Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 3 Number 1, Jan. 2004
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:email@example.com
Sp@mm, S*P*a*M, Spaaaaam, S.p,a.m, Memes,
S\p/a/m, s=p=a-m, Bulkmail, SSppaamm, Am-spay,
Viruses, Spizam, Immune Systems,
S-p_a-m, Prions and $p&m
!!! Commercial !!!
If you want to help support my research, please "opt in" so I can send
you s[p]a[m under the terms of my privacy promise. See the end of this
issue for details.
!!! Introductory Notes !!!
"I'm warning you, if you say 'Jehovah' once more --
[is hit with stone] who threw that?"
-- "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1559409010/hip-20 )
There was no C3M for December, 2003. Some of you have emailed me
asking why you haven't received issues before that; I think I have
blocked on occasions by s:p;a:m filters. To avoid having this happen
again, I am encrypting any words I may use that are typically blocked
by these filters, by putting them in ASCII using hexadecimal. If you
don't know what that is, see:
For example, a popular pill for treating a male malady codes as
56_69_61_67_72_61 and the act of trading in a loan for a new one
!!! Self-Reproducing Machines !!!
"A number seven lathe is the simplest industrial tool that
can be used to reproduce all of its own components."
-- urban legend from the 1970s
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, physicists such as John von Neumann,
Richard Feyman, Freeman Dyson and Edwin Shrodinger (all of whom
coincidentally were involved in atom bomb projects in the U.S. or
Germany during World War II), advanced ideas on self-reproducing
machines and what they can teach us about the origins of life.
This speculation has lead to "nanotechnology" as a growing technical
field. In the mid-1990s the TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation"
could talk about molecule-sized self-reproducing "nanites" and have
their mass audience understand.
!!! Saturation Mail !!!
"You may already be a winner!"
-- traditional junk mail headline
John Brunner's 1969 sci-fi novel "The Jagged Orbit"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0575070528/hip-20 )
describes a future in the year 2014 in which mail is delivered by
pneumatic tubes and is dominated by aggressive junk mail, using
chemical and electrical weapons to force their messages on people.
A woman looking at her day's mail thinks to herself:
"Practically all satches, as usual. I do hate saturation mail!
It clogs the comweb same as the garbage clogs the drains, and
I swear, ninety per cent of it goes INTO the drains without being
if you tear a piece of junk mail up it activates a recorded message,
and on this day her husband discovers that if you try to pull the
plug on its battery it now shocks you -- another escalation in
the arms race between junk mailer and the public. The rich have
detectors that shunt the mail directly into the sewer, until smart
mail bombs start wrecking those sewers. And so on...
!!! The Resonant Message of the Communications Channel !!!
"Send money! That's the new name of the album."
-- Todd Rungren
I remember in the early 1970s an American disk jockey got in trouble
with the Federal Communication Comission (FCC) when he said something
like, "Last chance to send in your money to me, Bob Blob, care of
this station," and thousands of dollars showed up. He'd meant it
as a joke but turned into a problem. The station ended up donating
the money to a local charity, I think. What I believe he stumbled
on is the fact that the most monetarily "efficient" use of the airwaves
is to broadcast the message "send money" which explains the
proliferation of TV ministers and infomercials. Later I began to
think of this as being analogous to the notion of "resonant frequency."
Just as a guitar string or an organ pipe has a resonant frequency at
which it plays, and a bridge has a frequency at which it collapses, a
communication channel has a resonant message which yields the highest
financial return, and in a competitive business environment pushes out
all other messages.
!!! Computers Changed Everything !!!
"A zero instruction decodes to 'jump to location zero.'
Put a zero at location zero, and it's an infinite loop.
Since most data is zeros, if you start accidentally 'executing
data' you'll probably jump soon to location zero, and then loop
there. This makes it easier to catch."
-- what I was taught as a young assembly language programmer of
Data General minicomputers
To this day the dominant architecture of computer hardware, with
its main memory, Central processing Unit (CPU), arithmetic unit
and Input/Output (I/O) bus, is called the "von Neumann architecture,"
after John von Neumann of the Institute of Advanced Studies. There
is doubt whether von Neumann actually invented the architecture,
though he never actually claimed to; he was just the first to publish
it, and by scientific tradition, that rates a name. The innovation
at that point was storing the programs in the same memory as the data.
Previously programs had been patched in with telephone switchboard-like
patch cords, or stored as code numbers in a separate set of registers.
