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December 2007
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February 2008

Valleywag's Nicholas Carlson and Owen Thomas

In an earlier post I noted Valleywag's disgraceful reporting on Google and Yahoo!  I demonstrated an overt bias at Valleywag.  One thing I did not note was that Owen Thomas, Valleywag's editor-in-chief, has supposedly chastised Nicholas Carlson for two bumbling errors made in the past nine (yes, just nine) days. 


Carlson's inclusion of Yahoo Japan, a separately traded company in which Yahoo owns a minority stake, was ridiculous. I've removed it from the poll.


Carlson has been duly flogged for missing the traffic-acquisition costs.

How many basic factual errors will Carlson be able to make before Owen Thomas does something about him?

Perhaps Valleywag should implement some basic quality control.  Nicholas Carlson should simply not be allowed to post about Yahoo! or Google until someone (other than Thomas, whom I noted has his own bias issues) actually fact-checks his posts.

I doubt that will actually happen.  But if Valleywag wants to be taken seriously, it needs to find some way to prevent such basic factual errors from occurring.

Valleywag's Pro-Google Bias Leads to Embarassing "Reporting"

This is getting embarrassing.

Valleywag is a technology blog that boasts a daily readership, as measured by SiteMeter, of nearly 65,000.  Regular readers of Valleywag have noticed something over the past year or so: The pro-Google/anti-Yahoo! bias has become ridiculous.

The bias is so palpable that I have often wondered if Valleywag's writers and editors are undisclosed shareholders in Google.  After all, there has to be an explanation other than, "Professional bloggers are Google fan boys who can't do remedial research before posting about Google or Yahoo!."

In any event, Valleywag's bias is not hard to demonstrate.  However, here are a few egregious reporting errors.  Keep in mind that these errors occurred in just over one week's time.

Today Nicholas Carlson live-blogged Google's earnings call.  In typical cheerleader fashion, here is what he wrote:

Apple can have its missing iPhones. Let Yahoo worry about a softening economy. Google just reported its business grew 51 percent in the last year.

Woo-hoo!  Right?  Wrong.  While Google's revenues increased, it's numbers missed analyst's expectations.  In after hours-trading, the stock had fallen by as much as 50 points. (As of 6:40 PM EST, Google's shares are down 39.64 in after-hours trading.)  Yet Mr. Carlson did not report (or even seem to know) the Street's response to Google's earnings call.

Today, in another post, Mr. Carlson, when "analyzing" Google's earnings call (much in the same way a parent analyzes their perfect child), he forgot to mention that Google missed both net revenues as well as EPS targets.  Fortunately a commenter pointed this out, noting:

Nice analysis, quality.  They actually missed both net revenue as well as EPS targets -- good reporting.

Granted, you can't expect a tech blogger to understand hyper-technical subjects like EPS targets, so let's let that one pass.  But Mr. Carlson made another very embarrassing error when reporting about Yahoo! 

He created a survey asking: "Who's got to go at Yahoo?"  The point of the survey was to poll readers about what properties Yahoo! should eliminate. 

Included in the original poll was Yahoo! Japan.  There's one huge problem: Yahoo! owns a stake in Yahoo! Japan, but Yahoo! Japan is part of Yahoo! in name only.  In other words, Yahoo! Japan, unlike Yahoo! Mail, is not something Yahoo! can just eliminate at will.  Fortunately Vallyewag allows comments, or else that error would have gone uncorrected.

Thus, in the past two weeks, Nicolas Carlson has been a cheer leader for Google, failing to note that the stock had been hammered after Google failed to meet expectations, he made a technical mistake when reporting about Google's underlying financial data, and he did not understand Yahoo!'s relationship to Yahoo! Japan. 

But it gets better.  Owen Thomas is the editor-in-chief of Valleywag.   He, too, is a Google cheer leader.  In a post about Yahoo!'s supposed plans to discontinue a shuttle service, he wrote:

Google's shuttle buses, which ferry workers directly from San Francisco to the inconveniently sited Googleplex, inspired a copycat offering at Yahoo. But like so many areas where Yahoo has tried to copy Google, the effort has proved expensive and unrewarding.

