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5/24/2003

Ditch Day!

"Confirmation!" I heard the word coming through the other side of the door. It was official. Still, I had figured that it was ditch day before I even went to sleep for the night. The first clue was a rambling email from Spencer about rescheduling a house meeting for using the money the Administration is giving us for "manly activities" (the ladies have their own money as well). The second was a breathless dispatch from the Directory the day before telling us that Ryan Seacrest of American Idol fame was going to be at Caltech to interview people for Jay Leno ("Please stop by and have some fun with the 'Tonight Show'! And even showcase some of your special talents!"). Which, although it didn't say as much, essentially told the campus that ditch day was tommorrow.

We got dressed and walked over to campus, to look around and see which stack we wanted to work on. I chose the "Little Nemo the Pimpmaster" stack (named for the Nintendo game character). It was a great choice, just like the stack I worked on as a Frosh ("The Search for Millikan Man"). For those people whose younger years were not consumed by the wonders of Japanese video game technology, perhaps I should stop here and explain a little about who Little Nemo is.

I think that there is a movie and even a comic book series connected to the Little Nemo story, but the most important piece of merchandise for us here is a trippy game that was produced for the NES. Basically, you are a little boy named Nemo who gets transported to the Kingdom of SlumberLand whenever you go to sleep, and you are supposed to save the King from the Prince of Nightmares (don't ask). You are armed with candy (no that is not a typo) and you are supposed to throw the pieces of candy at creatures in order to stun them (or in some cases to make them unconscious so that you can become them -- again, don't ask). Later in the game you are given a magic wand which lets you shoot orbs at enemy animals.

For the stack, the seniors hacked the game and modified the storyline so that instead of saving the King, now we were trying to save the world from bad sex. Instead of Nemo, the character's name was Rory (a senior), and instead of a magic wand we had Morning Wood. Basically, they just went in with a hex editor and searched for the text and changed it around. It was pretty funny at first, but then it got kind of old. Needless to say, the game itself was not actually relevant to the stack (what do you think we just sat around and played video games?), and the truly important part was the cutscenes which provided us with clues. Basically, we had to run around campus searching for Pokeman characters with passwords written on them, and then we typed in the name of the Pokeman and the password to gain access to another clue/cutscene.

The very first clue we got from the game was to eat all the muffins they had given us (the seniors have to feed the people who work on their stacks). We had already figured that one out though, since Sarah had bit into one and encountered a piece of wood in the middle. The wood chips all had a letter on them, and once we collected them all (and no, we did not eat all of them) it spelled out "Throop Bench." When we got there we found a box filled with pajamas, and another clue. The school photographers took a bunch of pictures of us putting on our uniforms for combat against bad sex, but they didn't post the one where I gave a thumbs up! (1 - this is Vanessa in her cap, with James and Ryan to the left, and Jessie to the right; 2 - this is Kai in his silly pink pants -- still can't believe he wore them!)

I think we got Pikachu at this point, and he had a 8 digit number attached to him which was the password for unlocking a cutscene in the game. This lead us to the parking lot behind the Y where we met up with our ride, a motorized couch (1 - this is us going to see Ryan Seacrest [no picture of me yet again!]; 2 - this is battle we had with one of the pirate stacks, "Pirates Fuck Shit Up," if I'm not mistaken). One of the letters we had, told us to go to the a place where television people are, which I think was supposed to be the place where the TV crews come for information on earthquakes, but which we interpreted as going to see the Jay Leno folks.

Once we got there they said they were looking for an outgoing female, and Jessie volunteered. They had her shout into a bullhorn, "Has anyone seen my panties!" and something else which was so childish I forget now. Then they decided it would be a good idea if she gave someone a lap dance, so she gave Naman one on the couch and at the end she put her boobs in Naman's face. They decided that girl-on-girl action was "too pornographic" for Leno, so they had her give another one to a guy and at the end Ryan Seacrest put 5 dollars in her bra (apparently this was okay). Then they had us drive the couch past them to get a motion shot.

We had a lot of other adventures too: going through the steam tunnels, digging up mud, battling pirates, setting up a reeducation center that wasn't even part of our stack, and a bunch of other stuff. But all those stories will come later. Stay tuned...

5/21/2003

What an Asshole

The Los Angeles Times has a profile of the inventor of spam, Gary Thuerk.
On May 3, 1978, Thuerk sent out the first spam over the network of government and university computers known as the ARPAnet. A marketing manager for Digital Equipment Corp., he wanted to publicize open houses in Los Angeles and San Mateo where the company's latest computers would be unveiled.

