Doing Teamwork By Yourself

The Engineering Faculty has some fairly decent overhead projectors

For our first project, we have to work in teams. But how can we build them when as yet we have little idea of each other’s skills, talents, and weaknesses?

I thought Well, apply communications technology, and took it upon myself to create a message board. With this we could discuss stuff when we weren’t in college, get to know each other better. And as an adjunct I thought we might have a spreadsheet – online but closed to non-members – where we could volunteer skills information; easy enough to set up with Google Docs. This would be helpful to everybody, but it would also demonstrate the useful sort of stuff I can do. Why, people would be bidding to have me join their project teams.

I got quite into this for a couple of days. When I looked up, everyone had formed into groups without me.

Fortunately there were enough of us left over to form another group. Team Not So Savvy At Team Stuff, we could call ourselves. Though actually I think this unusual selection process has left us with a pretty good assortment.

Perhaps not the best organised though. We had our first team meeting today. Only two of us turned up, and one of those was an hour late. OK that was me. I’d been up far too late trying to catch up with my reading on the whole area of project management. I learned a lot in theory, but in the morning completely failed the practical.

I know it’s a terrible cliché, but as my alarm blared away, doggedly failing to wake me, I actually had one of those anxiety dreams where you find yourself in an exam you’re completely unprepared for. I know, someone whose been through an exam system gets those dreams for the rest of their life, even when the cause for anxiety is wholly unrelated.

Only here I actually was failing to prepare for something I’m soon going to be graded on. So really it was hardly a dream at all. More just my subconscious doing a sardonic voice-over.

Is Spam Evil Enough Yet?

Spam! SPAM! Spam! SPAM! Spam! SPAM! Spam! SPAM...
Now more offensive than ever

You know what’s wrong with spam? it just isn’t rude and offensive enough. Or so some people seem to think. As I mentioned, the comment spam you get on a blog is usually of a fawning, “This is the best blog ever and I’m going to tell all my friends to worship your genitals!” nature. Quite a boost when you get your first one, but when they keep on coming – and you notice they all contain a link to something that wants your money – you learn to ignore them.

So someone has decided we need a refreshing change. Here’s a comment I got the other day:

Anzy Machaczkala – Spam Link Removed

The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.

Hey, that could be true of any blog… But before composing a measured reply – like “Shut up now and never speak to another human being again, or I will kill you and everyone you are related to just to be certain that your vile genes are extinct” – I paused to check that it was genuine. After all, it did seem an odd thing to say about a cartoon of an elephant. Also there were three from the same address, the other two quite complimentary and all of them linked to some site in Polish about soccer.

Yes it’s just another example of phony Search Engine Optimisation, offering the ‘service’ of spamming blogs and message boards with posts containing links to a site on the (wholly untrue) grounds that these will be mistaken for genuine interest and so improve its search ranking.

Tip to spammers: Google is not run by crowd of slack-jawed morons.

And while SEO spamming was already a complete pain for people who have to keep message boards clean, now that you guys have decided to actually insult the sites you’re spamming, it’s become a lot more personal.

So I’m off to Poland, and I have a pointed stick for poking soccer balls.

Who Goes There?

Anonymous
Image by sinsistema via Flickr

A UK court has set an interesting – possibly insane – condition of bail for four men on charges relating to the Anonymous and LulzSec hacktivist clubs. The judge has ordered them not to log on to anything using their ‘hacker’ usernames. What this will prevent exactly is not clear. But then I suppose the judge isn’t too clear about a lot here.

Several questions arise: If someone logs on using those identities, will the court have to prove that it was the suspects? It seems unlikely that they possibly could. Anyone who had the password could go online in the forums or services that the suspects used, and anyone on the planet could register the same names on other forums.

If the suspects have to show that it’s not them on the other hand it would be not only just as difficult, but also counter to natural justice as they would be required to prove their own innocence.

It seems virtually unimaginable that, if these people actually are deadly dangerous hacker types, not using a particular name will prevent them doing anything. If on the other hand they are innocent – which is the basis we are meant to be working on – it could be an enormous inconvenience. I mentioned the other day that I administer an Internet forum. I think I’ll be giving away no secrets if I say that my login for that isn’t “richardchapman”. I use – God forgive me, but it’s true – a name I made up. And the same goes of course for the login I use to write this blog.

The judge may be under the same misapprehension a lot of non technically literate society has: that going online by a name different to the one on your birth cert is the behaviour of deviants. In fact previous to Facebook it was the norm rather than the exception. Why would you allow online strangers to know your real name? The expectation of going by your birth name is part of what I’m tempted to call the “Facebookisation” of the Web. Commerce and government have both realised that the erasure of online anonymity would be very convenient, and they are beginning to cooperate to bring this about. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Google Plus (Google+) social network even has rules against pseudonyms. It’s more than a little creepy.

But here’s an amusing wrinkle. Peter Gibson, one of the accused in this case, goes by the nerdy hacker username of “Peter”. So now he is not allowed to use his own name. That seems an extraordinary incursion on civil liberties – and will lead to an interesting situation if he tries to join Google+… Or if that’s not irony enough, listen to this: We have only been told three of the four suspects’ usernames. The fourth wasn’t revealed, apparently because he is seventeen. So yes, the username he used to protect his anonymity, something which he is no longer allowed by the court to do, is being kept from us by the court to protect his anonymity.

Something just blew in my brain.

New Flavours Of Spam

Spam 2
"Spam Classic"?

We all get email spam, but if you run a blog or administer a message board – I do both now – you have the pleasure of discovering whole new and different spam varieties. Generally it doesn’t shout at you like junk mail does. It’s altogether more refined, attempting to slip in its advertising payload – usually just a link – under the guise of a relevant contribution. Naturally though the writer (if the spam is actually written by a human) can’t possibly have the time to understand and contribute meaningfully to the discussion going on. If they did they wouldn’t be spammers. They’d be… welcome. Their posts therefore are purposefully bland – which, paradoxically, makes them easy to spot. We got the perfect example the other day:

You are not right. I can prove it.

Science has shown that this is the most likely statement to be found on any message board forum.

On blogs however the spam is more agreeable – agreeing, in fact, with about anything. Usually it’s along the lines of “I couldn’t have put it better myself. Here are some links to other articles that might interest you”. Which turn out of course to be adverts for crap like electronic cigarettes from Russia, or wood carving tools. I kid you not, I got one advertising wood carving tools today. Ostensibly at least; the site it linked to talked about such tools, but offered no way to actually buy them. Something else is going on here, more subtle than just advertising.

There is a belief that the more links there are to your site, the higher it will be ranked by search engines. This is an oversimplification, but people still pay Search Engine Optimization services to improve their page ranking. Some of these “experts” then pay spammers to clog up and overwhelm boards and blogs. Real humans then have to clean up the mess.

Stop doing this.