Spam statistics

Got an interesting email from Project Honeypot this week. Project Honeypot works against spammers who harvest email addresses from websites, which is illegal in some countries. You can either install a honeypot on your site, or a link to someone else’s honeypot. Spammers who harvest the addresses on those honeypot pages get email addresses that go Project Honeypot, who collate the data and pass on information to law enforcement agencies to prosecute the spammers. This week, they got their one billionth piece of email spam. To celebrate, they’ve compiled a report about spam and the scum that send it.

Some fun facts from the report:

  • Monday is the busiest day of the week for email spam, Saturday is the quietest
  • 12:00 (GMT) is the busiest hour of the day for spam, 23:00 (GMT) is the quietest
  • Finland has some of the best computer security in the world, China some of the worst
  • Spammers take holidays too: spam volumes drop nearly 21% on Christmas Day and 32% on New Year’s Day
  • Every time your email address is harvested from a website, you can expect to receive more than 850 spam messages
  • It takes the average spammer two and a half weeks from when they first harvest your email address to when they send you your first spam message, but that’s twice as fast as they were five years ago

There was a spam trend in 2006-2007 to use combinations of dictionary words as the From name, like Unprovoked V. Washstands and Squirrelling H. Midmost. I kept a list of the best ones. Most of the spam I get these days is for fake drugs and fake watches. If someone invents a fake watch that can deliver fake drugs, it could halve my spam-load…

Comment spam has increased in the last couple of weeks, normally I get maybe one a week, now I’m getting one or two a day. Akismet is wonderful for keeping them unpublished.

Google Wave

Got my invite for Google Wave a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been playing with it a bit. Stable it is not. Bug free it is not. But fun? It could be. Useful? Maybe.

My first impression is that it is a bigger, better version of instant messaging. You can embed documents into a wave conversation. You have message history like email, but anyone can edit any of the messages in the wave, which could be bad. A tie-in with Google Docs would be great for shared editing of a document, but Wave doesn’t have that yet.

Moving a wave to the trash is flaky, as is the indicator that you have unread messages. Signing off, killing the browser window, and signing back on helps. Wave is a long way from the polish that Mail and Docs have.

It could be useful if you have a spread out team of people or a lack of suitable conference rooms and you want everyone’s opinion on a document or idea. You could write a round-robin story in a wave. You could arrange a group lunch, or have everyone watch The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody clip at the same time. Wave has definite applications, and drawbacks.

(I have a few invitations to give away, drop me a comment if you want one.)

Browser Wars

<RANT grump_factor="snark">

Got Internet Explorer 8 on my Windows box at work, and I do NOT like it. It put a folder of "Microsoft Websites" in my Favourites, and I couldn’t delete them from the browser, kept getting "this folder is in use" errors. Closed the browser, went into my profile, and deleted them from there, but then the Recycle Bin wouldn’t delete them, even though the browser was still closed. Then it did, sort of, but they kept coming back. You couldn’t see them but it said there were five things in the Bin that wouldn’t delete, even when it looked like the Bin was empty. One reboot later, the Recycle Bin came up properly empty and the zombie links were finally dead. So far, so annoying.

Absolutely hate the colour-linking of tabs. When you launch a tab from another tab, BOTH tabs are instantly painted bright blue. Or green, or purple, or whatever colour IE8 decides. I’m sure pink or plaid or paisley is in the list, waiting till you least expect it. It’s annoying and unnecessary, and I can’t turn it off. There’s nothing in the options to disable it, and you never know what colour will turn up next. It only goes away when you close one of the linked tabs.

Also hate how hard it’s pushing Windows Search. Inadvertently slip down the address bar and oops! Windows search wants to "improve" my history and favourites results.

Annoying browser.

I don’t WANT Windows search. The official Microsoft "fix" for this message is to download and enable Windows Search. And it’s everywhere. "Are you SURE you want to search there? Wouldn’t you rather search over here? Come on, just give it a try. We have candy, little girl, and it’s free, you know you’ll like it…" I’m not giving in. Give me Google and give me Wikipedia, but don’t shove Windows Search on me!

Accelerators are a new feature that doesn’t give me any value, it’s another shell extension taking up space in my context menu. The developer tools part is OK, but it’s nothing I couldn’t get from HomeSite, or DreamWeaver, or heck with it, Notepad, my HTML editor of choice (or TextWrangler on the Mac).

