Jan 24

We do stuff

After perusing all of the pages at the Huh? corporate website, I still don’t have a clue what they actually do. But I’m convinced of one thing that I know I can never prove: Dogbert is behind this. His pawprints are all over it.

Dec 30

Google reads my mind

Google is beta testing a new search feature called Google Suggest that tries to anticipate what you want before you finish asking for it. As you type characters in the search field, Google displays a list of the most popular searches that match. I was listening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Tertiary Phase) this morning, so I decided to start typing the name of that show’s creator and see how quickly Google Search could figure out what I was after. By the time I had typed “dou”, I was looking at a list of suggestions that included “Douglas Adams.” Pretty impressive!

Nov 30

The dawn of spam

I have a Road Runner e-mail account that I have given up using for anything important, because it’s inundated by spam. This is partly my fault; I posted some messages to Usenet newsgroups from that account some years ago, and those messages are preserved for posterity in Google Groups, where spammers harvest my address from the headers and use it to send me junk mail. But even though I no longer use that address, I still have to log on to the account periodically to delete the spam. I was doing that today when I spotted a message with a subject line that sent a chill up my spine:

From: Imigration Services
Sent: Tuesday, November 30, 2004 2:38 am
To: jgiven
Subject: Green Card Lottery!
Live and Work in the U.S.A.
Official Program Conducted by the U.S. Government.
Please Register online to participate in the Green Card Lottery

To anyone who was reading Usenet in 1994, “Green Card Lottery” is a phrase that will live in infamy. It was the subject of the first commercial Usenet spam that, in the words of Wikipedia, “fired the starting gun for the legions of spammers that now infest the Internet.” That incident spawned the industry that now fills up my Road Runner mailbox with dozens of worthless sales pitches every day. And now a latter-day spammer has decided to revive the original spam scheme, this time by e-mail.
It gets worse. The Wikipedia article cited in the previous paragraph includes a link to the original Green Card Lottery post, which is also preserved in the Google Groups archive. I followed the link, and was astonished to see (in the Sponsored Links area on the right side of the page) advertisements for three Web sites that are promoting “Green Card lottery” registrations today. Aaarrgghh!!! I had thought that the Green Card Spam incident was a thing of the past. But it never ended. It’s still around, and probably won’t ever go away.

Sep 30

Dead letters

Want to guarantee that you’ll get the last word on any subject? Then sign up for The Last Email, a service that enables you to compose e-mail messages that will be sent only when you die.
I worry that spammers will take advantage of this, and we won’t even be able to stop the unwanted e-mail by killing them. Hey, that’s a good idea for a horror movie: Spam From Beyond the Grave.

Jan 14

More names

The silly names stopped for a while, but I got two more this morning: Untroubled L. Desired and Residential K. Shuteye. A few days ago, I also received one that wasn’t generated by the same program, because it had no middle initial at all. But it was still funny: Urban Gosling.
UPDATE: The latest is Goiania H. Categorize. I didn’t recognize Goiania, so I looked it up. “A city of south-central Brazil southwest of Brasília. It is a shipping and processing center in an agricultural and cattle-raising region. Population: 920,840.” Well, that’s something I didn’t know when I woke up this morning. So now my spam is not only entertaining, but educational as well.

Jan 07

Fun with spam

In the last few days, I’ve started receiving some spam e-mails that I actually don’t mind very much, because they make me laugh. Most spam messages have ordinary-sounding names in the “From:” field, probably taken from some big-city phone book. But this latest crop of spam is using a different method. The program that sends the messages is generating very silly sender names by randomly picking two words from a dictionary and inserting a middle initial between them. As a result, yesterday I received spam e-mails from Modules H. Zip, Avenue H. Scrimshaws, and Lithographer H. Draftsman.
Noticing that all three names have the same middle initial, I concluded that the name generator always uses H. But I was wrong. Today I got another of these messages, and it was from Downplay G. Brokerage. Maybe it uses a different middle initial every day? I can’t be sure without more samples. Hopefully I’ll receive some more tomorrow. Good grief! I never thought the day would come when I would actually look forward to receiving more spam.
UPDATE: Another one arrived while I was writing this post! It’s from Subcontinent V. Marquises. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to drink anything when I read that name — I would be wiping the beverage off my screen right now.

Jun 25

Makes AdSense to me

Google AdSense is an advertising service that allows Web publishers to sell ad space on their Web sites. What’s interesting about it is that AdSense scans the content of your site and then guesses what sort of advertising is most relevant. And thanks to Google Weblog, you can find out what ads AdSense would place on your site — just enter your URL and click the Go button.
Of course I couldn’t resist trying this. I punched in the URL for this blog, and then reloaded the page several times to get a representative sample of the ads that AdSense thinks belong here. It came up with the following:

  • Star Trek stuff — books, games, items for sale on eBay, and Star Trek: The Experience.
  • Star Wars DVDs.
  • Dungeons & Dragons books and other D20 role-playing game products.
  • Movie posters.

Star Trek, Star Wars, eBay, D&D, and movies. That’s so accurate it’s scary. Perhaps AdSense bypasses your Web site and just reads your mind!

Feb 20

Bleats and Backfences

If you only read James Lileks’s daily online column, The Bleat, you’re missing out on the equally good Backfence column he writes for the Minneapolis – St. Paul Star-Tribune. The Backfence has been particularly interesting in recent days. In Tuesday’s column, Lileks explained what all that duct tape was really for. (It’s at the end of the column, but don’t scroll down; read the whole thing!) Today’s Backfence has an even better punchline, but I won’t spoil it. Instead, here’s my favorite bit from Tuesday’s column: “War does bring people together. So do corn dogs. Ergo corn dogs = war. Ergo we will all need Security Council approval to attend the next State Fair. I’ve just proved it logically.”
If Dave Barry can win a Pulitzer for distinguished commentary, Lileks ought to have a mantelpiece full of them.