Two thoughts on spam.

Others have noticed this, but it’s starting to crop up on my weblog too: Seemingly vacuous, empty, or merely off-topic comments that appear to have no purpose — until you notice the URL of the commenter. For instance, today I noticed a new comment on this blog that said nothing but “I really agree with that last comment.” Checked the URL, and sure enough, it pointed to a site claiming to offer “free DVDs.” Sheesh.

I deleted it — as I’ve deleted similarly vacuous, veiled advertisements. It’s my site and I don’t care to have it carry surreptititous ads like this. Plus, as Scot Hacker points out, these people are trying to game Google by, in effect, forcing other sites to link to them — thus raising their own PageRank rating within Google, and causing their sites to rise higher in lists of search results.

Right now, it’s a minor annoyance. But I wonder what will happen when advertisers figure out how to automate this? I suspect that unless someone develops effective countermeasures, by this time next year I’ll be sifting through dozens, if not hundreds, of spam-comments every day, just as I now wade through spam in my email inbox.

Thought #2

It’s well-known that spammers harvest email addresses from the Web, adding these addresses to their gigantic mailing lists.

Has anyone tried spamming back, by flooding the web with bogus email addresses? It would be easy enough to do. With a few lines of code you could easily generate a bunch of fake addresses, like lucky124067@randomdomainname.org. Better still, make it a mailto with a “contact me” link. Add this code to any dynamic page, such as the PHP-generated pages used by many bloggers, and you could automatically add one, two, or a dozen fake addresses to every web page. Over time, the spambots would pick up these addresses, filling the spammers’ databases with garbage.

It wouldn’t do anything to cut down on spam, but it would cut into the efficacy of spam campaigns. And it would be damn satisfying.

ADDENDUM: Scot’s blog, again, points me in the right direction — a utility called WPoison that is aimed as clogging up spambots. The difference appears to be that WPoison generates dedicated anti-spam pages… I’m thinking about just sprinkling bogus addresses throughout the Web. Now wouldn’t that be fun?

Two thoughts on spam.

New sight.

Halley the blogger has new vision thanks to cataract surgery she had this week: Doctors removed the lens from her eye and replaced it with a new, plastic one, like an internal contact lens. She describes how rich and intense the colors are after this surgery, like an illuminated manuscript.

Karen had a similar procedure earlier this year and said the colors were incredibly vivid, saturated, Technicolor, the way things look in the movie Babe: Pig in the City. She also said everything was more 3-D, like looking through a View-Master.

Thanks, Halley, for posting such a beautiful description. You’re going to have a great time looking at things now!

New sight.

BlackBerry reveals bank secrets.

A man bought a used BlackBerry from a former Morgan Stanley vice president and discovered that it still contains the VP’s email messages, revealing a treasure trove of confidential information, according to this Wired News story by Kim Zetter.

In addition to personal e-mails that reveal the VP’s own Charles Schwab IRA account numbers, the name and phone number of his mother and the amounts he paid for his monthly mortgage, car and Visa bills, the e-mails discuss confidential information about loan terms for Morgan Stanley clients, debt-restructuring strategies for specific companies, preliminary talks for potential merger deals and even some creative ways of interpreting contracts.

You might say the VP was foolish for failing to wipe the BlackBerry’s memory clean before selling it (as many PC owners fail to do with their computers’ hard drives), but it turns out it’s not immediately obvious how to do this. And the company can only zap these devices’ memory if the company is using Microsoft Exchange as its email server; Morgan Stanley uses Lotus Domino. Oops.

BlackBerry reveals bank secrets.

Living dead.

Mercury News reporter Matt Marshall looks at what happened to ten telecom and networking companies that each received more than $150 million of investment during the bubble years of 1999-2001. These companies include such household names as Zhone Technologies, Yipes Enterprise Services, and Calient Networks. Now, Marshall writes, these three companies are the living dead — they have enough capital to survive (and indeed, enough that the investors are not going to let them go gracefully out of business), but they lack viable long-term business models.

Marshall’s piece reveals a fact that’s often overlooked by critics of the “dot bomb.” That is, telecom and networking startups blew through far more money that dot com startups ever did — probably by an order of magnitude. For every Webvan and Pets.com, there are a dozen like Colo.com (bankrupt, May 2001) and Centerpoint Technologies (bankrupt, Dec. 2002). When I asked executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas about this earlier this year, they told me that ten times as many people lost jobs in the telecom sector as had been laid off in the Internet/dot com sector. In other words, the years 2001-2002 were the telebomb, not dot-bomb.

In light of that, VC investment in telecoms is way down: $834 million in the Bay Area in the first half of this year, compared with $4.31 billion during the same period in 2000.

Still, telecom and networking startups are one of the biggest sectors of VC investment — together with software, another sector often disparaged as defunct and passe. Take a look at the Merc’s detailed rundown showing which Silicon Valley companies got VC investment during Q2 2003, and you’ll see that these two sectors far outnumber consumer, hardware, semiconductor, and services investments. (The Merc’s Jack Davis and Glenda Queensbury, together with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Venture Economics and the National Venture Capital Association, do this analysis of VC investments every quarter. It represents a lot of digging, reporting, analysis, and hard work, and the results are an invaluable snapshot of what kind of innovation is getting funded in Silicon Valley.)

