Archive for August, 2007

Loving the language of spam

I’ve always been fascinated by the evolution of spam. I think this is because of an interest in language and communication through text. Spam represents an attempt to inveigle, to persuade using the written word. To do this it not only has to con-vince, it also has to get past the filters that are designed to sift it out before it gets to unsuspecting recipients.

This leads to a kind of sophisticated tightrope walking, between getting the message through (the filters), and getting the message across (to the readers).

A lot of this is to do with the gulf between what the human brain can recognise/make sense of, and what the human brain can program computers to recognise/make sense of. This gulf in embodied sense making ability, and codifiable sense making ability is where the spammers live. As that gulf slowly narrows it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

The technique I find most interesting at the moment is the use of images to deliver the message (e.g. an ad for viagra), and some pseudo intelligible text to fool the filters. I have no idea how they generate this text, but it is intriguing to read:

“Men lived in families, tribes, and races, at feud super with one another, command frowning yawn plundering, outraging, and killing. All the evil seems to exist through farm some cause independent of school sweep the funny conscience of men. Those men brain scary who accept a slip new truth when it enjoy has gained a certain degree of acceptance, always pass over

The antagonism between amuse life and the bring conscience may be removed cushion in two ways: by do a change of life or by It cannot be. uptight orange What is the mow use of the clergy, who don’t believe picture in what they preach? love Those who do evil through ignorance of the stretch truth quit provoke sympathy with their crash victims and repugnance”

Did you know you are on a biofuel bus?

I’ve been getting the bus the last couple of weeks as I’m waiting for new glasses so I can drive again. One of the things I noticed was that some of the buses in Christchurch have small biofuel notices on them, and there’s one with a full paint job promoting biofuels.

I had a look on the Environment Canterbury web site, and sure enough, they’re running a trial. It’s only a 5% blend, but it may increase to 20%, and it’s only on a few buses, but it’s a start.

Getting on the bus last night, there was a woman with a clipboard asking each passenger “do you know you’re on a biofuel bus?”. It made me wonder about the purpose of asking the question. Was it to see how many people were aware of the pilot? Was it to inform people of the fact that biofuels were being used? It’s one of those problems in social research. You can’t ask the question without changing the knowledge of those you are asking. I could almost see the more astute of the passengers thinking “well, yes, because you’re asking me that question, and the question implies that I am about to get on a biofuel bus”.

But, whatever the rationale behind their questioning methods, I think it’s a fantastic initiative and I’m going to get the bus more often, even when I do get my glasses.

Environment 2.0 … The World is Us/ing Us

A lot of the work I’ve done recently is in the Environment sector, on whole of sector data, information and knowledge issues. One of the fascinating things that’s starting to happen is national and international federation of biodiversity data. I really like the intro video on http://www.eol.org/home.html and the promise this sort of thing has for better managing the world we live in.

It’s stylistically quite reminiscent of the original Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us video reated by Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. So it’s also interesting to see these kinds of communication methods being quickly adopted and repurposed into different contexts.

For me these are all examples of the emergence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere. The thinking mind of the living breathing earth.

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.
Muhammad Ali