The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

On the Internet, no one knows you aren't a Wall Street analyst

“People who trade stocks, trade based on what they feel will move and they can trade for profit. Nobody makes investment decisions based on reading financial filings. Whether a company is making millions or losing millions, it has no impact on the price of the stock. Whether it is analysts, brokers, advisors, Internet traders, or the companies, everybody is manipulating the market. If it wasn't for everybody manipulating the market, there wouldn't be a stock market at all.…”

Via TechDirt, Jonathan Lebed: Stock Manipulator, S.E.C. Nemesis—and 15

If you read the article, it's not exactly clear what Jonathan Lebed did that wasn't any different than anyone on Wall Street would do, other than not being a part of Wall Street (and maybe being a 15 year old kid—that's kind of hard on the ego to be sure). Jonathan also states that the stock market isn't really based on anything rational (like that's anything new—my Dad considers the stock market a form of legalized gambling for instance) and he was able to buy quite low, hype then sell high and make nearly $800,000 in about six months or so (during the Internet Bubble).

I occasionally get spam hyping some penny stock, something like:

From: Tom Schser <me6cafeet@mail.pf>
To: (bogus addresses)
Subject: OTC Stock Play
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2003 12:40:45 -0700

OTC Stock Alert's Last Two Picks:
CPLY from $.08 to $.53 in 12 days fro a GAIN OF OVER 500%!!!
YPNT from $.22 to $1.25 in 18 days for a GAIN OF OVER 400%!!!

HERE IS OUR NEXT EXPLOSIVE STOCK PICK:
C.E.C. Industries Corp. (OTC: CECC)
BUY AT $.19
SELL TARGET $.85 = DIAMOND PLAY!

URGENT HOT NEWS: CECC Secures $20,000,000 Equity Financing for the Completion of Revenue Producing and Profitable Acquisition Targets.

And so on. And if you check the history of CECC you'll definitely see the spike around June/July 2003, although it never did get anywhere close to 85¢ a share; it looks like it peaked around 45¢ a share. But Tom there probably never expected it to reach 85¢ a share—he probably dumped it once he doubled his money.

Even funnier, one money later, I got the exact same spam (only this time, from a Dave Schasrger—se1nsei@free.efes.net.tr), only this time, the buy price was 25¢ and if you check the history, it went up, but not like the first time. Possibly someone saw the past history, bought into it, and dumped it before Dave could.

Pure speculation on my part.

Now, it might be interesting to see how the next one of these plays out.

Friday, October 03, 2003

From the Land of Shake-n-Bake™

From: Dad <XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>
To: Sean Conner <sean@conman.org>
Subject: A STREET BUM WITH CLASS?
Date: Fri, 3 Oct 2003 14:03:53 EDT

Driving in Rancho Mirage [California] I stopped at a light where a street person had the following sign dispayed:

RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR

NEED CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

REPLACE THE BUM WHOSE IN
WITH THIS ONE.

Now that's class. Only in California …


Photo Friday

[Photo Friday: Interior (of the state of Florida)]

Interior

Saturday, October 04, 2003

The Night of UFOs

Friday night was the first night I tested my new digital camera with night shots. After the weekly D&D game I set up the camera and tripod in Bob's (the GM driveway and took some pictures of the homes across the street. Little did I know that the camera was able to catch something streaking across the sky.

After the game, I headed over to Mark's house to hang out. We watched Kung Pow: Enter the Fist even though I went over there not in a movie watching mood; it was more amusing than I expected it to be.

We then moved outside to talk a bit when Mark pointed out this bright light just above the horizon. It was cycling between red, white and blue. Mark at first thought it was a plane, but it wasn't moving, and planes don't cycle their lights like that—white in front, red on one side, green on the other (no blue). Mark then suggested it might be a star shining through some atmospheric turbulence but the shifting colors were a puzzling factor. I grabbed the camera and started taking pictures.

It then disappeared.

Mys-teeer-ious!

It then came back, in the same place. I then scanned the skies and found yet another point of light cycling through red, white and blue. We then looked carefully at Orion, and though less active, the stars in that constellation were twinkling and shifting color too.

We both then figured it was a very turbulent upper atmospheric conditions causing the light to cycle like that. What star it was we were viewing but it was south east of Orion.

