The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Memes

Thanks to the iPhone, 'app fever' is spreading

Apple's iPhone, an app trendsetter. Credit: Associated Press

A sickness that first infected the elitist tech sector is exploding into the mainstream. Cellphones have certainly contributed largely to disseminating the illness, but it seems that just about every technology is catching the bug.

App fever is spreading.

We can trace the origins back to an Apple orchard in Cupertino, Calif. The iPhone's wildly popular App Store distributed more than a billion applications -- software built by third-party developers that can do myriad things including accessing Facebook and playing radio stations, but we're sure you already knew that -- in its first year.

Thanks to the popularity of the Apple Inc. phone and its software marketplace, everyone wants a piece of the apption -- sorry, action.

As I put our review unit of the T-Mobile MyTouch cellphone, which runs Google's Android mobile operating system, through its paces (review coming later), the interface places its "thousands of downloadable applications" at the forefront.

Meanwhile, a co-worker nearby scours his BlackBerry to try to find Research in Motion Ltd.'s App World store. Another proudly flicks through pages of apps on his iPhone.

Verizon Communications Inc. has been selling software through its phones for four to five years via its Get It Now service, said Ed Ruth, a business development representative for Verizon Wireless who works with developers. But that digital store doesn't have the word "app" in its name.

So, the company is preparing to launch a Verizon App Store, which is geared toward the growing smart phone market. The mobile marketplace will unlock ...

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Twitpocalypse? Nah.

Grabbed from

Are we in for a massive Twitpocalypse that will destroy the fabric of our fragile 140-character universe?  Not likely, says the guy who originated the semi-hoax.

Martin Dufort, CEO of Canadian application developer Wherecloud, says he put up the fear-mongering page as "a viral marketing move."  The page tongue-in-cheekily predicts that when the absolute number of Tweets hits 2,147,483,647 (the highest number a 32-bit signed integer variable can store), Twitter applications using the faulty variable type will be "very likely to malfunction or crash."

But actually Dufort started the page, mostly as a joke, after he found the weakness in his own software.  He had no idea it would blow up into a case of Web hysteria.

When pressed for details about how widespread he thought the cataclysm would be, Dufort admitted, "We have no clue which other third-party apps are going to be affected." He noted that his company's own Twitter iPhone application -- or, more specifically, the bug in one third-party code library (MGTwitterEngine) that his application employed -- had been fixed months ago. 

Dufort said his Twitpocalypse page, as well as the Wherecloud homepage, were seeing a heavy traffic spike. "The secondary hits are very good for us; in some sense, it's kind of a viral marketing move on our side."

He added that he found it very doubtful that many apps would be affected, particularly because the Twitter API development community has known about the problem for a while and has had plenty of time to make the small changes necessary to avoid the problem. 

"Twitter will definitely be up tomorrow," Dufort said.

-- David Sarno

Social Status: The guy who spread Keyboard Cat fever

Play him off, Keyboard Cat. Credit: Brad O'Farrell

On its own, the Keyboard Cat video might elicit a smile and a chuckle. But when the adorable feline pounding its paws on a musical keyboard is preceded by an awkward, pain-inducing video of someone falling down an escalator or screaming at his parents, you have the latest Internet meme.

Charlie Schmidt filmed the original Keyboard Cat two decades ago -- when keyboards pervaded practically every facet of pop music, he told CNN. Schmidt posted the video to YouTube almost two years ago, where it has since been viewed 325,000 times -- moderate in popularity by YouTube standards.

It wasn't until Brad O'Farrell, a 22-year-old from New York City, grafted an abbreviated version of the cat video onto the end of a distressing clip of a person in a wheelchair tumbling down an escalator that the meme really began to catch on.

The meme got its start in February, when O'Farrell saw the potential in Keyboard Cat, and asked Schmidt for permission to use the clip. O'Farrell did a quick mashup and slapped ads on his video, called "Play him off, keyboard cat." It has made about $500 -- his highest-grossing video, he said in an instant message. The majority of that has been racked up only in the last few weeks. Not bad for a 44-second clip.

Since then, Keyboard Cat has been mashed up more than 200 times, and received an endorsement from Ashton Kutcher, which was broadcast to more than 1 million people via Twitter. In each of these videos, ...

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Swine flu conversation mutates to new level of absurdity

Ignore for a moment the question of whether swine flu is a fearsome plague or a mild annoyance, and let's move on to a more pressing matter: What should it be called?  Scientists are carrying on a heated discussion about whether it's correct to name the H1N1 virus after pigs, given that it also has genetic material from bird and human viruses too. Accuracy first.

Meanwhile, thanks to the reported suggestion of a World Health Organization spokeswoman -- who encouraged the public to come up with a better name for the sickness, Twitter users are trying to solve the problem in their own way. Led by actor Rainn Wilson, the online peanut gallery is engaged in a boisterous game of "Name that Flu" (#namethatflu). The object is not to find the most precise name, but the most ridiculous.

Here are a few examples:

- Hamthrax
- Aporkalypse
- Hypefluenza
- Sowmonella
- Global Hamdemic
- Epigdemic
- "
I was thinking Jonothan [sic], or maybe Greg. If it's a girl, then Erin or Amelia."
- Hamageddon
Baconsumption (obs.)

Mass hysteria has become ... hysterical.

Corrected: Thanks to readers for pointing out that virus's genetic material is made of RNA rather than DNA, and that National Public Radio originated the name game.

-- David Sarno

Why the Internet loves bacon*

A sizzling skillet with bacon. Credit: robotsari via Flickr

There is a topic that has been wrapping itself around the Web's collective consciousness for some time. And within the last year or so, this meme has become so potent that it can no longer be ignored.