Thank goodness I have Firefox and Safari when I get home. Maybe I can get Google Chrome at work for compliance testing…


ETA 08/14/09

The coloured tabs thing has gone away, apparently that’s under Tab Groups in the tab options. But if you search for tab groups in the help, it doesn’t tell you anything about what they are, or what they do.

Updating the Three Laws

(I wanted my 1400th post to be on a geeky science subject, so here it is!)

How do you program regret, guilt, or remorse? How do you build a conscience? Read this article in Wired: Robo-Ethicists Want to Revamp Asimov’s 3 Laws

Two years ago, a military robot used in the South African army killed nine soldiers after a malfunction. Earlier this year, a Swedish factory was fined after a robot machine injured one of the workers (though part of the blame was assigned to the worker). Robots have been found guilty of other smaller offenses such as an incorrectly responding to a request. So how do you prevent problems like this from happening? Stop making psychopathic robots, say robot experts.

"If you build artificial intelligence but don’t think about its moral sense or create a conscious sense that feels regret for doing something wrong, then technically it is a psychopath," says Josh Hall, a scientist who wrote the book "Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of a Machine".

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, laid out in the short story Runaround are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The story Liar! introduced a subtler definition of harm, with a telepathic robot unable to tell people anything except what they wanted to hear, for fear of harming them. Later stories included a Zeroth law: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. The Zeroth law supercedes the First law, allowing a robot to sacrifice humans for the good of humanity, creating a horrible grey area where a robot could decide to turn humans into mindless sheep for the continuation of the species. The research paper linked in the article is an interesting read and part 5 deals with Asimov’s Three Laws.

The anonymity of bloggers

Blogging about work under a pseudonym is a more risky business today than it was last week. There was a British police detective who blogged anonymously under the name NightJack and received an Orwell Prize for it. A reporter for the Times newspaper decided to find out who was behind the blog. NightJack went to court to protect his identity, and the judge ruled against him. There is a Times article from the reporter that did the digging, Patrick Foster, and another from NightJack, now known as Detective Richard Horton. Personally, I’m surprised Horton is even speaking to the Times.

One of my favourite bloggers, Tom Reynolds (not his real name), works for the London Ambulance Service. He posted his opinion on the ruling, and also talked to the Guardian newspaper. Happily the London Ambulance Service is OK about Reynolds blogging. An article in the BBC includes reactions from other bloggers on the court ruling.

I’m not at risk from this kind of ruling, and I likely never will be, but the ruling about NightJack makes me uneasy for people in his position. He wasn’t even blogging when the Times reporter came looking for him. There’s almost nothing about my job on this site. I work for a privately owned company doing geek stuff, and we company produce custom arrangements of ones and zeros for clients. A couple of people from work know this site is here but the amount of knitting content probably keeps them away (comment if I’m wrong).

The closest offline analogue to anonymous work blogging would be putting up a letter on a community notice board in the middle of the night, where some of those letters start to get circulated among a wider audience. We don’t have laws yet that fully account for what the internet has evolved into. Until 1951, there was still a Witchcraft law on the books in Britain, dating back to 1735 (last conviction was in 1944). The 1763 act is still in force in Israel, they inherited a set of English laws via the British Mandate over Palestine. The ruling may be legally correct, but it feels morally and ethically wrong to me.

(Tom Reynolds is the author of two excellent books, Blood, Sweat, and Tea from 2006, and More blood, more sweat, and another cup of tea released last month. Both are well worth reading and both are available in PDF format for free. Please buy the dead tree versions if you like them.)

Architectural Lego

Wired: Frank Lloyd Wright Lego Sets

Brick by brick, Lego has been building its way out of the near bankruptcy it suffered around the turn of the century. It has done this by a seemingly simple strategy – making awesome product after awesome product. Now it is releasing the almost ridiculously fitting Architecture series, beginning with the Frank Lloyd Wright Collection, six planned sets including the Guggenheim in New York and Fallingwater, the iconic cantilevered waterfall-house outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Want! Found some old Bionicle sets while house cleaning last week. I used to spend hours with the bucket of Lego as a kid making houses and castles, and those were the regular blocks, none of these fancy shaped pieces. There’s a Lego store in Schaumberg IL in the mall near the IKEA store. It’s one of those confusing multi-level malls with a level 1, level 2, and a mid level, and none of it is clearly marked as to what level you’re on. I get lost inside it every time (the mall, not the Lego store).