And I'm pleasently surprised at the sensitivity of my new camera.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

So, where are the hard core Linux user groups?

Mark called me up asking if I wanted to head over to the local Linux users group. A chance to get out of the house?

It's been a few years since I last went, and in that time I had forgotten exactly why I normally don't attend these meetings. So, heck yea, let's go!

The directions we had lead us south and west, deep into Broward County to Nova Southeastern University which surprised us by being located in a strip mall.

It's not everyday you find a university in a strip mall.

We walked in, found a group of men standing around chugging Coke and Code Red; we knew we found the right location. After milling about for several minutes we filed into a large room; PCs lining the long tables running across the room. Mark and I each staked out a computer (running Windows, of course).

Then the presentation.

It was during the presentation that I remembered why I no longer go to these things. The presentation was more basic than I would have liked and the whole meeting was more geared towards more novice users of Linux. For me, there isn't much of an insentive to drive the distance to attend a basic class in using Linux for <insert topic du jour.>

Friday, October 10, 2003

An ad-hoc war driving session

The weekly D&D game was cancelled, yet again (something about a baseball game or something … ), so I was without plans tonight. Gregory found himself free, along with Mark and Kelly and it was suggested (by Gregory) that we could do that war driving thang (since Gregory had yet to do a real war drive). I met Gregory and Mark at Gregory's office (I think that's Mark waving at me) and from there, we drove to a local BBQ place for dinner where we scared the waitress and no one ordered anything to do with BBQ.

[Gregory and his laptop] [Mark and his laptop]

After dinner, we met with Kelly, setup the car for power, and started out. Our plan was to drive from Mark's house in north Boca Raton, head west and south, drive though Margate and Coral Springs. On the way south, we stopped at Kelly's house to pick up a much needed cable and by the time we hit his home, some twelve miles away, we had already picked up nearly 60 networks!

[Mark wiring Lake Lumina for power] [Screen shot about a mile from Mark's house] [Gregory scanning just outside Kelly's house] [Me in the driver's seat] [Mark, looking over what we've found so far at Kelly's house]

After picking up the missing cable, we then proceeded through Coconut Creek, Margate, Coral Springs, Tamarac and North Lauderdale. By the time we circled back and stopped for gas in Margate, we had found over 200 networks—an order of magnitude more than the last time we war drived.

[Gregory's laptop and cell phone connection to the Internet] [Various GPS receivers] [Mark, Kelly, Gregory] [My laptop, used by Mark] [Kelly checking the Internet while we fill up the car]

By the time we finished for the night, my computer had logged 244 wireless networks, of which only 36% of which had WEP enabled. It's incredible to think of the growth of wireless networks in just eight months.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Because …

I was hanging out with some friends today when I mentioned the war driving I did on Friday. One friend, Russel, then asked, “Why? What's the purpose of war driving?” Curious, coming from someone in The Industry.

Then I began thinking—what was the purpose? It's not like we've been hired as a tiger team or where bent upon wanton destruction of Internet resources. I think it came down to something that I (and the rest of the war driving team) found fun; because we could; a kind of “this is cool!

Besides, we learned something on Friday's war drive: CVS Pharmacy stores have open wireless networks, which we all found interesting. Other stores too, like Dollar Store. Not that we can legally use the information, but it's still an interesting result we weren't expecting.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Oh … it's THAT day …

I went to call Larry , my car insurance salesman (and friend from high school) today and ran into that particular Hell known as “Voice Mail Tag” where you get bumped from voice mailbox to voice mailbox as no one picks up the phone. Odd and annoying at the same time. Odd, because I wouldn't think everybody would be on the phone at once. Annoying should be self evident.

I decided to try back later and went to check up on my friends at LiveJournal when I stumble across the reason: Columbus Day!

Yea! Columbus Day!

Yea! For not remembering a two-bit holiday!

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

“Scare quotes” gone “wild!”

I received a rather odd “gift” from my “bank”—a “movie guide.” I'm not sure “how” or “why” I “rated” this “gift” but I have it. And as “movie guides” go it's not that bad—the films are all “critically acclaimed” or “blockbusters” so it's a fairly decent guide to films. But the “listings” are “rather annoying” in that “scare quote” style. For instance, for Duck Soup:

Duck Soup [Black/White]
1933. Directed by Leo McCarey. With the Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont. 70 minutes. Not Rated.

