Fascinating Lenny

The first time I saw this, I mis-read it as “Lemmy”, which – as you will see – would be double plus epic. But it’s still pretty good.

Lenny is a software troll-bot designed to waste telemarketer trolls’ time. In principle, it’s a great deal of fun but the end-game with systems like this is the end of usefulness of a service: both sides are willing to turn their phone service into useless crap. I admit I was tempted to set something like this up (except mine would be a drunk rock’n’roll drummer who thought the caller was trying to return a bass kit that had gotten left at a hotel in New Jersey) but then I realized it’d be easier to just shut my land line off completely or try to get the phone company to re-route it to 867-5309.

I think the value of Lenny is the performance. Whoever did the voice bits really did a good job. I’d rather hear what John Cleese could have done with it, were he still funny, but the Lenny bot is good stuff. [Lenny]

It vaguely reminds me of the first “SimBush” app for Apple laptops (c.1992) which hashed around a bunch of Bush quotes using Markov chains so it sounded like Bush just droning on and on about something drony. Nowadays, I suspect the window for that particular kind of humor has slammed shut; it just isn’t funny any more.

What is odd about the Lenny scripts is that they return the land line to usefulness, as entertainment. Now, instead of being pointlessly annoyed by telemarkers, you can have a schadenfreude-filled laugh in return. Derrida and Eco would be rolling in the aisles. From meaningful to meaningless to a source of laughter in less than 40 years; let’s hear it for telephone technology!

Seriously, though: my land-line is just not worth having. Think of all the creativity and work that went into building the phone grid, and it has been reduced to garbage in the name of scattergun capitalism. The same can be said for E-mail. When I first started using E-mail seriously, I was manager of UUCP node ‘gouldsd’ (which fed from decuac – Digital Equipment Corp) so decuac!gouldsd!mjr was me. The links were 2400baud and we could carry on useful conversations that were about 99% reliable. Since then, billions of dollars and generations of tech have been thrown at email and thanks to spam filtering and cloud email services sometimes crashing and burning, it’s 99% reliable, instantaneous, and 80% of the internet backbone traffic is spam. That estimate may be wrong; that was from years ago. Now it’s probably 30% lolcats, 30% spam, and 40% porn with a soupçon of Russian propaganda or NSA malware. The garbage has made email less useful to me, too – I used to check my email every 10 minutes all day, and when I was CEO at a startup I was getting 1200-2000 action-required emails a day. Now, I check my email every 2-3 days and there are 3 or 4 messages worth reading. A typical email download for me is about 190 messages/day and my spam filter kills 180 of them and I never see them.

Unless it’s from Lenny. I’ve always got time to hear from that guy.

That got me thinking. It ought to be pretty plausible to make fake identities using AI-generated faces and AI-generated profiles that occasionally make AI-generated comments and cluster into AI-generated special interest groups and AI-generated private message chatter about AI-generated topics including terrorism and drug-dealing and blowing up corporate capitalism. The AI-generated characters would, naturally, click through to the AI-generated marketing pieces which would cause facebook or google to send an actual bill for actual money to someone. If you want to see facebook crash and burn, accept that it’s a fountain of bullshit and crack the bullshit valve into the “wide open” position. (i.e.: a dismbiguation cost attack [cyberinsurgency])


  1. Dunc says

    Re the last para: I believe that’s what’s happened to MySpace – hardly anybody actually uses it anymore, and it’s just full of bots interacting with each other… I dunno, I never had an account, but that’s what I’ve heard.

    I got rid of my landline for exactly the same reasons. Prior to me actually getting around to cancelling it, it had been unplugged for a couple of years…

  2. voyager says

    My husband used to entertain himself by playing with these callers. He’d string them along for a while, then near the end he’d laugh say bye and hang up. Then we got rid of our landline and the calls stopped. We get the odd call now on our cellphone, but he doesn’t want to play anymore. Now he’s just annoyed like the rest of us.
    I think Lenny is a great idea.
    (John Cleese as Basil Fawlty would be brilliant, but this dithering Lenny is pretty good.)

  3. says

    Depending on my mood and if I’m doing anything else at the time, I’ll sometimes have some fun.

    There was once I said something to a guy who gave an obviously fake name (like “Jerry Jones” in the video above) that he was in India, to which he fairly replied that he could be in Pakistan. Fairly, up until the conversation turned into him shitting on Pakistanis. It was kinda funny that instead of moving on to the next call he’d rather argue about that sort of thing

    Another time I started calling a guy a piece of shit, and just kept saying “You’re a piece of shit” over and over again. The most astonishing thing is that instead of hanging up he angrily argued that he’s not a piece of shit. Buddy. You’re trying to scam me. You’re a piece of shit.

    Speaking of angry, the man who called saying he was from the head office of Visa and MasterCard wasn’t happy when I was trying to get more information about the merger I never heard happened.

    More often though when someone calls and asks to speak to the homeowner I’ll tell them to hold on for a moment and just put the phone down until they disconnect.

  4. John Morales says

    Tabby, lemons and lemonade.

    Me, when I’m in the mood, I’ll happily chat with phone scammers — great fun, and I feel virtuous to boot. And if I’m not, I’ll just laugh at them, sneer my deprecation and hang up. Obs I will never, ever fall for their scams, but it’s a good release for my snide obstreperousness.

    As for landlines, back in the day, when the power went down, the phone line still worked. But thanks to the marvellous NBN mess, I was forced to switch to VOIP like it or not, so when around Christmas we got a fire going where I live (Birdwood, South Australia), the power went down, the cellular network went down, and we had no comms whatsoever for two days.

    It did sardonically amuse me that, say, back in 1970 I would have had comms, but in 2019 I did not. Progress!

  5. bmiller says

    I have not had a landline for years, largely because I didn’t want to pay for an ATT technician to diagnose a faulty line. :)

    I do get spam on my cell phone, though. Apparently, there is a scam where a Chinese scammer randomly calls numbers threatening to report people to ICE. It’s only relevant to illegal Chinese immigrants, and I don’t speak Mandarin, but this is an odd little evil play going on.

  6. Curious Digressions says

    Back when I had a land line, I liked to mess with telemarketers. Then I found out that a significant percent of domestic (USA) calls are placed by prison inmates who are allowed* to do the job for dollars per day as part of their incarceration.

    * Allowed = “privileges” like fair probationary reviews are not withheld.

    But, yeah. I got rid of the land line because of telemarketer calls too.

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