real rise from Twitter’s assortment of geeks, Apple fans, and Kindle lovers. The headline appeared on The Onion’s Twitter feed, which has over 2.4 million followers — and by Monday, over 100 people had “re-tweeted” the message to their own followers on Twitter.

But I discovered it wasn’t the first time the humor site had joked about the Kindle. When Amazon released the Kindle 2, The Onion was there with a quick list of its new features.

– A lot fewer dangling wires
– …is not just a hollow box with a clear plastic window that you insert books into…”

And in January, at the Consumer Electronics Show, they’d also joked that for nostalgic users, the Kindle now “signals a logging crew to cut down 10 trees for every book purchased with the device.”

Bit it’s hard to tell whether they’re making fun of Amazon’s digital reader, or if they’re secretly fans of the Kindle. For example, in July their “American Voices” segment showed the heads of three people, responding to the news that ebook sales were [almost] surpassing sales of printed books. One of them announced that he wasn’t surprised by the popularity of ebooks, because “…if you’re reading a hardcover book, strangers try to start conversations with you. If you’re reading off a Kindle, people just stare at your awesome Kindle.” And the same fake people were also there in March, ready to react to the news that Amazon had temporarily pulled all the books from Macmillan publishing house.

“Publishing house? I thought Stephen Coonts just typed all the books right into Amazon!”

In May, they even offered opinions about Amazon’s foray into the market for college textbooks. “It does make sense for students to keep all the books they’re not going to read in one device, rather than lugging a big heavy bag around.”

But interestingly, you can now buy entire ebooks with humor from The Onion. For $9.99, you can buy Homeland Insecurity: The Onion Complete News Archives, Volume 17. (“This collection features the entire archive from November 2004 to December 2005…”) In print it came out to a whopping 320 pages, but the ebook edition was just released in May — and judging by one review, now its fake news headlines are even more timely. (“Cost of Living Now Outweighs Benefits… Bankrupt U.S. Sold to China.”)

And just last month The Onion released an ebook by their columnist, Jean Teasdale. It’s called A Book of Jean’s Own!: All New Wit, Wisdom, and Wackiness from The Onion’s Beloved Humor Columnist, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek newspaper column that’s apparently written by a cheerful yet secretly unhappy housewife.

I’ve been enjoying The Onion’s skewed take on the news for over 15 years, but I have to admit that they finally got me. Reading through their fake news stories, I discovered their announcement of a new “U2 Edition” of the Kindle, which ships pre-loaded with all of the favorite books by the rock band U2. For half a second, I wondered if Amazon really had released a special Kindle edition, and I actually spent a few minutes frantically searching for it in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Zing!


And remember, you can also subscribe to The Onion on the Kindle for just $1.99.

XKCD cartoonist talks about his comic strip on Amazon's Kindle

I’m a fan of the comic strip XKCD. So I was delighted when the cartoonist did a special edition that was all about the Kindle.

“Even if I spend months broke and drunk in a strange city, I’ll still be able to use Wikipedia and Wikitravel to learn about anything I need…”

Ironically, it’s very hard to read that comic on your Kindle (though its dialogue is almost legible if you surf straight to the image.) But, to give away the punchline, the female character decides there’s something suspiciously familiar about the idea of being able to learn anything anywhere. And when she examines the Kindle more closely, she makes a startling discovery: it’s actually The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, it describes a near-magical, all-knowing guidebook that would be crucial if, say, your home planet Earth was destroyed, and you had to navigate through all the other strange alien civilizations. It’s the perfect metaphor for the Kindle’s unlimited (and free) internet access, though I first read that cartoon before I’d even purchased my Kindle. But I still remember it every time I switch to Wikipedia to look up crucial context for the classic books I’m reading. (“Was this book popular in its time? How old was its author…?”)

I even added this capability to yesterday’s list of my favorite Kindle tips and tricks. (It’s possible to instantly search Wikipedia for any topic just by typing @wiki after hitting the Search button.) But the cartoonist’s joke has a special resonance for me, because I’d interviewed Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, just a few weeks before his death in 2001. He’d lived long enough to see a wonderful sight — his six-year-old daughter, pushing her doll’s baby stroller while mimicking the voice of the GPS system in her daddy’s car. And I sometimes wonder what he would’ve thought of the Kindle. “Anything that’s invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things,” Adams had joked, while introducing, of course, a contradicting corollary. “Anything that’s in the world when you’re born is considered ordinary and normal.”

