September 2007 Archives

How uncurious about the world can you get?

Via Boing Boing, some random US TV host not only doesn't believe in evolution, but hasn't ever even thought about whether the world is flat or round. You've got to be pretty sheltered and uncurious for this to not ever have occured to you, or for such a basic fact never to have been presented to you, even in passing. As in, you've never seen a globe, or if you have, you haven't connected it with the goddamn planet you're standing on.

That's not why I'm posting. I'm posting because of comment 11 in the resulting comment thread, which is genius, made of win, awesomesauce, wins at teh internets etc.

has anyone ever walked out of the audience and just slapped one of these people and said "BAD! BAD PERSON! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!"

can you rub someones nose in an ideology?

The evil that is Pay Per Click

One of the most depressing forms of spam is penny stock spam. It's depressing because it clearly works. When you get spam for cheap software or cheap Viagra, you can be pretty sure that the stuff is stolen, or a racket of some kind. Penny stock spam is actually borderline legal: the fraudsters buy a whole bunch of stock in an unsuspecting, totally ordinary company, send out massive amounts of spam praising said company and urging people to invest in it, then sell their shares a few days later once the price of the stock has gone up because of all the unsuspecting saps buying shares in the company (at which point the share price collapses and the duped fools are out of pocket). Reports suggest that competent spammers can get a 6% return on their investment, which is not to be sniffed at, and more than pays for the botnet rental fees.

Similarly, there's good money to be made in buying domains and putting ads on them - because enough people will click on said ads, and enough of those will eventually buy something, that advertisers consider it worthwhile spending money on ads on web pages that people only go to by mistake. Or websites that used to be about something of interest, but have since lapsed and been bought by domain speculators.

Yesterday, I saw a news post about a guy who committed suicide by carefully and meticulously building his own guillotine (via Boing Boing, whose comments are increasingly worth reading since they hired Teresa Nielsen Hayden to moderate them). I immediately thought of

If you weren't on the Internet in 2000/2001 (I can't find an exact date for when the page first went up), this probably means nothing to you. At the time, though, it was one of the top novelty websites - and for good reason. Thankfully, the Internet Archive still has a copy of the site as it was, and if you Google for "Paul Morgan", "Freck" and similar keywords you'll find out more, but the capsule summary is: this guy had an accident involving being run over by a friend's boat on a trailer towed by a car that he managed to fall out of, ended up with horribly mangled feet, and while his insurance (this is America) would pay for basic surgery, they wouldn't pay for anything fancier, like hooking him up with special prosthetics that would let him run again (he was a huge basketball fan before the accident).

Now, if this had happened a couple of years before or after 2000/2001, all that probably would have happened would have been a few sympathetic stories on, respectively, Usenet or left-wing blogs. It being 2000 (or 2001), though, Freck hatched the following plan:

  • There's two things the insurance won't cover: 1) buying new prosthetics, and 2) paying for the surgery to fit them.
  • Except that they'll pay for the surgery if it's an emergency.
  • So if I can find a way of raising money for the prosthetics, and then fashion an emergency that requires them to be attached, I've gamed the system. Yay!
  • A guillotine sounds like a decent enough cause of emergency. I reckon I can build one of those.
  • Blood loss will be a problem, so I'll have a GP on site when I cut off my feet.
  • I still need to raise the money to buy the prosthetics, though. I know! I'll broadcast the event on the Internet!

This was a year or two after Victoria's Secret had advertised a massive webcast during the Superbowl (their servers promptly melted down under the load), and everyone thought streaming video was the future. (Youtube was a good 4 or 5 years away.) The site got a great deal of attention, mostly along the lines of "will anyone actually pay up money to watch something like this?" and "he does know that he'll die from blood loss almost immediately, yes?".

Freck had trouble raising money. He made an initial fund-raising attempt by selling off access to video of him building the guillotine, and some people bought in, but not enough for it to be worth it. The whole thing fizzled out, Internet afficionados found something else to be interested in (this was the days where you could be an Internet fan, not just someone bored at work), and the world forgot about guy. is now a pay-per-click site. The home page is a collection of links to mundane ('Personal Ads', 'Ringtones', 'Cell Phone', 'Online Game'), sexual ('Wet Panties', 'Nudes', 'Teen Spanking', 'Free Dating Service', 'Women', 'Hot Lingerie', 'Plumpers', 'Fist', 'Big League Facials', 'Black Dating') and vaguely appropriate sites ('Amputation', 'Guillotine', 'Paul Freck'). Except that all of the links go to similar PPC sites, or piss-poor encyclopedia or reference sites. was a daft idea, one that could have been tragic if people had been ghoulish enough to sign up for the depeditation Internet broadcast. It deserves to be remembered, its website either unavailable or pointing to a simple memorial page. Instead, it's been hijacked by borderline scammers out to make a quick buck.

Conan! What Is Best In life?

Warren Ellis has taken to using this headline for all his recent blog posts about extreme body-modding (NSFW, don't click, etc. etc.). For instance:

“Putting hooks through your taint and then pulling a car with it!” “Manually rerouting my urethra!” “Ramming a steel rod through my scrotum and pierced penis, making it look kind of like a dead, impaled baby alien.” “Securing forty large safety pins in the flesh of my arse.”

He categorises these posts as "research material", so apparently it's OK.

And all of these are better than his previous "Don't Look" post - Unless, I suppose, you are very hungry. Ouch.

This week in spam: fake bug reports

I've been cleaning out my spam folder, and I've spotted a new trend: spam emails that pretend to be bug reports.

They all look like this:

Exquisite Replica Watches

All the top Brands...

Visit our online Shop!

www.J Random Tasting

The domains are random gibberish domains, presumably registered and then dropped as part of a domain tasting scam; all appear to be registered through a Chinese domain name registrar.

That's vaguely interesting, but not the reason why I posted this.

Here's the reason: the subject headings, which are supposedly designed to make you think that they're real bug reports, are embarassingly bad. They're of the form "Bug #number subject", and the subjects are things like this: SAVE, DOT MATRIX PRINTER, PORTABLE COMPUTER, DELETE A FILE, ACTIVE MATRIX SCREEN, WYSIWYG, CONTROL KEY (CTRL), HYPERTEXT, RECOVER, APM, ARTICLE, ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE, ERROR MESSAGE, ROOT DIRECTORY etc. etc. (Yes, they're all in all-caps.) Of the 57 I've received, there are exactly four that look as if they could have been sent within the last 10 years ("WEBCRAWLER", "SECURITY (ONLINE)", "ONLINE" and "PHOTO CD"), compared to seven stunningly out of date terms ("DOT MATRIX PRINTER", "PENTIUM", "WINDOWS NT", "PLOTTER", "ARCHIE", "DIP SWITCHES", "VL_BUS OR VESA BUS") and a whole bunch more of generic terms. All in all, it looks like the spammers just took an old, obsolete list of computer terms and plugged them into their botnet.

Surely nobody in their right mind would click on one of these links? (Although that won't necessarily stop spam - while the people behind this series of spams are probably chumps, that doesn't mean the people running the botnets aren't raking it in.)

Still, there is a perverse pleasure in seeing that something genuinely useful that I use at work all the time - Internet-based bug report trackers - is now popular enough that it's become a large enough target for spammers.