This of course made it possible for the first time for the computer
to write its own programs. Of course at the time this was seen as
VERY BAD, and efforts were mede to prevent it from happening
accidentally. Only later was it recognized that such simple
innovations as the assembler (for translating assembly language
to machine code), the compiler (for compiling languages like
FORTRAN and C into assembly language), and the interpreter
(for languages like Basic and Perl) depended on the machine
being able to generate code for itself.
But this of course made possible weird behavior of code-writing code.
Some of these oddities are described in the Article "Computer Bums"
by Stewart Brand, in "Rolling Stone" in 1972, and reprinted in
the book "II Cybernetic Frontiers" (1974);
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394492838/hip-20 )
and later reproduced on the web.
( www.wheels.org/spacewar/stone/rolling_stone.html )
Legends abound from early ARPA days, full of freedom and weirdness.
Here's one of many from Project MAC (Multiple Access Computer) days
- Alan Kay: "They had a thing on the PDP-l called 'The Unknown
Glitch.' They used to program the thing either in direct machine
code, direct octal, or in DDT, In the early days it was a paper-tape
machine. It was painful to assemble stuff, so they never listed out
the programs. The programs and stuff just lived in there, just raw
seething octal code. And one of the guys wrote a program called
'The Unknown Glitch,' which at random intervals would wake up,
print out I AM THE UNKNOWN GLITCH. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, and then
it would relocate itself somewhere else in core memory, set a clock
interrupt, and go back to sleep. There was no way to find it."
I remember the first time I heard of a "computer virus" in the
mid-1970s. To my knowledge it was just a theoretical construct at
the time; no on had written on yet. It was described to me as
"a computer program which tells a computer to look up all the phone
numbers it has for other computers, and to call them all up and
copy the program onto of each of them and have them each run it."
This was in the days of minicomputers and acoustic coupler modems,
when 300 Baud was fast. (Today, 56,000 Baud is slow.)
By 1975 I was teaching a student-directed-seminar at UCSC in
"Understanding Whole Systems" with Gregory Bateson as faculty adviser.
I devoted on of my 20 lectures to "cancers and viruses," my intuition
already convincing me that these concepts were vital to understanding
In the early 1980s I did my first assembly language programming
for pay, using a minicomputer with no disk or tape memory, only
"core" (those little magnetic doughnuts made obsolete by "flash"
memory). I set bits inside the computer with the front panel
toggle switches, 16 at a time. We called it "toggling in"
a program. That's when I had my first actual experience
with "executing data," that apocalyptic event that could seemingly
randomly copy garbage into locations all over memory. I learned that
after this happened I could trust nothing, so I would toggle in a short
program to zero all of memory before starting over to toggle in all
of my code and data again.
!!! What Part of 'Self-Destruct" Do You Do First: Destroy the Self or
Destroy the Destruction? !!!
"No one could have known at the time that this would be the first
of many occasions in which Captain Kirk would cause a computer to
self-destruct by presenting the illogic of its own purpose."
-- review of Start Trek: "The Return of the Archons"
( www.fye.com/catalog/moviesProduct.jhtml?itemId=10653094 )
In the early 1980s I owned my first personal computer, an Apple II.
My buddy Bob and I were playing with the Apple BASIC interpreter,
which is cable of reading in BASIC commands from text files, and also
writing to text files, and so can produce self-modifying code.
Grappling with how to better understand this awesome power, we did the
experiment of writing a self-deleting program. In an "infinite"
loop it would randomly select a line in its own code, print a statement
saying what it was about to do, and then delete that line.
What was remarkable about this program's behavior was the many
different failure modes it exhibited. It couldn't keep doing everything
I described, but sometimes it lost the ability to loop, and stopped;
sometimes it lost the ability to delete lines, and looped doing nothing;
sometimes it lost the ability to print early, and so its subsequent
behavior was a mystery, except for the clues in the fragments of itself
When I first learned the UNIX system a year later, I worked on a
project with D___ where we got our own VAX 11-780 running Berkeley
Standard Distribution (BSD) UNIX. During a conversation we wondered
how hard it was to "crash," and D___ wrote a program that "forked"
two new copies of itself running the same program. This continued at
an exponentially increasing rate until the system ran out of unique
Process IDs (PIDs) which I think it had 32,768 of -- in less than
When I learned to use the C Shell and its variants I wrote the following
script which does a similar feat: it creates copies of itself endlessly,
each of which is also capable of creating copies of itself endlessly.
date ''+%s'' > foo
set n = `cat foo`
cp $0 $n
chmod a+x $n
It can be easily modified to run the copies as well -- I leave that
to the reader as an exercise. (That way if you know enough to get
into trouble, maybe you'll know enough to get out again.)
