Somewhat off-topic: Evolutionary arms race of spam

Just wanted to mention that we get a lot more attempted spam here at Freethought Blogs than I ever remember getting at the old blogspot address.  Luckily, the spam filters are pretty good and I usually don’t have to lift a finger to mess with it.  I do, however, see a few posts a week that slip through the cracks as “uncertain” and drop into the moderation bucket to be checked.

To give you an example of what spam looks like these days, here’s a post from last night by “Nicolette Snith”

Thanks for an unbelievable post, would see your personal others posts. thank you your thinking for this, I felt a trifle strike by this text. Thanks again! You commit a great aspect. Displays the beauty through great facts here. I believe that if a greater number considered it like that, they’d have a very better time frame get the grasp ofing the difficulty.

That’s a pretty common variety.  It’s lavishly complimentary, totally unspecific, and almost written in a reasonable style of  English.  It only looks weird if you take the time to actually read it carefully.

Obviously the goal of spam is to drive traffic to commercial sites, and this seems to be accomplished by adding a URL in the user identity, which you can click from the person’s post.  It used to be the case that most such URL’s were in the form of obviously suspicious locations, i.e., “http://hotgirls.ru” or something like that.  (I just made that up, but I checked and it’s a real site.  I do not take responsibility for you surfing there or wasting any money.)  These days, however, the address is more often in the form of an IP address (such as 123.123.1.2) which redirects you to a site that wants to sell you viagra or mortgages or whatever.

The behavior of spammers and spam filter writers very closely resembles the evolution of predators and prey in nature.  Each side has a survival motive to improve.  The spammers are obviously in it for the money.  Design the perfect spam filter, and you cut off their income.  In the worst case scenario, they might even have to give it up and find an alternate career that doesn’t require them to be goddamned parasites.

The anti-spammers are fighting for survival of their content.  I’ve seen quite a few abandoned blogs and forums become completely choked with spam, to the point where it’s impossible to engage in a meaningful conversation.

So each one evolves competitively, and both need to be automated to an extent.  The spammers are busy trying to post millions of junk messages to sites all over the world, while non-spammers are busy trying to clean up hundreds or thousands of messages without employing an army of human moderators to babysit their sites.

What’s interesting is that there does seem to be an upper limit on the effectiveness of spam filters.  If a human reader can’t tell them difference between spam and a legitimate post, how is a computer supposed to do it?  Even now, I have gotten to the point where I look at a brief, harmless compliment with deep suspicion.  If I see a new poster write “Well said” or something of the kind, I have to stare at the email address, the name, and any suspicious links for a non-trivial amount of time before I decide it’s safe to pass through.

Much as I hate this omnipresent intrusion into our lives in a digital age, I find it kind of fascinating to see how the race keeps shifting.

Introductions: Russell “Kazim” Glasser

Now that the new blog has been introduced, hopefully some new people have had a chance to learn about the show.  There are seven people involved with posting to the blog, and I’d like to introduce myself.

My name is Russell Glasser.  I’m a software engineer, with a BS from UC San Diego, and a Master’s from the University of Texas.   I am also a fourth generation atheist.  My parents are both physicists, my father’s family is full of very staunch atheists, while my mother’s family leans towards extremely reform Judaism.  My son, Ben, is nine, and he is a fifth generation atheist — at least so far.  I currently work as the primary mobile applications developer at a technology-based marketing firm.

I’ve been involved with The Atheist Experience TV show in various capacities since 2000, and helped Jeff Dee launch our first podcasting effort, The Non-Prophets, a few years after that.  As a lifelong atheist, I’m very interested in promoting what I refer to as “Evangelical Atheism” — not just being satisfied with our own opinions, but testing them out in a public arena and not being intimidated by religious pushback.

For a broad overview of my perspective on atheism, you should check out two of my activities that I’m proudest of.  One is a lengthy exchange I had with Chuck Colson a few years ago.  The other is a lecture I gave on standing up for atheism.

In addition to The Atheist Experience, I also occasionally blog about politics, gaming, and entertainment at my other blog, Kazim’s Korner; and Castles of Air is a blog targeted at novice Computer programmers.  If you want to know why I’ve gone by the online screen name “Kazim” for so long, here’s the story, but it’s not much of a story.  It’s just distinctive.

I also sing in a community chorus and play a lot of video games.  Next month I’ll be marrying my fiancee, Lynnea.

Finally, if you’d like to get in touch, you can email tv@atheist-community.org, or join my Facebook page.

Introductions: The show

Welcome to our new home on Freethought Blogs.  The transition seems to have gone smoothly, so I assume we’ll have some new people stumbling across us.

The Atheist Experience is a live public access call-in television show based out of Austin, Texas.  It launched in 1997.  You can learn more about the show here, including information on how to watch live and view the extensive archive.  We’ve got two hosts — Matt Dillahunty is on three out of every four weeks, and I (Russell Glasser) host the fourth week.  We also have five rotating cohosts: Don Baker, Jeff Dee, Jen Peeples, Martin Wagner, and Tracie Harris.