What’s going on here is that telecom and software are humbled, but still significant areas for investment and innovation. Infrastructure still matters. Software still matters, particularly as people develop new environments and infrastructures for it to run in. And, telebomb or no, the past few years have been all about a massive buildup of infrastructure, from Web-enabled services to broadband network cabling to wireless data carriers. Now the challenge is to figure out how to make that infrastructure useful.

Living dead.

Movable Type blogroll.

Movable Type continues to impress me with its flexibility and power. Last week I decided I’d had it up to here with maintaining the list of links that appears on the right side of my home page (the “blogroll,” as some people call it). Instead of manually editing HTML code in my weblog template, why not use MT to auto-generate a list of links, then use PHP to include this link list anywhere I needed it? Better still: MT’s categories feature would make it easy to group related links together.

You can see the results of this solution in my new “RESOURCES” list, on the right side of the Tweney Report home page.

Other people have probably found this solution themselves, but I’m posting it here in case it’s useful to anyone else.
Continue reading “Movable Type blogroll.”

Movable Type blogroll.

Wooden mirror.

Artist Daniel Rozin’s Wooden Mirror consists of 830 little squares of wood, a hidden video camera, and a Mac 8600. The squares rotate up and down individually, appearing lighter or darker depending on their angle, so the whole array can display a rough reflection of whatever is in front of it: your hand, your face, your body.

Since making Wooden Mirror in 1999, Rozin has gone on to make similar interactive “mirrors” out of bits of trash and shiny metal balls, and he’s also built an array of actual mirrors that swivel to follow you around the room.

The quiet mysteriousness of Wooden Mirror reminds me of my friend Camille Utterback’s work — her Text Rain puts the your reflection on a large screen into the middle of a “rain” of falling letters, which you can lift, bat at, and play with as if they were real.

(Thanks to Scot for the link)

Wooden mirror.

IT: Does it matter?

Journalist-turned-MIT pundit Michael Schrage takes on Nicholas Carr’s recent argument in HBR that IT doesn’t matter (link to $7 PDF reprint). Carr’s argument: as information technology has spread, it’s become a commodity utility, useful only for cost reduction, and is no longer a source of competitive advantage. In other words, the same thing is happening to IT as once happened to the electrical grid and the railroad: It was briefly a source of opportunity, but now is just another cost of doing business.

Schrage’s rebuttal: even commodities (like capital, or talent) can be a source of competitive advantage, because the key is not how available those resources are, it’s how they’re deployed.

It’s not free and easy access to a commodity that determines its strategic economic value to the company; it is the way that commodity is managed that determines its impact.

Besides, he points out, IT is not so much a set of technologies available to all, as it is an arsenal of techniques, which different companies deploy with varying degrees of skill. I would add: Information technology is a continuously changing field of techniques and technologies. A better comparison is not to the electrical grid or the railroads, but to power (in general) or transportation (in general).

Capitalizing on new innovations in IT still conveys enormous advantages to the companies that can do it effectively. Witness Wal-Mart and FedEx, both of which have built their empires in large part upon continuous improvement in their underlying tech, which allows them to move faster, quicker, and more cheaply than their competitors.

IT: Does it matter?

Intel’s visionary.

Canada.com has an interview with Pat Gelsinger, senior VP and chief technology officer for Intel.

Q. Do you have a personal goal?
A. To reach the entirety of humanity, every human on earth with our technology.

Q. Sounds nice but how do you do that?
A. Today computers largely require humans to fit with them. In the future computers will largely fit with humans. We have to make technology more transparent and visible, useful in more and more places with less and less sophistication.

Also in Gelsinger’s sights: improved speech recognition, cell phones the size of buttons, radio tracking devices you attach to your kids in the morning, and the “111A laptop” — one pound, one inch thick, one day of battery life, always connected. Can I get one??? Sadly, not for three or four years to come.

Intel’s visionary.

Linux for the masses?

LinuxWorld 2003 opens this week in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, giving Linux vendors and enthusiasts of all descriptions a chance to showcase their favorite operating system.

By all accounts, Linux is doggedly continuing its march toward respectability and, perhaps, even boredom. Like a motorcycle-riding, leathers-wearing, tattooed CPA, Linux has a whiff of youthful danger and rebelliousness about it, despite being, in its daily work, rather dull. Sure, it’s got a cute side, too, epitomized by that ubiquitous penguin. Put it to work, though, and the open-source OS is all business.

Where Linux is finding its most sympathetic audience is in the data center — the data-processing, web-page-serving brains of the modern corporation. Most companies aren’t using Linux for critical systems like inventory and payroll yet, but it does play an increasingly important role in giving those systems a friendly, Webby front end. That’s because it’s cheap, easy to modify, and it’s open source. You know exactly what you’re getting — no pigs in a poke here.

Will Linux ever find significant traction as a desktop system? I doubt it. Open source development is good for producing tools for geeks — operating systems, programming tools, and the like. But consumer-oriented, user-friendly, general-purpose computer systems? Not likely. Linux may be powerful, but as far as consumers are concerned, you can’t give it away.

In fact, it’s much more probable that Unix will find its way onto your desktop–if it does–with an Apple icon on it than a penguin.
Continue reading “Linux for the masses?”

Linux for the masses?