“Hail, hail Freedonia” cry fans of the “anarchic” Marx foursome, whose trademark “lunancy” is at its “peak” in this “political sature” about a “mythical dictatorship”; “absurdly funny”—it includes the “legendary mirror scene with Groucho and Harpo”–it's the brothers' “finest hour” and voted top of the Marxes in this Survey.

See?

Or how about The Princess Bride:

PRINCESS BRIDE, THE
1987. Directed by Rob Reiner. With Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright. 98 minutes. Rated PG.

Despite the “chick-flick title”, this “lighthearted” but “fractured fairy tale” defies “categorization” and is admired by “even the most macho” guys for its “swordfights” and “verbal jousting”; thanks to an “intelligent” William Goldman script, “masterful” direction by Reiner and an “incredibly talented” cast, “finding a better movie is inconceivable”—“plus it's got André the Giant.”

I'm surprised the “printers” didn't run “out of quotes” when printing this “movie guide.”

Most “amusing.”

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Bush Administration attempting to out-satirize satire

Washington—Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush—living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge—told his top officials to “stop the leaks” to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he “didn't want to see any stories” quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

Via vidicon, Bush orders officials to stop the leaks

Just when I was beginning to dispair that things are only going to get worse, life starts to imitate The Onion and I just have to sit back and enjoy the show. With open antagonism between Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, Rove being outed, and now leaks from unnamed top administration officials, it looks to me that the Bush Administration is slowly disintegrating before our eyes.

Not that that's a bad thing.

But the Onion staff have to be pulling their hair out as real life is out-satirizing satire.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Voices over the Internet

While I don't think I'm at liberty to say who got this (but for convenience sake, let's call this person X), or through what program (since X mentioned having to sign a confidentiality agreement) but what X got was very nice indeed.

When I arrived at X's house, X was busy trying to get the home network back up and functioning. X had just received a D-Link VoIP station and was in the process of getting it integrated within the network.

About two hours of mucking around later (since we had to integrate this with the existing DSL unit (which we had to switch from PPPoE to bridge mode) and the WAP (and set the D-Link VoIP to do PPPoE even though R was told that wasn't necessary, because the D-Link unit had to have the public IP address to function).

Once everything was set up we both tested the capability of the system (no limit to the dialing destination—I could have called Timbuktu if I wanted). Except for a slight hiss I noticed (and that may have been the answering machines I ended up calling) there was no difference between this and a regular land line. Also, the number of features available with the service (call waiting, forwarding the calls to a voice mailbox, eight-way conference calling, and a bunch more I didn't get to see) is staggering. If this takes off this might make it worth getting rid of the actual land line (since from what I'm to understand, the service is/will be flat rate and not horribly expensive either).

Monday, October 20, 2003

“That's not exactly a small dog there … ”

I dropped off The Kids to after school care and returned to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere. I asked Spring if she had called the rental office about the washing machine (it stopped spinning) and the A/C (it keeps freezing over). No, she had not had the time this morning, so I took it upon myself to do that, since Spring was heading off to bed.

Not having the phone number, I walked over to the office to get it. Now, you may be asking yourself why, if I was already walking over there to begin with, that I just don't tell them. Well, last time I did that, it took my going over there three times and about three weeks for them to fix the latch on the gate. My assumption after that fiasco is that those that phone in have a higher priority than those that actually make the trek to the office, which isn't all that far to tell the truth—just across the street from the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

So I get to the office and ask for the phone number. The agent working the desk give me the number and asks if I need any more help. I initially said no, but after a bit of prompting she gets me to state my reasoning for the trip.

“Oh,” the agent said, “we can take care of that right now.” She pulls out a pre-printed form and starts asking me questions. At this point, I figure I have nothing to loose, and besides, the last time I did this, the agent at the time (who was a different person) just wrote a note instead of filling out an “official” form. I mention the two problems with the washer (in addition to not spinning, a venting hose was never properly attatched) and the problem with the A/C. The rental office takes A/C problems very seriously, given that this is Lower Sheol and all, and starts to call a maintenance personel to investigate.

It's then that a woman walks into the office and looks at me. “Do you have a small dog?” she asks.

“Yes,” I said. Great! I thought. Holly, the Incontinent Dog got out again! This would make the second time this week she got out. “So where is she?” I ask.