!!! When In Doubt, Simulate It !!!
"If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote
programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would
-- Weinberger's second law
"Read Unhappy Macnam -- Forms Skip and Run Away Read Chaos"
-- IBM 370 MODEL 69 FEATURES AND DEVICES
( www.etext.org/CuD/Bootlegger/boot-7 )
In "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" (1996)
by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684832674/hip-20 )
the technical developments leading to the internet are detailed.
One such innovation is packet routing, developed at Bolt, Beranek
and Newman (BBN) as part of building and programming the first routers,
called IMPs. Three programmers were writing the routing software and
a visiting MIT professor named Bob Kahn was "kibitzing." He said the
routing scheme they were using would crash the network. Basically
the problem is that each message is broken into packets that may take
different routes, and they are reassembled at the receiver. But if the
receiver has its buffer filled with partially-assembled messages and has
no room to finish assembling any of them, a "deadly embrace" occurs.
The book elaborates:
[This] scenario has an analog in the shipping business. Say
a Toyota dealership in Sacramento orders replacement engine
blocks and pistons from a warehouse in Yokohama. ... In the
Yokohama harbor, freighters are loading large containers, all
the same size, filled with products of many kinds. The engine
blocks and pistons wind up in separate ships. When the container
of engine blocks arrives in San Francisco, it is unloaded to a
warehouse of containers whose contents are also partial shipments...
When the freighter with the pistons arrives, it finds the warehouse
full. Every later ship has the same problem: Nobody can unload;
nothing can leave the warehouse. Deadlock. Solution? The Yokohama
shipper agrees to call ahead next time to reserve space for all
containers that go together. If space is unavailable, he waits
until it becomes available before shipping.
The three programmers disagreed with Kahn about there being a problem;
Kahn wanted to simulated the new internet to settle the question.
This was vetoed because the three programmers were behind schedule
and needed to be writing the communication code itself. But when
the created the first network, linking places like Stanford and UCLA,
preliminary tests showed that sure enough, as few as 12 packets could
cause the "deadlock" condition Kahn predicted. Belatedly the programmers
simulated the network, reproduced the problem, and verified that the
suggested fix (reserving space at the receiver for all packets before
sending any) worked.
It was a fortunate happenstance that Kahn happened to be on the project,
and knew something about container ship routing. The academic
literature on routing algorithms was very slim back then, and some
of it was wrong. The problem wasn't perceived as important, and
computers were still expensive enough that few computational experiments
had been done.
Today that isn't the case. There is a mountain of literature on
routing. I suspect that breakthroughs in "network theory" have
contributed to new understandings. I have just checked a book
out of the library on this topic, called "Nexus: Small Worlds and
the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks" (2003) by Mark Buchanan.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393324427/hip-20 )
It was recommended by the fabulous book "The Tipping Point: How
Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" (2003) by Malcolm Gladwel.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316346624/hip-20 )
It in turn was recommended by the ever-useful bookwatch web site,
which gleans book pointers from blogs, and which I've mentioned
several times before.
( www.onfocus.com/bookwatch )
I'm expecting to find that the Network Theory described in
"Nexus..." relates closely to the self-modifying networks
explored by Wolfram in "A New Kind of Science" (2002).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1579550088/hip-20 )
!!! Oops, Wrong Kind of Artificial Life !!!
The first real computer virus was on an Apple II in 1981, and did
not spread through network connections, but instead through floppy
disk sharing. A student developed it as an experiment, and it
accidentally escaped "into the wild." Later a version of it
it turned out to "immunize" computers against another virus strain!
This is documented at the "Virus History" web site.
( www.cknow.com/vtutor/vthistory.htm )
In 1988 the "Robert Morris Internet Worm" was a famous virus that
brought the internet to its knees, spread mostly via dial-up lines
and without human intervention. It more closely resembled the
theoretical viruses I heard of in the 1970s. Morris was also doing
an experiment; he built in a damper on reproduction and thought
the virus would spread slowly. It surprised him and spread like
wildfire (which earned him a ten year suspended sentence due to the
low level of malice he displayed). One of the most biting criticisms
I read of Morris' "experiment" is that he didn't simulate it first,
to understand its growth dynamics.