UK Internet Censorship

(Link via Random Acts of Reality.)

Wired UK: The hidden censors of the internet.

Journey with us to a state where an unaccountable panel of censors vets 95 per cent of citizens’ domestic internet connections. The content coming into each home is checked against a mysterious blacklist by a group overseen by nobody, which keeps secret the list of censored URLs not just from citizens, but from internet service providers themselves. And until recently, few in that country even knew the body existed. Are we in China? Iran? Saudi Arabia? No – the United Kingdom, in 2009. This month, we ask: Who watches the Internet Watch Foundation?

The Internet Watch Foundation as described in this article is creepy. The fact the Home Office refused to talk to Wired about the IWF, and also refused their Freedom of Information Act requests is worrisome. The IWF is a charity, but it has 13 employees and no volunteers, and is based in a a Cambridgeshire housing estate. It gets money from the EU, from the UK Government, and from ISPs, who get an encrypted blacklist of URLs in return. They implement the whole list, or none at all. And the IWF decides what goes on the list.

The original remit of the IWF was to find images of child abuse. Wired questions whether a website blacklist is the right approach given that these images move off websites and onto peer to peer networks. The lack of oversight and accountability bothers me. I understand you need to keep the blacklist secure, or the perpetrators will just move the images, but should 13 people be solely responsible for censoring 95% of the net access for Britain? There is a Dutch version of the IWF, and their blacklist mistakenly included the URL for a haulage company. How would you go about getting that corrected when the list of URLs is encrypted, and when hardly anyone knows about the blacklist?

Censorship is a tricky issue. You want to protect minors, and images of child abuse are illegal. Those who upload the images should be held responsible for their actions. But is blanket censorship done without the public’s knowledge the way to go?

Happy Birthday Mac

BBC News: Apple’s first Macintosh turns 25

The Macintosh – the first Apple computer to bear the name – turns 25 on 24 January. The machine debuted in 1984 and kicked off a product line that were Apple’s flagship computers for many years. The Macintosh helped popularise the combination of graphical interface and mouse that is ubiquitous today. The machine was unveiled using a hugely expensive TV advert, directed by film maker Ridley Scott and shown during the US Superbowl on 22 January 1984.

We got our first MacBook Pro laptop in late 2005. Since then we’ve got a Mac Mini that’s acting as print and file server, upgraded the MacBook Pro, and got a MacBook for Hubby. We stood in line for the release of Leopard, MacOS 10.5, and have the t-shirts they were handing out that day.

The first computer I ever had was a Commodore VIC-20, some time after 1981. I think we got it through the classified ads in the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper. It connected to a small TV, and a tape drive, and you could slot a memory expansion pack into the back of it. It was replaced with an Acorn Electron with only a few games. I programmed a little on the Vic, more on the Electron. When I went to university there were X Terminals, Windows machines, and the Mac Lab. I couldn’t ever log on to a machine in the Mac lab and I preferred the XTerms.


BBC News: Don’t be 404, know the tech slang.

A study of new slang terms entering English finds that technology is driving and perpetuating them. For instance, "404" – the error message given when a browser cannot find a webpage – has come to mean "clueless". Slang lexicographer Jonathon Green says that some such terms and abbreviations come about because of the limited speed and space afforded by text messaging. However, an Australian study found that reading "textese" takes more time and results in more mistakes.

Interesting that the error cards on London Transport’s Oyster cards are making their way into slang. Some common HTTP error codes are:

  • 403 – Forbidden
  • 404 – Page Not Found
  • 418 – I’m A Teapot
  • 509 – Bandwidth Limit Exceeded

Error code 418 – I’m A Teapot is part of the HTCPCP/1.0 standard (Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol), described in RFC 2324 dated April 1st 1998.

Any attempt to brew coffee with a teapot should result in the error code "418 I’m a teapot". The resulting entity body MAY be short and stout.

(For other novel computing applications, checkout the Google PigeonRank system, released on April 1st 2002.)