Monday, September 27, 2010

Why spam blogs?

One of the blogs I follow has a recent article on spammers who target blogs: Don't mind me.: Paranoid much?. Becky's questions are similar to my own.

I've encountered blogspam myself a few times, so I sympathize with anyone who has had the experience of clearing out crap from comments. This is the main reason why comment moderation is turned on here.

As to the nature of spam, I sort of understand the premise behind e-mail spam -- at best, it is a sales pitch encouraging the recipient to go to a website for some legitimate product or service. At worse it is an enticement to click on something which will drop some malware on an unsuspecting user's computer, or worse. There are clear analogies between this and traditional junk mail of the sort printed on actual paper and delivered via the Post Office.

But aside from causing me to be enraged, and then sad, and then just puzzled, what was the point of posting a long, sense-free, block of text in the comments on my father's obituary, with no actual working links in it? I thought initially that it was pharma-spam -- some bot had noticed a significant key word (cancer) and this was going to culminate in a link to some dodgy website selling cancer nostrums to the credulous and the desperate. But with no link, there could be no possibility of a sale.

So I have three possible theories to explain this:

Explanation 1 - spammers are just idiots, and whatever bot created the comment spam was improperly written, so it just didn't create a valid link in the post. I'll discuss this further when I have more examples of comment spam to analyze.

Explanation 2 - some blogs, or some blog posts, talk about subjects which displease some agency or organization or individual, who responds by vandalizing the blog or blog post. I love conspiracy theories, so this line of thinking can be tweaked to be as over the top as desired.

Explanation 3 - an artificial intelligence has arisen as an emergent property of the internet. It is trying to communicate, using the most widespread form of internet communication (that being spam) as a model. I like this explanation the best, even though I also suspect it is the least likely.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Source of Great Ideas

This is a TED talk by Steven Johnson on the origin of great ideas.

Some thoughts:

(1) stimulants (like tea or coffee) are better than depressants (like beer or wine)
(2) consulting with lots of people is a good thing - connections lead to innovations. Periodic reviews with the team are important - the process of sharing problems and results of current work leads to new, possibly useful juxtapositions.
(3) chaotic environments = collisions between ideas and concepts. "Chance favours the connected mind".

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arr! We Be Talkin' Like Pirates...

...because today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Hope yer cutlass don't rust, and ye find lots 'o booty!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I blog like an old fuddy duddy. But a happy one...

The urlai website analyzes blog text and evaluates it according to gender, age, mood, and tonality. Here's the verdict on me: is probably written by a male somewhere between 66-100 years old. The writing style is personal and happy most of the time.

There isn't a heck of a lot of detail about how the evaluation is done, but presumably it is based on word usage analysis. Based on the words I use, this algorithm thinks I am mostly happy, but possibly because of the formality of my sentence construction, thinks I am between 66 to 100. Well, it got the gender right.

Turning this lens on some other examples -- Michael and Jill's Second Draft, as well as Madeline's Escaping The Trunk gets exactly the same evaluation as me, except for the gender -- the algorithm correctly identifies Madeline as female, and believes that the combination of Michael and Jill is also female. Maybe because Jill posts more? The analysis is dead on for Dave -- male, 26 to 50, mostly happy. But for Peter, it gets both the gender and age wrong -- female, 66 to 100, mostly upset. Looking further afield to the blog of a complete stranger -- the age problem and "mostly upset" rating also applies to Pharyngula. Maybe the "mostly upset" part is a marine biologist thing?

These results are dynamic over time, since the analysis is based on the latest articles in the blog. It is possible that I could change the tone and character of my blog and get a different result, so if you are reading this article years after it is written, and you run the same analysis on my blog, you might not get the same result.

You likely can derive information about an author from lexical analysis of their writing, including statistical frequency analysis of their word usage. But these (admittedly limited) results show this analysis needs to used in context with other information. In the meantime, I need to go find some kids so I can yell at them to get off my damn lawn. Because that's what us happy old fuddy duddy bloggers do.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Squid with Hugo

See that? That is one seriously stoked Squidly Dude with his brand new Best Novelette Hugo, and he is clearly making plans for it, likely how to introduce the sharp points on his prize to those American border officials with whom he is most familiar.

Photo credit -- Professor Allan Weiss, who also broke the news about the award this morning. This photo is being used subject to getting Allan's permission, so it might only be temporary.

UPDATE - Jill, Dave, Madeline and Peter himself have blog updates on this event. Peter's entry has lots of photos from Aussiecon 4. You can also read "The Island", Peter's Hugo-award winning story, on his website, or download it as a PDF.

UPDATE 2 - Added 2010 November 23: I did in fact hook up with Allan after he returned from his travels, and he gave me permission to use the photo above.

Congratulations, Peter Watts!

The Hugo Awards website shows that Peter Watts won a Hugo award for "Best Novelette", a story entitled "The Island", appearing in The New Space Opera 2 collection (published by Eos). It is evening in Australia as this is being written, and the Hugo Awards ceremony at Aussiecon 4 has just ended.

Peter is a very talented science fiction writer, in addition to his scientific credentials. The award is well deserved, so congratulations, Peter!

This is perhaps an unworthy thought, but I can't help wondering whether Peter's acceptance speech contained any new and creative uses for his new Hugo award -- specifically on unhelpful border guards...