The book "Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers
Meet Biology" (1993) by Steven Levy touches on an interesting irony.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679743898/hip-20 )
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, while Artificial Life (AI)
researchers were trying to create evolving simulated life-forms
in the lab, computer viruses were beginning to run rampant on the
newly democratized internet and nobody chose to study them as examples
of A-Life. The topic was almost "untouchable." Only the necessity
of countering increasing threats has forced computer scientists to
take a closer look at these beasts.
As I write these words, the MyDoom virus, which set a record for
its infection rate, has brought down the SCO web site and is reportedly
targeting Microsoft's site as well.
!!! Memetics !!!
"We shall not even know that we have met.
Yet meet we shall, and part, and meet again,
Where dead men meet, on lips of living men."
-- Samuel Butler (1822-1888)
In 1976 zoologist Richard Dawkins published "The Selfish Gene."
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0192860925/hip-20 )
This popular book tied together genetics and Darwinian evolution,
and used them to explain some aspects of animal behavior, through
the new science of "Sociobiology." Almost as an afterthought,
Dawkins made some remarks about self-reproducing messages.
"What, after all is so special about genes? The answer is that
they are replicators. The laws of physics are supposed to be true
all over the accessible universe. Are there any principles of
biology which are likely to have similar universal validity?
When astronauts voyage to distant planets and look for life,
they can expect to find creatures too strange and unearthly
for us to imagine. But is there anything that must be true for
all life, wherever it is found, and whatever the basis of its
chemistry? ... Obviously I do not know, but if I had to bet, I
would put my money on one fundamental principle. This is the law
that all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating
He named non-DNA self-reproducing messages, passed on by humans and
their machines, "memes" and in so doing unwittingly founded the science
Just as genes have evolutionary pressure to be shorter, and therefore
less vulnerable to being split or truncated, so too is there pressure on
memes. "The love of money is the root of all evil" becomes "Money is
the root of all evil."
I think it's fair to say that all of the topics covered so far
in this issue of C3M fall with the study of Memetics.
The best all-around explanation of memes I have read is in
Eric Drexler's 1987 book, "Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of
Nanotechnology" -- also almost as an afterthought as well.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385199732/hip-20 )
In the more recent "Genome -- The Autobiography of a Species in 23
Chapters" (1999) by Matt Ridley,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060932902/hip-20 )
it is explained that the most common message in our DNA -- besides the
majority of meaningless "junk DNA" that doesn't code to amino acids --
is leftover multiple copies of pirate instructions to edit our DNA which
we got from a repeated waves of DNA-attacking viruses millions of years
ago. These pirate instructions have been neutralized by our DNA but not
!!! Halfway Between Genes and Memes !!!
"This is the song that never ends,
And it goes on and on my friend.
Some people starting singing it
Not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it
Forever just because..."
-- Shari Lewis
I don't remember where but someplace in the last 10 years I read
about "autocatalytic" or "self-catalyzing" chemical reactions, in
which for a given precursor solution there would be molecules that
act as a catalyst to creating more of themselves, so the more there
is the more there is, until you run out of precursor. See
"autocatalytic set" in the "Wikipedia."
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocatalytic_set )
This reminds me of that legendary jello-like "polywater" the Russians
claimed to discover in the late 1960s (later debunked as finger grease
contaminating the capillary tubes in the experiment), or the "ice-nine"
crystal of H2O which self-catalyzed more ice-nine in liquid water; if
dropped into the ocean it would destroy the world; it was featured
in the tongue-in-cheek science fiction novel "Cat's Cradle" (1963) by
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/038533348X/hip-20 )
This all would seem like urban legend stuff except that it
turns out Mad Cow Disease is caused by molecules called
"prions" which are autocatalytic in animal nervous systems.
(See "Genome" above for info on this.) I think these critters
make a better analogy for chain letters and the like, which do
not contain instructions for their own replication, than "virus"
which applies better to the computer programs that do contain
instructions for their own replication.
!!! The "Me Too" Meme and Other Newbie Diseases !!!
I bet you're still livin' in your parents' cellar
Downloadin' pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar
And postin' 'Me too!' like some brain-dead AOL-er
I should do the world a favor and cap you like Old Yeller
You're just about as useless as jpegs to Hellen Keller"
-- Wierd Al Yankovic, 1999
"It's All About the Pentiums"
In the late 1980s I got a my first internet email address,
firstname.lastname@example.org, which I still technically have (it is now email@example.com).