Several thousand people were on the ARPAnet then, most of them computer scientists. Thuerk wanted to send all 600 ARPAnet members on the West Coast an e-mail invitation.

That's when he had his illumination. "It's too much work to send everyone an e-mail," he decided. "So we'll send one e-mail to everyone."

A quarter-century later, the ARPAnet has become the Internet, and e-mail in-boxes are being choked by Thuerk's spiritual descendants.

In January, more than half of the e-mail arriving at the world's biggest Internet provider, America Online, was spam. By March it was more than 70%. Now it's well above 80%, or more than 2.5 billion pieces of spam a day. Other e-mail services cite similar statistics. Yahoo says it is handling five times more spam than a year ago.

...

Thuerk doesn't cruise the Net. He doesn't buy online. He doesn't visit chat rooms. He's not worried about long-lost friends not being able to find his e-mail address.

He doesn't, in other words, use the Net the way millions of others do. As a result, his in-box remains pure. "I don't get much spam," Thuerk says. "Maybe one or two a day. It's not a big nuisance."


I am someone who used to believe in the libertine-anarchist vision of the internet, with no rules and no police. The spam problem has changed my mind considerably. If the government were to say tomorrow that it would dedicate resources to hunting down and imprisoning/killing spammers, I honestly would not object. These people are simply information terrorists. Take today for instance: 2 pieces of legitmate mail, 45 pieces of spam. If that is 21st century communication, give me a telegraph.

Seriously though, this is something that must be stopped. I want internet service providers and companies like yahoo! to come together with the government and track down and remove all spammers from the internet. They should be blacklisted and forbidden from ever owning or operating a computer. They do this to hackers don't they (and most of them haven't produced even a fraction of the damage of these spam jerks)? Just the threat of something like this would reduce spam to managable numbers. If it were implemented in reality, it should follow the Lessig model of putting bounties on the heads of spammers, and having individuals turn spammers in to the authorities, who would then deal with them.

Here is the money quote from the Times article, which illustrates quite clearly the depravity of spammers:

The FTC recently established that spammers' ability to harvest e-mail addresses on the Web were even more effective than realized. In one experiment, a newly created AOL account was used to post a message in a religious chat room. Twenty-one minutes later, the address received its first spam -- a graphic advertisement for a porn site.

5/20/2003

Terrorism Information Awareness

Proving the notion that all one has to do to get funding and approval for an outrageous idea is to put the word "terrorism" somewhere in the name, DARPA has decided to rename its (Rosemary's) baby: Total Information Awareness. They have also made promises that the technology will not be used to produce dossiers on American citizens, which is, of course, a lie. Even more disturbing is a story that Noah Shachtman is breaking over at Wired.
The embryonic LifeLog program would dump everything an individual does into a giant database: every e-mail sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read.

All of this -- and more -- would combine with information gleaned from a variety of sources: a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went, audio-visual sensors to capture what he or she sees or says, and biomedical monitors to keep track of the individual's health.

This gigantic amalgamation of personal information could then be used to "trace the 'threads' of an individual's life," to see exactly how a relationship or events developed, according to a briefing from the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, LifeLog's sponsor.

Someone with access to the database could "retrieve a specific thread of past transactions, or recall an experience from a few seconds ago or from many years earlier ... by using a search-engine interface."


Is this a necessary step for a government that has done everything else to end terror? Read this and then come back to me.
A hot day

I am one of those people who wear long pants no matter what the temperature outside is, but today has got me asking myself some hard questions. Just sitting here, in front of the computer, I am to the point where you could wipe the windows off with all of the sweat on my chest (not that you would want to). The Weather Channel says it is 94 degrees outside, but that seems low to me. Maybe being inside with pants on pushes that up a notch or two. To make a short story long, I am miserable in this kind of oasis in the desert weather. It makes part of me want to strip naked, and the other part...well, want to strip naked. Damn social mores always getting in the way...
Saudis crack down on terror

A Saudi man carrying a machine gun and a pistol was arrested just outside the security perimeter of the U.S. consulate in Dhahran this morning. A Saudi official said the man was wanted on drug charges and claimed after his arrest that he was approaching the consulate to seek political asylum. The consulate was closed for the day as U.S. officials reviewed security arrangements because the man had crossed one Saudi-manned checkpoint on the way to the building while carrying his weapons.

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