I’ve always assumed that Adams would eventually come around to the idea of using a digital reader. But regardless of Adams’ opinion, the magic of the internet at least lets us peek into the thoughts of the cartoonist who draws XKCD. If you hold your mouse over his cartoons, you’ll discover that the cartoonist leaves behind an extra personal statement for every cartoon. (For example, “Now that the Apple Store is getting rid of DRM, Cory Doctorow will get rid of his Steve Jobs voodoo doll…”) So what was his message for his Kindle cartoon?

“I’m happy with my Kindle 2 so far, but if they cut off the free Wikipedia browsing, I plan to show up drunk on Jeff Bezos’s lawn and refuse to leave!”

Visit Amazon’s Page of Douglas Adams Kindle books.

Or check out the Kindle version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

LOLcats on the Kindle
Here’s something I never thought I’d see on the Kindle. The Lolcats!

Wait, wait, it gets better. You’ve probably already seen their crazy misspelled thoughts, spread across cat pictures capturing funny scenes and expressions. (The most famous one was a bright-eyed grey cat, smiling expectantly as he asks: “I can has cheezburger?”)* But in February of 2010, one webmaster took it to extremes, using the re-captioned cat pictures for a translation of a very unexpected book: the Bible.

“In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez an da Erfs n stuffs….”

The book’s description on Amazon explains that “from the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew to Latin and the King’s English, the Bible has been translated into over 2000 languages. ADD ONE MORE…” Yes, the whole bible has been re-written in cat-speak, so its first book isn’t called Genesis, it’s called “Ceiling Cat Maek Awl teh Stuffz.” And Amazon’s description of the book gives you a sample of the other inspirational wisdom that waits inside…


    GIV US DIS DAY OUR DALEE CHEEZBURGER.

    AND FURGIV US FOR MAKIN YU A COOKIE, BUT EATEDING IT.

    AND WE FURGIV WEN CATS STEEL OUR COOKIEZ.

In a comment on the ebook’s Amazon page, its author explains that thousands of people helped with the translation project as a collective effort. Martin Grodin saw himself as more of an editor for the project, and the painstaking editing for each misspelled cat-translation of the Bible stories “made me realize that it is, in fact, hilarious.” At times it’s like reading an insane version of Finnegan’s Wake, since you’re decoding the misspelled cat words using half-remembered biblical stories. And there’s more text than pictures — though sometimes its broken up by a long line of kitten paw prints.

There are pictures in the book, though I had to read all the way to Genesis 2:19 until I found the second one — a picture of two cats resting to indicate Eve’s arrival in the Garden of Eden. (“Oh hai! yu can has frend. She liek yu but missin sometings.”) The text is also available on a web site, but I thought they also did a nice job of formatting it for the Kindle. There’s 176 pages of craziness, and though the book costs $9.32, there’s still fun to be had even if you only order the book’s free sample.

Because even the book’s table of contents is still pretty funny.

Teh Plague ov Owchie-Blisturs
“Leev Egypt, Nao!”
Crossin’ teh Reed Sea
Jonah an teh Big Fishie
Wawter into Booze…
Happy Cat Walks on Wawter
Parable ov teh Niec Samaritan Dood
Teh Last Cheezburg Feest
Happy Cat rises from teh Deds
Awl Fings Brite an Purtyful

Yes, Jesus in the LOLcat bible becomes “Happy Cat”. And as an amusing bit of related trivia, Amazon’s Kindle store doesn’t seem to have any free editions of the real bible (without LOLcats). If you wanted to download a free bible to your Kindle, you could still get one from Project Gutenberg.

But then you wouldn’t get any funny pictures of cats!

UPDATE: It turns out there is now a free version of the (real) Bible available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

And Click here to order LOLcat Bible: In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez an da Erfs n stuffs

P.S. This book is not to be confused with “I CAN HAZ BYTECODE,” a “collection of funny and occasionally thought provoking tweets based on my work experience as a Super Senior Software Engineer at a Silicon Valley startup!”