This was when commercial use of the internet was still illegal, and
thew World Wide Web (WWW) didn't yet exist, let alone Mosaic, the
first graphical browser. In the early 1990s, I go disgusted with the
TV coverage of the OJ trial in LA and canceled my cable. (My wife
worked in doctor's office at the time, and some kids in the waiting
room brought her the TV remote and said it was broken. It wasn't --
there was just OJ on every channel.) I decided to spend the time and
money instead on the internet, paying for the connectivity and
investing the time to learn about the technology.
So I watched the 'net "grow up." I used FTP before there was Gopher
and Mosaic before there was Netscape, and news groups before there were
chat rooms. One of the things I got to witness was the ever-rising flood
of "newbies" into the system and the social effects this engendered.
Every few months another friend of mine finally gets email, and starts
alerting the rest of us as to why we should send postcards to the kid
in the hospital with cancer, and how we can win a vacation from Bill
Gates and Walt Disney Jr. by forwarding emails. And it never ends.
Just yesterday I got an email that had the subject, "DO NOT DELETE
or CLOSE THIS LETTER OR YOU WILL NOT FIND LOVE." I was admonished
to send 15 copies to loved ones in the next 15 minutes or face terrible
consequences. Talk about a pushy meme!
One of the most hilarious phenomena was the "me too" effect. You could
still pull this today, just post to a news group or bulletin board or
chat room, "Did you miss Janet Jackson's shocking moment at the superbowl
halftime? I have the pix! I can't post them and I can't receive email,
but post your email address on this (board/group/chat) and I'll mail
them to you!" Of course the posting proceeds:
Tommy@aol.com: Send them to me!
Dicky@aol.com: Me too!
Harry@aol.com: Me too!
[and so on...]
This is called "trolling," trying to trick the newbies into posting
"me too" like fools. I remember explaining this to my wife around 1995.
I was just starting to use the internet heavily in my work, with email
and web, and then I'd come home and watch "VR5" (which sank without
a trace) and "Sliders" (good show, still rerun on Sci-Fi Channel),
and after a while I was feeling a little TOO virtual, so I'd sort
washers in the garage or something like that. I was sitting on a stool
at my workbench, telling her about the "me too" posts, and then I almost
fell off from convulsive laughter while telling her about the response
post that would eventually come along:
firstname.lastname@example.org: There are no ####ing pix morons!
from some disgruntled longtime internet user maddened by the bandwidth
wasted by the trollers and the newbies.
!!! The Memetics of This e-Zine !!!
"Band together with other true mutants!!!"
-- Church of the SubGenius
( www.subgenius.com )
I started this e-Zine inspired by and based on the principles in
"Multiple Streams of Internet Income" (2001) by Robert G. Allen.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0471410144/hip-20 )
The first piece of advice from this book I took was to join the
Amazon Associates program and start getting a commission for every
purchase made by following one of my links to Amazon.
This made it possible to track visits that resulted in click-throughs.
For example, I just grabbed this report off the associates web site for
my "Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory" page. For each
book I list the ranking and then the number of unique visitors since
I started tracking:
1 398 An Introduction to General Systems Thinking
2 212 Original Whole Earth Catalog, Special 30th Anniversary Issue
3 162 General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications
4 136 Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Advances in Systems Theory,
Complexity, and the Human Sciences)
5 132 Cybernetics of Cybernetics
6 124 Design for a Brain
7 118 Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology,
Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology
8 104 Cybernetics, Second Edition: or the Control and Communication
in the Animal and the Machine
9 102 Powers of Ten
10 91 Brains, Machines and Mathematics
11 90 The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog
12 89 The Updated last whole earth catalog : access to tools
13 83 What Do You Say After You Say Hello? the Psychology of
14 82 Systemantics: The Underground Text of Systems Lore
15 81 The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society
16 78 Dynamics: The Geometry of Behavior
17 76 Whole Earth Epilog: Access to Tools.
18 74 Chaos: Making a New Science
19 74 The Sciences of the Artificial - 3rd Edition
20 73 The Next Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools
This "metering" allowed me to discover that I got a lot more visitors
than I'd realized to the "...Cybernetics..." page. Robert Allen
recommended, in the post-dot-com-crash environment, that I collect
email addresses by offering a free e-Zine, and then use a "dual opt-in"
technique to get people to first agree to get the e-Zine, and then
separately agree to receive marketing emails.
The problem with the approach so far is: (1) I earn about $10
per quarter from commissions, and since I spend upwards of 100
hours on this e-Zine, I'm averaging as little as $0.10 an hour,
and (2) of the 143 e-Zine subscribers I have so far, only one
has opted in to receive marketing solicitations from me.