What exactly has Yahoo! tried to copy from Google?  Nothing immediately comes to mind, though I think of several of Yahoo!'s properties Google has tried to copy.  For example:

So what are these "so many" areas that has Yahoo! tried copying from Google, with "expensive and unrewarding" results?  There must be several, though only one or two areas come to mind.

While it's the case that Google did a much better job with search than Yahoo!, Google Answers failed, Gmail is not even close to closing in on Yahoo! Mail, and Google Finance has largely been a flop.

But when you have a pro-Google/anti-Yahoo! bias, you make these sorts of mistakes.  These four mistakes, incidentally, represent just over one week's worth of reporting.

I wonder how many mistakes Valleywag will make by year's end?

Unclaimed Property

I just learned that I had between $10 and $100 held by a state I used to live in.  (I never closed out my college checking account.  The bank was required to hand the money over to the state.  So now it's all mine.)

As it turns out, many states seems to have searchable database of unclaimed property available online.  All of the states I checked (Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Connecticut, and California) had them.  To find out if you have money stashed somewhere, go to Google and type in (omitting quotation marks) "[insert state] unclaimed property."  It's "unclaimed property" that seems to be the key search phrase to use.

Happy hunting.

Is Dangling a Noose a Threat?

A man in Louisiana has been charged with a hate crime under 18 U.S.C. 245 based on the following conduct:

A white man accused of driving past a group of black civil rights activists with two nooses dangling from the back of his pickup truck has been indicted on federal hate-crime and conspiracy charges, federal prosecutors said Jan. 24.

The issue, of course, is this: Is dangling a noose a threat of force?  KipEsquire doesn't think so

I think, as a matter of reasonableness (not to mention the First Amendment), driving past a rally with two nooses on your truck simply does not rise to the level of using "force or threat of force." More is needed.

If there had been a more proximate display (e.g., brandishing weapons or shouting unambiguous threats), then perhaps the incident could rise to prosecutable "force or threat of force."

I tend to disagree.  A noose is indeed a weapon - much like a knife or gun.  In fact, nooses have been used for over a century to murder African Americans.  If the defendant had pointed a gun at the protesters, there wouldn't even be room for debate.  If the defendant had said, "I am going to kill you n-----s," again, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

A noose is a powerful symbol, and it not just a symbol of speech.  Nooses have been indeed used to to murder, and likely will be used to murder.  When the defendant hung two nooses from a truck, he was saying much more than "I don't approve of civil rights."

That said, I think reasonable minds can differ on the issue.  Some would say a noose is just a symbol of hate - much like a swastika, burning cross, or Confederate flag.  I would counter that no one has been hanged from a flag, so those analogies don't quite fit.  A noose, unlike a flag or burning cross, is indeed a tool that can - and has been - used to kill.  Hence, a noose is more than just a symbol of speech.

What do you all think?

Smart Books, Dumb Books

This list is scientifically meaningless, but generally interesting.  I do know that I haven't met many imbeciles who have read Atlas Shrugged, Catch-22, or Lolita.  Most of my favorites did not make the list, since I read almost exclusively non-fiction.  (The only exception is fiction that raises existential questions, like The Road).

Freakonomics was breezy reading - not much more challenging than reading US Weekly.  I suppose the answer is that only smart people would be predisposed to reading the book.  It's not finishing the book that correlated with intelligence - it's wanting to read the book in the first place.

Also, C.S. Lewis's books "score" poorly, though his work is interesting, insightful, and much more challenging reading than Freakonomics.  Then again, I think we're back to predisposition: Are smart people predisposed to read C.S. Lewis?  For the most part (unfortunately), no.

Government Covers-Up UFO Sighting

Around 40 people spotted a UFO in Stephenville, Texas.  They also spotted what appeared to be two fighter jets chasing the UFO.

The government's first response was: "We didn't have any planes in the area.  People are imagining things."  After realizing the story wouldn't go away, the government changed its tune: "We did have planes in the area."

I don't know whether aliens have visited this planet.  I do know that I do not trust the government's word on the matter.  How can anyone believe what the government tells them about UFOs when the government lies and changes its story to fit the facts?