Saturday, 31 March 2018


Spam interests me greatly.

You probably realise that I’m not talking about cold pressed meat, although that is a fascinating topic in its own right, so I understand, especially to Vikings. No, I’m referring to the unwanted messages that everyone constantly receives over the web of lies. Sorry, I mean the internet.

When I first heard that this was an actual problem on this planet, my reaction was — I’m sorry to have to say — laughter. It’s never been an issue for us out in the wider galaxy. For one thing, we have a more sophisticated distributed trust certification network. But there’s another, much simpler reason: if anyone tried mass marketing via hyperwave message, they would very likely end up being tracked down and having all the flesh melted off their head by a large proton accelerator. We have a slightly more lenient attitude to vigilantes than you do on Earth.

Anyway, out of curiosity one day, I began examining some of this so-called spam. It was not a pleasant experience. The worst thing was seeing the same bizarre phrases repeated again and again. Let’s just say that if anyone ever comes up to me in the street and offers me ‘this one weird trick’ to solve one of my problems, I shall happily introduce their head to Mr. Proton and his friends and show them the weirdest trick they’ve ever seen.

I was initially rather baffled when I saw the emails. I’d say that over 99% of them are written in English so bad that even I could spot it a light year away, and I’m not exactly fluent yet. Surely, I thought, if these things are mostly con tricks, then the con artists should be like the ones I’ve seen in movies: smart, dapper, intelligent, well-versed in etiquette, riding skills, perhaps an ace at seduction, and of course, polyglots. Bad English is a dead giveaway!

It was then that Mike pointed out something that I’d forgotten too easily, and which can be summed up in this rather neat little couplet:

Consider just how stupid is the average human prat:
Now realise, fully half of them are stupider than that!

Actually, I must digress here for a moment. The above joke may seem hilarious, but it’s mathematically unsound. It assumes that the median and the mean are identical, which does not have to be so.

To illustrate, imagine you had a simplified IQ scale that was always an integer from 1 to 10, and you sampled four people and found that their scores were 1, 2, 3 and 10. The median would be 2.5 and the mean would be 4.

Another aside: this also undermines that old saying, known as Grelb’s Reminder, that “80% of drivers consider themselves above average”. The point, of course, is that this is meant to sound ridiculous — but it’s possible for it to be true. Of course, in that case, the other 20% would have to be utterly atrocious drivers, in order to drag the mean level down a lot. Actually, now that I think about it, that sounds about right to me.

Where was I? Oh yes, the stupidity of people in relation to spam. Here’s an idea that I think could work, if you really want to get rid of spam:

Automated time-wasting.

I’m serious. These days, bots are commonplace and the technology, as we’ve seen in the recent social media scandals, is fairly advanced. Someone just needs to work out a way of making bots reply to spam automatically, and tie up the resources of the senders. The point is, it’s dirt cheap to send millions of emails, but what’s not dirt cheap at all is running store front servers, payment transaction handling, online support answering questions etc. Give the bots fake credit card numbers and get them to fill up as much time as possible in the initial contact, before placing an order, having the card rejected, and then complaining about it endlessly, tying up further time on the spammer’s end. If a million bots are all doing this at once, they’ll never cope: they’ll be out of business in a week.

I offer you that advice free, of course. Note that it applies only to spam intended to sell things. Other spam has more nefarious purposes, such as installing malware, phishing for data etc. In those cases… well, feel free to forward them to me, and I’ll be happy to track them down and pay them a visit with my proton accelerator.