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« The Book-Person's Vision | Main | How Structuralist Is Your Fantasy Life? »

January 10, 2004

Death By Spam


Have you noticed that despite the recent Federal anti-spam legislation you're getting more of this stuff than ever? I certainly am. Since apparently I’ll be deleting it forever, I’ve actually started looking at the so-called ‘sender’ names on spam and wondering about the people who make them up. I suspect spammers enjoy coming up with these names—it must give them a brief respite from the daily grind of filling penis-enhancer orders and getting more copies of the Paris Hilton video in the mail.

From the pseudonyms they use, I can only assume that spammers are all frustrated writers of British country house murder mysteries. Looking down the ever-growing list of names in my email in-box, I begin to have fantasies of one guest after another arriving at a little impromptu get-together at the manor house:

We observe the tall, dark and handsome Tanner Lopez (in the low-cost mortgage game) sidling up to the lovely Alfreda Shearer (seller of cut-price meds). Meanwhile, the spooky Delmer Timmons (who offers covert opportunities to watch Jessica and Nick have sex) is quite taken with the rather vulgar Edna Jazmin (cheap software). In a corner three back-slapping businessmen trade stories of the old ‘penis’ game: Jerrod Santos (Viagra), Young Hankings (enlargement) and Tony Maloney (Super-Viagra.)

The rather stuffy but fabulously rich host, Augustin Witherspoon (low-cost mortgages) is pursued by both blonde Vonda Roy (cable filters to let you see “everything” free) and brunette Augusta Roe (prescription-free tranquilizers). Who will lure him into her bed first? And why are the foreign twins, Dominique & Edgardo Curry (both in generic Viagra) keeping so much to themselves?

Suddenly, a scream echoes through the great hall! Augustin Witherspoon lies dead, his throat cut by a CD containing 125 million email addresses. Who is the murderer?

Okay, so I have an over-active imagination. Sue me. Don't pretend you never dream up little dramas like this.



posted by Friedrich at January 10, 2004


If that's not a possible best seller I'm not writing a book on dragons.

I also got the following idea from it. If The Internet used crystal balls instead of computers what would spam be like?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on January 11, 2004 12:14 AM

I dunno, Alan ... maybe special Viagra ads from Napoleon? A message on penis enlargement from Neville Chamberlain?

I come up with these little dramas, too, but they're usually about how the brand names of prescription medications sound just like comic book characters. Oh no -- it's the evil Lord Zoloft and his henchwoman Selexa! Can Captain Prozac and his sidekick Paxil stop them in time? "Quick, young Paxil! Deploy the fluoxetine!" BZZAPPP! "Curse you Prozaaaaaaac ...."

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on January 11, 2004 12:21 AM

technical solution to spam exists. see here:

"For any piece of e-mail I send, it will take a small amount computing power of about 10 to 20 seconds."

"If I don't know you, I have to prove to you that I have spent a little bit of time in resources to send you that e-mail.

"When you see that proof, you treat that message with more priority."

Once senders have proved they have solved the required "puzzle", they can be added to a "safe list" of senders.

It means the spammer's machine is slowed down, but legitimate e-mailers do not notice any delays.

Mr Wobber and his group calculated that if there are 80,000 seconds in a day, a computational "price" of a 10-second levy would mean spammers would only be able to send about 8,000 messages a day, at most.

"Spammers are sending tens of millions of e-mails, so if they had to do that with all the messages, they would have to invest heavily in machines."

As a result of this extra investment, spamming would become less profitable because costs would skyrocket in order to send as many e-mails.

All this clever puzzle-solving is done without the recipient of the e-mail being affected.

Note: this is a 3-step process.

1. sender sends email to recipient

2. recipient notes sender, sends back a cryptographic puzzle which takes 10-20 secs to compute

3. sender sends back answer to puzzle. if answer is correct, recipient puts sender in "trusted" category and displays email.

Posted by: godlesscapitalist on January 11, 2004 4:40 AM

It sounds like a hit play. But you'd have to work in the suspicious circumstances under which Tony Maloney managed to access a...(organ music)...LOW COST MORTGAGE!