“The dog is outside,” said the woman. I go outside and look to where the woman is pointing. About twenty feet away is this huge, black, lumbering mass of dog—the type of dog that is 120 pounds of muscle and teeth. The type of dog you hope to never be on the wrong end of. The type of dog that could hardly be called “small” unless you are the type of person that breed 150 pounds of muscle and teeth for junk yard guard duty or pit fighting, not that this woman looked the type to breed such dogs.

“That's not exactly a small dog there,” I said.

“No, not that one,” said the woman. “The other one.”

“Holly?” I called out. “Holly?” And sure enough, out she pops from behind a bush near the huge, black, lumbering mass of dog, jumping up and down in extasy at the thought of being near this huge, black lumbering mass of DOG and would you could you would you please sniff my butt I'll be your bestest friend in the whole wide world please please?

I walk over and pick up Holly. That's when I notice one of the maintenance personel sitting in a golf cart not ten feet away from all this. The agent goes over to him and instructs him to check out my washing machine and A/C.

That was certainly surprising, getting such a fast turn around time.

The washing machine was taken care of pretty quickly—nothing major there. The A/C, on the other hand, requires a bit more work another day. Fortunately, the weather has turned nice and thus having a wonky A/C isn't fatal.


Practice dog anyone?

Any one want a practice dog? Real small, doesn't take much space. Real friendly and she isn't that incontinent (no, really! I exagerate for comic effect!). So friendly that she pees in excitement when she sees humans? (um … okay, that is so not making the case … um)

Did I mention friendly?

And really needs lots of love and attention.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?


We're secretly using Babelfish

To: <webmaster@conman.org>
From: <translate@www-topsites.com>
Subject: RE: updated translations of conman.org into 8 languages [although I never responded or sent them email in the first place]
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2003 03:36:29 -0400

Could you please check our updated translations of conman.org into eight languages, if you don't mind, at: http://www-topsites.com/update.htm?d=conman.org&v=1010&e=w&p=t

Do they look OK? If so, there's no need to reply. Simply paste the following code onto your web pages. This will make your web site readable by the 90% of the world who can't read English (for only $5 a month).

<script src="http://www-topsites.com/t.js"> </script>

Thanks,

John

As unsolicited email goes, it could be worse (“Increase your mortgate by 3″ with all natural ingredients!!!!!!!!”) and I am curious as to the translations they've supposedly done.

So I check.

And yes, there on the page is Conman Laboratories in eight different languages (and I must say I do like the look of the Japanese, Chinese and Korean versions). But not everything is translated: ragtag, bug-free and what I can only assume are misspelled English words that didn't get translated. This to me screams “machine generated” translations—come on, if Google can fix my spelling, and even I can handle misspellings it can't be all that hard to handle.

Scrolling to the bottom of the page are some rather interesting notes:

Five bucks a month? That, I can see for a site that changes quite often, or adds content on a continual basis, but for a mostly static site? Not really.

I was also curious as to the HTML being generated since I am rather sensitive to these issues, and that's when I found out how TopSites is doing their translation. Right at the top of the page, I found the following comment:

<!-- BabelFish added base tag -->

Nowhere on TopSites' site did I see mention a partnership with Altavista's Babelfish. Not one. And given the garbage HTML being generated:

<html> <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">     

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN"
        "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd">

<html lang="en-US">
<!-- BabelFish added base tag -->
<base href="http://boston.conman.org/">
<script LANGUAGE="JavaScript">
<!--
 var babelOrigUrl="http://boston.conman.org/";  if  ((null ==
parent) || (null == parent.BabelFishAdd) || ('TF' !=
parent.BabelFishAdd.babelTF)) { var i = new Image(); i.src =
'http://babel.altavista.com/aftu' }
//--></SCRIPT>

<head>
  <title>The Boston Diaries - Captain Napalm
</title>

I'm not sure I would even use them, Babelfish or not. They didn't even bother to translate the title (although I'm not sure if this is a limitation of the pseudo-software TopSites is using, or of Babelfish itself).

So much for strict HTML 4.01 compliance. They didn't even bother to set the language code in the <HTML> tag like I did. Sheesh!

Think I'll pass …

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A bit more on that translation service

My friend Lorie, who is wise in the ways of translations as she speaks French, Spanish, and Italian (a bit) in addition to English, responded to my translation spam I received:

I just read your entry about Babel Fish Translations.

