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Web site ultimate source of trivia

Troy-- Science teacher taught himself how to create his award-winning page of "useless'' information

MIKE FRICANO
Staff writer

Stephen Silverman teaches physics, earth science and computers in his day job, but the real fun begins when he gets online.

For this Chatham High School teacher the World Wide Web has truly made the world a smaller place.

Silverman, 35, is the designer and author of his own award-winning Web site, Useless Information Homepage (http://www.home.nycap.rr.com/useless). Contrary to the site's name, the information is not really useless, just obscure. "I was teaching myself this stuff and I needed a title,'' Silverman said of the name choice.

The site contains rarely heard true tales from anywhere, he said. He gets his obscure information from reading history books, old newspapers and occasionally from tips.

From stories about the Brannock Device, the tool used by shoe retailers to measure a person's shoe size, to an instance in 1980 in Louisiana when Lake Peigneur emptied like the water draining down a bathtub after Texaco accidentally drilled a hole into a salt mine, this site contains something for everyone.

At the outset, the site contained stories Silverman had read and then rewritten, but the stories found there now are researched in the library with multiple documented sources, he said.

His favorite story is about Michael Malloy, someone most people have never heard of, but who led a life "stranger than fiction,'' according to Silverman. During prohibition in the '20s a group of seven guys called the "murder trust'' tried to kill Malloy for insurance money.

They tried to force Malloy, who was a drunk, to drink himself to death, to poison him, to throw water on him after he had passed out in the snow so he would freeze to death and even hit him with a car. Ultimately the "murder trust'' was successful. But four members ended up getting the electric chair, one was shot and two others were sent to prison.

"It's kind of nice to know that you are the only person in the world with this on their site,'' Silverman said proudly. "I really haven't come across a site like this anywhere on the Internet.''

Silverman began work on the Web site about five years ago, at a time when most people had not even heard of the World Wide Web.

"Most people did not even know e-mail,'' he said, "and I'm teaching myself Web programming.''

His self-teaching appears to have been successful. His site has won numerous awards including Yahoo's site of the week, been mentioned in USA Today and even by the BBC. After the Yahoo! mention his site doubled in popularity.

He estimated that he's gotten about 13,000 hits over the first three years, but since then has received about 5,000 per month.

Silverman, who lives at the Riverview Apartments on Delaware Avenue, said he spends four to five days per month maintaining the site and does about one or two stories a month.

He designed the site using Netscape Composer, Paint Shop Plus and some basic html -- the programming language of the World Wide Web. He did all of this despite his lack of artistic ability.

"I could hardly draw a box if I tried,'' Silverman said.

First published on Wednesday, August 12, 1998