Posted by: annette on January 11, 2004 5:20 AM

My favourite I've seen lately is Wilma "No Prescription Necessary" Slaughter. Sounds like a character out of Fleming or Dahl.

Posted by: Evan McElravy on January 11, 2004 8:44 AM

You too can come up with magnificent character names. just check out the Random Name Generator. My last pass at it created these winners:

1. Mittie Hacken
2. Phyliss Scigliano
3. Yong Shuker
4. Hubright
5. Milford Mcconnico

Posted by: Vicki Smith AKA CalGal on January 11, 2004 10:00 AM

Oh no, you mean there's no human creativity involved at all. Oh, that's just like spammers...!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 11, 2004 10:26 AM

Is it possible some of the names are real? Spammers have been known hijack other people's names in order to send out spam without being traced. It happened to me on AOL. I fell for a scam message saying I had an unread message on AOL Insta-Kiss, which I then had to use my screen name and password to access. The link went nowhere but now somebody had my screen name and password. The next thing I knew, spam was being sent out under the noble name of "Deklane." Fortunately, it was fairly benign spam (an offer of three days at a resort, I think) and not some dubious medical product touted to make your "männliches Glied" the envy of Seabiscuit, but I still got dozens of complaints in my e-mail box. One woman even added Deklane to her Buddy List just so she could wait for me to come on-line and then yell at me by Instant Message. Worse, AOL suspended my account for Terms of Service violation for sending all that spam e-mail, and I had to call a customer service rep and get that straightened out, as well as change my password to something new, which I don't like nearly as well. Anyway, I'm just saying those spam names you like so much for their evocatively fictional qualities might well be real.

Speaking of spam, I get tons of the usual obnoxious stuff, but a couple of items are somehow charming. Somebody in Egypt sent me an ad offering to sell me handicrafts from his native land. So now I don't have to go to a bazaar in Cairo to shop for all my modern Egyptian-themed gift-giving needs... Something in the earnest text and slightly off-center English was more touching than annoying, and made me wish I was in the market for Egyptian jewelry or whatever.

I'm also on the mailing list for a nightclub in Brazil, though how that happened I have no idea. The e-mails are all in Portuguese, which I can sorta kinda dope out, and they're mainly announcements of events and theme nights at the club, which is evidently a place to go dancing. I get the idea that if you ever find yourself in Rio with nothing to do for the evening and you have a yen to go dancing, there is a place filled with friendly people who will warmly welcome you and show you a good time.

I doubt if I'll ever have a chance to take them up on it, but it's nice to know they're there...


Posted by: Dwight Decker on January 11, 2004 12:37 PM

I've been using 0spam ( to clean out my spam. It intercepts e-mail from senders it doesn't recognize sends a request to the sender to verify they are real before passing the e-mail on to me. It's been quite a blessing, it's free, I have no association with the owners, etc. It also works on my Hotmail accounts. That's a 'zero' in the URL, not an 'oh'.

Posted by: Misanthropyst on January 11, 2004 2:33 PM

I think I'm on all the spam lists y'all have mentioned. They sound mighty familiar. Does anyone know what Phentermine is, by the way?

Latest awful spam trick that I've noticed is that some of them are dating their spams falsely. That way, they don't wind up at the top of the maiilbox, they wind up at the bottom, as though they'd been sent before everything that's sitting there.


Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 11, 2004 11:55 PM

Tim - my brother and I used to pretend we were detectives, and took our detective names from our parents' prescription bottles. Frequently the game would begin with a squabble over who got to be "hydropres."

This, of course, was before we got Pong.

Posted by: Dente on January 12, 2004 10:49 AM

The Federal spam law seems to have been, by and large, a means of heading off even stricter laws passed by states such as California. Which is no doubt why the Direct Marketing Association supported the law.

The cryptographic solution is quite elegant, but I have my doubts that it will catch on, unless there's some seed crystal that can start off a network effect. Could the blogosphere serve that function? Well, check out the discussion about comment spam over at Electrolite and Making Light for some peripheral evidence that it might.

Posted by: Dave Trowbridge on January 14, 2004 1:57 AM

I have to say that this is the most ingenious spam-related humour entry I've ever read on any blog.

Posted by: Nicholas Liu on January 14, 2004 10:50 AM

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