5 bucks a month for 8 languages would have been my first clue that they weren't legit. At my current job, interpreters garner about 30-40 bucks an hour … 2 hour minimum.

Overseas, depending on where you go those costs can increase to 300-400 bucks (case in point, we needed someone for Poland and in that's what our Singapore office quoted us).

For Translation services … the average cost is about .59 a word …

Oh … by the by …

The French and Spanish versions aren't so hot. They look “Angla-cized.”

Well, you can get nearly every page translated for free at Babelfish (although there is a limit to the size of the page) and once a page is translated (for a static site like Conman Laboratories you don't really need a monthly update (well, some pages yes, but overall the site doesn't change all that much).

Plus, Apache can be configured to automatically serve up the appropriage pages based on langauge in a user's browser (as part of the content negotiation process in HTTP); there is no real need to offer links to other languages, except perhaps as a curtesy for broken or misconfigured browsers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

It's too nice a day to remain indoors so I'm enjoying the mid-70s cloudless day sitting out in the courtyard dispite it being a complete disaster area (thanks Kids!).


Peacock feathers

And my central point is that I think this same theory, of self-sacrificial display, applies also to education, which is a similarly weird and arbitrary process, and which constantly enrages us all by being so very different from what would seem sensible and economical. What I'm saying is, to repeat the title I've chosen for this posting: education as peacock feathers. I think this explains a hell of a lot.

It explains, for instance, why education goes on for so insanely long, and for longer and longer as more and more people can afford to do it for longer and longer. People who two hundred years ago would have been half-way through their working careers are now still engaging in economically ruinous—yet also economically rational if you look at the incentives facing the individuals concerned—competitive display behaviours, which are of no direct creative benefit to anyone or anything. What the hell is going on? Peacock feathers. That's what's going on. Is literary post-modernism arbitrary and absurd? Latin verse composition? Total immersion in obsolete computer languages? Archaeology? Keynesian economics? … Peacock feathers.

Education as peacock feathers

The idea is interesting (and as he states, “… the interestingness of an idea is inversely proportional to the fluency with which it is expressed …”) but I'm not sure of what to make of it really. I think the general idea is that the more people are educated, the longer and more expensive it will become because in evolutionary terms, the more expensive and silly a “survival trait” becomes, the more fit for reproduction you obviously are.

Or something to that affect.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Localization through Internationalization (or l10n via i18n)

I just now cleaned up the last bit of code that required me to maintain multiple copies of mod_blog, depending upon the user. The problem revolved around the month of December and how I feel about it.

Last year around this time I added the following to mod_blog:

if (day.tm_mon == 11)
{
  char dayname[BUFSIZ];

  strftime(dayname,BUFSIZ,"%A",&day);
  fprintf(
           fpout,
           "%s, Debtember %02d, %d",
           dayname,
           day.tm_mday,
           day.tm_year + 1900
         );
  return;
}

If you look closely, you'll notice that I render a date like “Wednesday, December 04, 2002” as “Wednesday, Debtember 04, 2002” as a personal protest to the extreme messages of mass consumerism consumption we are bombarded with during that month.

Although the other user (Hi, Mark!) didn't like that feature, so it was a simple matter of making that code conditional and I did it at compile time, not run time (as a matter of personal preference on my part) but in retrospect, it would have been easier to make it a runtime option, but one that I was relunctant to do since it was so specific.

But over the year it meant I had to compile the program twice—once for me, once for Mark (there was another aspect that was different between my version and Mark's that was amplified when Gregory decided to use mod_blog but that aspect as since been fixed) which gets to be a pain. And yet I still resisted making this a runtime decision.

I could have made this a general feature, the ability to specify alternative names for months, but then why stop there? Why not the days of the week? But what galls me is that adding such features mean I have to forego using strftime() to format the dates (well, not that there aren't problems with the routines in time.h already) and duplicate pretty much what I'm already using.

It was today when I figured out a solution. It may not be the best solution but it does mean I can rip out the above code, meaning I only have to compile once, and I can still use strftime() to format the date, and I can have Debtember, and Mark (and Gregory) can have December.

Locales.

Like I said, it may not be the best of solutions, but it does work.

