31 December 2008

Detect plagiarism and debunk hoaxes in seconds

The people at Google are very smart. It is one competitor that Microsoft has not been able to swallow up with the one thing they do best—and the only thing they are good at—marketing. And they have Microsoft very worried.

There is a lot more than meets the eye to the Google search box, and sometimes it is indespensible.

Detecting plagiarism

Suppose you had doubts about the originality of the following passage:

This year Marcian and Valentinian assumed the empire, and reigned seven winters. In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Wurtgern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed in Britain in a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; first of all to support the Britons, but they afterwards fought against them. The king directed them to fight against the Picts; and they did so; and obtained the victory wheresoever they came. They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land. They then sent them greater support. Then came the men from three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the men of Kent, the Wightwarians (that is, the tribe that now dwelleth in the Isle of Wight), and that kindred in Wessex that men yet call the kindred of the Jutes. From the Old Saxons came the people of Essex and Sussex and Wessex. From Anglia, which has ever since remained waste between the Jutes and the Saxons, came the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, and all of those north of the Humber. Their leaders were two brothers, Hengest and Horsa; who were the sons of Wihtgils; Wihtgils was the son of Witta, Witta of Wecta, Wecta of Woden. From this Woden arose all our royal kindred, and that of the Southumbrians also.

Copy and paste the text into a text editor to remove all the line breaks. In Notepad++, this can be done using the Join lines command under the Edit menu.

Now copy the line of text and paste it into the Google search box.

Clicking on Google Search reveals that the original source of this passage is the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. It appears on page 21 of the edition published by Kessinger Publishing, as shown in Google Book Search.

Debunking Hoaxes

If you receive a mass-forwarded message about some health hazard, missing person, superstition or petition, it is likely to be a hoax or inaccurate. It doesn't matter how unremarkable or believable the claim is, hoax messages are created for one reason only: to propagate. Anything worthwhile announcing to the general community is not delivered by e-mail; it is delivered via the mass media through television, newspapers, radio, websites and so on.

Here is one hoax warning that has been circulated around inboxes since February 2004:

Imagine: You walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into REVERSE. Habit! You look into the rear-view window to back out of your parking space and you notice a piece of paper, some sort of advertisement stuck to your rear window. So, you shift into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your vehicle to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view . . . when you reach the back of your car, that is when the car-jackers jump out of nowhere . . . jump into your car and take off — your engine was running, your purse is in the car, and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.


Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later ... and be thankful that you read this email and that you forwarded it to your friends.

If you search the Internet for this passage using the method above, you will find that this hoax has been documented on numerous sites, such as Sophos.

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