Since we have fifteen years of live callers behind us, we’ve covered a pretty wide range of personalities.  They range from slickly packaged professional apologists like Ray Comfort and Matt Slick on one end, to just plain unexpected silliness on the other.

The Atheist Experience is sponsored by the Atheist Community of Austin, a terrific social group which also supports two other podcasts: The Non-Prophets, a round table discussion group; and Godless Bitches, an atheist feminist podcast.

We’re all looking forward to interacting with the Freethought Blogs community at large, and I’ll be writing a new post introducing myself personally as one of your regular bloggers.  Talk to you soon!

Yeah, death to our readers too!

Well gee, it looks like Language Log and Pharyngula are BOTH taking a more, shall we say, aggressive moderation policy on unwanted comments. Since I do love jumping on bandwagons, I think it’s only fair to warn you folks that any perpetrators of the following activities in the blog comments, email to the TV list, posts on hosts’ Facebook pages, or calls to the TV show, will be hunted down and killed.

  1. “I have indisputable proof that God exists!” (Ten minutes of embarrassingly weak Poe’ing) “Nah, just kidding, I’m really an atheist too. I love you guys.”
  2. “Hey, there’s a movie I just discovered that really opened my eyes. It pretty much blows Christianity out of the water, and it’s got some other interesting information too. It’s called Zeitgeist. Ever heard of it?”
  3. “Dear sirs, I agree with nearly everything you say, but I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about your blind foolishness in accepting the official government story about vaccines.”
  4. “Guys, this video seems pretty convincing. Will you refute it for me?” (Link to long homemade YouTube clip featuring several thousand-year-old apologetics that are addressed at Iron Chariots.)
  5. “I was trolling a Christian message board / harassing my religious acquaintance in Gmail chat. The guy said something that got me stuck. What should I say next?” (Copy and paste job of five days worth of conversation.)
  6. “The B**BQUAKE – 911
    Let me show you the FATE OF TRAITORS…
    how can these HEADLESS IDIOTS BET AGAINST GOD!!!
    they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION…
    they LOST THE WAR……
    the blood and bodies of the atheist movement…
    you mofos killed MICKEY MOUSE!!!!”
    (Cue frothing at the mouth and incoherent muttering.)

Consider yourselves warned!

Removing blog roll for now

That neat little widget that used to appear in the side bar, which scrolls through a list of other atheist blogs, is gone for now. It was causing some false reports of malicious software on some browsers. We’ll keep an eye on this site until they come up with a solution to put it back.

Quick admin note: gang, how hard is it to notice the moderation alert?

Matt’s post today is getting a lot of responses, but it would appear some commenters aren’t reading the notice that comment moderation is on, nor are they noticing the window that pops up after leaving your comment, informing you that comment moderation is on, and that it will appear on the original post after it has been approved by an admin. Considering that these notices are all but accompanied by a parade of elephants and a 40-piece brass band, I find the phenomenon curious. But still, today one guy submitted his comment no fewer than seven times, and another at least four. While it’s no trouble to delete the extras in the queue, still, among intelligent adults I really don’t feel like I should have to remind people to read the notices.

Moderation has been more or less permanently activated due to the activity of trolls like Dennis Markuze/David Mabus (who’s still around) and the rise in Asian porn spam (not even good porn either!) that is the inevitable consequence of our increasing readership. It has not been activated to censor views we do not like, including Christian views. So if you don’t see your comment right away, please, don’t keep clicking the button like a monkey with Down’s Syndrome going “Why not it work?” It is working. Don’t panic. Okay? So: group hug! Now, thank you all for reading and participating here, and we return you to your regularly scheduled blasphemy.

You blog readers are so very silly

After I wrote my last post about Nazis disapproving of Darwin, Ruud pointed out that another reader had converted the post into film format on YouTube.

No reading, no dramatic enactment, just the text of the post — written in an old timey, grainy black and white film format, with German music playing over it. Watch it here!

It is my hope that Prophiscient will also give this post the same treatment, because that would lead to a delightful kind of double-infinite-self-reference loop.

Bloggy slowness?

Had a commenter or two mention the blog seems to load a bit slowly. I’ve noticed on both Mac Safari and Windows Firefox, the main body of the blog loads normally, but there appears to be something in the sidebar causing a traffic jam. I suspect it could be that scrolling blogroll, but I’m not sure. Can’t be the Paypal button; that’s very simple code and I’ve never known a Paypal button to slow down any other page they’re on.

Anyone else experiencing this?


Just sat here counting in my head, and by golly, the blog took a full 17 seconds before it fully loaded (that is to say, it was 17 seconds before the cursor stopped being an hourglass and I had full mouse control over the page). In Internet terms, 17 seconds is a small eternity. Hmm, what to do? Kazim?