ANSI-C has the concept of a “locale” which specifies such details of output as the currency symbol, decimal point, number group separators as well as the names of the weekdays and months. Usually this defaults to the C or POSIX locale (which is another word for US hegemony on the computing world) but it can be changed with setlocale()—all that remains is to figure out how to create a new locale for my own use.

There isn't much information about doing this, but I was able to munge my way through. Under Linux (at least Gentoo and RedHat from what I can tell), it meant creating a file under /usr/share/i18n/locales (I created one called en_SPC for ENglish, SPC variant with “Debtember”) and then doing localedef -i en_SPC en_SPC to actually add it to the system.

So I did have to add an option to the configuration file, but now it specifies the locale to use, which, generally speaking, is a better hack than what I had before.

Friday, October 24, 2003

When you care enough to fall back

Spring handed me my mail. There was a rather large envelope for me from my real estate agent, the one who helped to sell Condo Conner. I open it up and pull out the card inside. It was a greeting card helpfully reminding me to turn back the clocks on the 26th.

I am, at the same time, both touched and perplexed by the gesture. I mean, I've never received a card for Daylight Savings Time (I never gate the thought of a card for Daylight Savings Time before) but I do thank her for the thought.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

When super glue fails …

In setting my alarm clock back an hour, the hour button broke off and fell inside the clock, leaving me with a now horribly out of time and basically useless alarm clock. Frankly, having the hour button break was rather surprising as I don't use that nearly as often as say, the minute button, or the actual alarm button. For the past decade at least (and I suspect I've had the clock longer than that) I've basically reset the alarm daily (or even several times per day—I'm not the type of person to set the clock once and leave it be) and I use the snooze button.

I've used the snooze button so often I not only know the intersnooze time (nine minutes) but that after three hours (or twenty applications of the snooze button) the alarm clock just gives up and stops sounding the alarm (and I'm not sure what exactly that says about me, or the alarm clock).

So yes, having the hour button break was a bit alarming (pardon the pun).

Opening the clock (one screw, very nice) and gaining access to the top of the clock (where the buttons are, one screw and some rather stiff plastic tabs, not quite so nice) I was able to see that the buttons are actually at the end of a thin plastic arm that provide the “spring” to the buttons. Found the super glue and was able to re-attach the button although it seemed quite iffy.

And it was. Once I got the clock back together, the button promply fell back inside the clock. So the super glue was not going to cut it. Looking around the Computer Room I found Spring's roll of duct tape.

Ahh, duct tape. Like the Force, it has a light side, a dark side and it binds the universe together, or in this case, to keep the hour button from falling inside the case. Cut off a small strip, apply it across the button (thus securing the tape to the button and the case itself) and now I have a functioning hour button again.

Monday, October 27, 2003

The Economics of Spam Part II

Until late last year, Shiels was an e-mail spammer. The type demonized in every nook of American society. A prodigious Internet marketer, who from his Portland home sent up to 10 million unsolicited e-mail advertisements a day for other companies.

He said he made as much as $1,000 a week—and could have raked in a lot more if he hadn't quit the business in October, six months after he started. The path to spamming success requires expensive investments in software and the agility to adjust to the technological warfare between spammers and companies that try to block their messages. It also requires the stamina to withstand daily hate mail and even death threats.

Shiels decided a spamming career wasn't worth the personal cost.

Via Disenchanted, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER SPAMMER

Very interesting article. When last I spoke about the economics of spamming, I was assuming a response rate of 1 per 70,000 and even there, it showed that yea, you could make money at that rate. The article above talks about a response rate of 1 per 10,000—much higher response rate and gives more numbers than Paul Graham did in his article.

We're talking 10,000,000 emails per day (sent out in 18 hours) with four computers and two broadband connections; 150 emails per second (and contrary to what I wrote it would only take a month to send 250,000,000 emails via broadband, not the four months via T3s I had worked out erroneously). And the software to do this isn't cheap:

He spent about $10,000 on software to harvest e-mail addresses, to disguise his online identity and to send millions of messages a day.

Shiels would not reveal the companies that make the proprietary software, and he said they are difficult to track down. They only accepted payments through wire transfers, Shiels said.

“I could tell you the name right now, and you wouldn't be able to find them,” he said.

CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER SPAMMER

But's it's sophisticated software—programs to harvest addresses from websites, programs to scan for open relays and programs to send the actual email via those open relays. But Shiels was able to make $1,000 per week doing this so there is money to be made, which means this problem isn't goint to go away any time soon.


Academic dishonestly amongst spammers?

I'm seeing more and more spam that comes in multiple parts. The first part contains plain text and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the product being pitched:

From: "Lajuan Aldona" <mendeljdvinl@mx48.opt9f.us>
To: "Sean Conner" <sean@conman.org>
Subject: Sean, Phenomenal Fl 4.72% rates - Now is the time
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2003 18:41:02 -0700
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
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The option of Napster paying royalties to artists whose songs are downloaded would be a positive move because it would mean that artists receive fair compensation for their work.

However, on the other hand, to support the enormous cost of such a move, Napster would either have to turn into a paid subscription service, or show advertising (which wouldn't necessarily cover the costs). Added to this, the cost of modifying the application, and working out a way to determine what songs have been downloaded, the administration costs for Napster would skyrocket.

And so on. Then comes the actual pitch, always in HTML:

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<p> <font size="2" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"> <strong> Mortgage Rate Network </strong> <br> <hr> <br> <strong> Dear Sean Conner, </strong> </font> <font size="2" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"> <br> TURN LOW INTEREST RATES INTO LOW HOUSE PAYMENTS </font> <font size="6" face="Webdings"> H </font> <font size="2" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"> <br> <hr> </font> <br> <font size="2" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"> If you haven't considered refinancing your home loan, you may be missing out on the best opportunity in years to save money. <br>

And so on; I'll spare you the horrible HTML used in the message.

Now, my guess is that the first section of text is there to bypass any Bayesian filters by bulking out the message with some real text. I've been seeing that more and more recently so either Bayesian filtering is getting quite effective, or the spammers think Bayesian filtering is getting quite effective, but in any case, messages like this are on the rise.

But the text used to bulk out the message is obviously copied in from somewhere. It then hit me, such bulking out appears to fall outside the scope of “fair use” since the spammer isn't writing an academic paper, critique, review or satire, and the purpose is purely commercial in nature (even if the commercial use isn't in the selling or reselling of the text in question but to get by filters to get the actual commercial message through) that such spammers are therefore liable for copyright infringement (in addition to possible anti-spamming laws that may be in place).

Curious as to where this text came from, I did a search on a fragment, and if I thought spammers using cut-n-paste to get by Bayesian filters was surprising, what I found was even more so! 4 Free Essays? Cheat House? Academic papers for sale? No wonder companies like Turn It In exist (and spiders my site constantly). I honestly don't know what's worse, spammers, or sites selling academic papers to spammers.

Man, what am I doing in this basket, and why is it so hot?

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A nefarious scheme to sell more detergent

I've been cleaning the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, preparing for The Kids' father arrival on Wednesday night (he's on shore leave from the Middle East for the next two weeks and he's taking the kids with him! Woo hoo!). Kitchen, entry hallway, downstairs bathroom yesturday, cleaning and vacuuming the dining room, living room and computer room today. And laundry in between. It was doing the laundry that I noticed an odd thing. The last box of detergent claimed enough detergent to do 40 loads of laundry (not that I counted) and the new box, same brand, same size, claimed only 33 loads.

As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two is the inclusion of Color Safe Bleech™ in the new box. Could that really account for a difference of -7 loads? Especially since the plastic scoops in both are the same size?

Or is this some nefarious marketing scheme to sell more detergent?


More academic dishonesty in spamming circles

I don't think all spammers are using copyright material to avoid Bayesian filtering. I received some today that are using public domain material—one using a section from Jack London's White Fang (and funnily enough, trying to get me to refinance Condo Conner, which I sold last year!—okay, okay, I lived there for 14 years but still, you'd think they could update their information) and another one using a section from Rudyard Kipling's Rikki-tikki-tavi (which is yet another one trying to get me to refinance Condo Conner).

But then I get another one, this time quoting from an essay about Bill Gates, so there is still hope of getting DMCA on their ass …

Obligatory Picture

[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site: http://boston.conman.org/, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

http://boston.conman.org/2000/08/01

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

It is assumed that every brand name, slogan, corporate name, symbol, design element, et cetera mentioned in these pages is a protected and/or trademarked entity, the sole property of its owner(s), and acknowledgement of this status is implied.

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