The sizzling phenomenon? Bacon.

If the innumerable blog posts about the salt-cured meat are to be believed, bacon can be added to just about any food, used in place of cotton and leather, and is enshrined on restroom blow-dryers around the country.

What can bacon do? Apparently, it can serve as a lampshade, an iPhone carrying case, a watch, an alarm clock or the building blocks for a creepy-looking "bacon man" shrine. Are people actually carrying around bacon briefcases? Let's hope not.

A meme -- the flavor of the week that propagates quickly through e-mail and chatter on social networks -- can come in many forms: a feline that speaks with poor grammar (Lolcats), a goofy '80s pop singer (RickRoll) or a chubby kid bopping to a Romanian dance song (Numa Numa).

Bacon is as popular as any. Even as I was writing this piece, I was interrupted by a Twitter update containing a link to a photo of a bacon bra.

Yet, no matter how many new bacon products spring up, it seems as though a new one is always a day away -- waiting to delight StumbleUpon users, provide a chuckle for Diggers and appear in dozens of Twitter feeds.

Not that Twitter needs any more fodder for bacon chatter. A common complaint about the short-blogging service is that it's just an avenue for people to tell the world what they're having for lunch. Unsurprisingly, you'll find ...

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Suicide girls get sizzling bacon 'bro' tattoos at SXSW

Talk about bringing home the bacon. At Saturday night's Bigg Digg party at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, I ran across two young ladies from the tech world who were sporting brand-new, hot-off-the-grill bacon tattoos. 

Lynn LaVallee, a.k.a. @poshy, and her friend Jessica Zollman, a.k.a. @jayzombie, in town for the South by Southwest music and media conference, consummated their roommate-ship early. The two San Francisco-based women, both Suicide Girls (that's the Web's "enlightened" erotic-photo site), are moving in together next month, and they both love bacon.  Hence the decision to get their "bro tatts." Bacon is, of course, one of the Web's silliest memes (see this short explainer video).

  Suicide Girl Lynn LaVallee's bacon tattoo

LaVallee, 28 and a Web engineer at Outspark, got a piece of cooked, greasy bacon on her bicep (above), whereas Zollman, an intern at Spin Magazine, went more raw with a piece of uncooked bacon on her upper rib area (below). 

"We found out we both loved bacon the first time we ever met," said Zollman. The tattoos, which they got together on Friday, are "kind of like a roommate bonding thing."

Suicide Girl Jessica Zollman's bacon tattoo

"It's kind of like I didn’t want cooked, crispy bacon," Zollman, 23, explained. "I wanted delicious, marble, meaty richness." This was her "ninth or 10th" tattoo, she said. I wondered why she chose such a sensitive area for this bit of meat art? 

"I've always wanted to do my rib to see how it feels," she said. "And to know whether or not I could handle it, because ribs in the tattoo world is supposed to be the most painful area. It was really rough, but I'm really glad that I did it."

Besides, she said: "Raw meat, sexuality, food -- I think they all go hand in hand."

As a bonus, LaVallee showed me another techtoo she got two weeks ago.

Suicide Girl Lynn LaVallee's Web engineer tattoo

"I'm a Web engineer," she explained, "so the tattoo represents the proper separation layers of a Web document. The first file is the structural layer -- which is the house. The second is the presentational layer -- CSS -- and the third is the behavioral layer, which is JavaScript." 

So many layers!

Body art by Jack, photos and intrepid reporting by ...

-- David Sarno collects 'That's what she said' jokes from Twitter

That's what she said
Matthew Kaufman's No. 6 top-rated tweet on

Fans of "The Office," NBC's hit TV show, will tell you that one of the funniest recurring jokes is the line "That's what she said." Characters use the phrase (usually incorrectly, in the case of boss Michael Scott) to point out double entendres.

"That's what she said" has spun off a life of its own, creeping its way into conversations -- online and off. tracks the utterances on Twitter, as well as the original tweets that triggered the responses.

The result is an ongoing stream of hilariously inadvertent innuendos. Some of the recent gems include "Starting out kind of small ... but you have to start somewhere." (That's what she said.) And "That was an amazing night." (That's what she said.)

Visitors to the website can rate individual messages, and the most popular entries are ranked. The top five include "I've got your stimulus package right here" and "Well, that was a surprise I wasn't expecting."

For a good laugh, take a look around the site. It doesn't take long, and it's quite enjoyable. (That's what she said.)

-- Mark Milian [follow]

Rolcats: Russian Lolcats with fake translations

What do you get when you mix a Lolcat with Soviet-era quips? A Rolcat.

Lolcats is that old Internet chestnut in which people put witty, broken-English captions on photos of cats. involves an Eastern Bloc twist: Russian is layered on top of the photo, followed by a funny translation.

The real Russian translation suggests that the cat can't sleep.

The meme has spread quickly around the usual blog and social media haunts within the last week. It spurred some confused onlookers to wonder aloud in the Rolcats blog comments whether these were authentic translations.

Though Rolcats does indeed take its unusual photos from a Russian-language copy-Lolcat,, the English translations are the creative work of the blog's mysterious author, who goes by the name Demitri.

One photo, pictured at right, shows a chubby white kitty clawing and gnawing on a rope fence. The fake translation reads, "Drat, thwarted so close to freedom's sweet caress…  I dreamed for but a taste of the decadent west, and now my eulogy is sung by guard dogs and alarm bells."

The actual Russian translation of the Kotomatrix subtext is, to put it lightly, less humorous. "What can be done about this insomnia? The advice is ...

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