I attribute the latter to the huge rise of 73_70_61_6D in the last few
years. Just as home invasion robberies make it harder for the Girl
Scouts to sell cookies door to door, 73_70_61_6D makes it harder for
honest email marketers.
My list is now in an approximate equilibrium. Though I've only
had one unsubscribe, I have addresses go "bad" (undeliverable)
at about the rate I get new subscribers. This may also be
73_70_61_6D-related, as people change addresses to try to shake it off.
!!! The Memetics of 53_70_61_6D !!!
"By the time I opened up my email and cleaned the
diamondbacks out of my mailbox, the correspondence
-- "Everything You Know Is Wrong! (About Shoes!)" from
"All Things Firesign" (2003)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008BRBC/hip-20 )
According to internet historian Bard Templeton, the first
"73_70_61_6D" email was sent May 3, 1978 by Gary Thuerk of
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), advertising the new DEC-20.
( www.templetons.com/brad/xxxx/xxxx25.html )
( replace xxx with the word 73_70_61_6D decodes to )
Of course, the name didn't come for 15 more years, and then was lifted
from a skit by the British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus:
Waitress: Well there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and
73_70_61_6D; egg, bacon and 73_70_61_6D; egg, sausage,
bacon and 73_70_61_6D; 73_70_61_6D, bacon, sausage and
73_70_61_6D; 73_70_61_6D, egg, 73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D,
73_70_61_6D, bacon and 73_70_61_6D; 73_70_61_6D,
73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D, egg and 73_70_61_6D;
73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D,
73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D, baked beans, 73_70_61_6D,
73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D, and 73_70_61_6D; or lobster
thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished
with truffle pate, brandy and a fried egg on top and
Mrs. Bun: Have you got anything without 73_70_61_6D in it?
Waitress: Well, there's 73_70_61_6D, eggs, sausage and 73_70_61_6D.
That's not got *much* 73_70_61_6D in it.
Mrs. Bun: I don't want *any* 73_70_61_6D.
Mr. Bun: Why can't she have egg, bacon, 73_70_61_6D and sausage?
Mrs. Bun: That's got 73_70_61_6D in it!
Mr. Bun: Not as much as 73_70_61_6D, egg, sausage and 73_70_61_6D.
Mrs. Bun: Look, can't I have egg, bacon, 73_70_61_6D and sausage,
Mrs. Bun: What d'you mean uuugggh! I don't like 73_70_61_6D.
Vikings: (singing) 53,70,61,6D, 73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D,
73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D ... 73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D,
73_70_61_6D, 73_70_61_6D ... Lovely 73_70_61_6D, wonderful
-- Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1971
"Another Monty Python Record"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000HQC/hip-20 )
Now, in the third millennium, the "saturation mail" predicted by
John Brunner in 1969 has become a virtual plague.
I still don't understand all the traffic about
72_65_66_69_6E_61_6E_63_65, but I have a theory why so many solicitations
are for 56_69_61_67_72_61 and ways to increase 70_65_6D_69_73 length.
If the seller turns out to be fraudulent, the buyer has to tell the FBI
he needed to have his 70_65_6D_69_73 lengthened or needed to use
56_69_61_67_72_61. This reduces the number of complaints.
How do we solve this problem? I am convinced that "73_70_61_6D"
filtering as we know it today is the wrong answer. For example,
my local SIGGRAPH computer graphics chapter had a meeting on
January 21, 2004 called "The First CAT Scan of a 53_70_65_72_6D
Whale Head, and What It Teaches Us About What 46_65_6D_61_6C_65
53_70_65_72_6D Whales Find 53_65_78_79" (If you're reading this
without decoding, c'mon -- where's your child-like sense of fun?)
Several recipients never got the mail because their 73_70_61_6D-
blocking software, installed by a network administrator in their
institution, blocked it. To see what it was, visit the San Diego
SIGGRAPH web site and look for the event on that date.
( san-diego.siggraph.org )
I bring this up because my mailing to the subscribers to the
SIGGRAPH list was clearly not 73_70_61_6D; they'd all signed
up to receive the announcements. This is an example of the
futility of content-based filtering. I am reminded of an
argument put forth by Douglas R. Hofstadter in "Godel, Escher,
Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" (1979).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465026567/hip-20 )
He said that just as Godel's Theorem in math proves that no
algorithm (or computer program) can sort any list of finite logical
statements into "true" or false" with 100% accuracy, it also
implies that no immune system can be 100% effective at sorting
foreign from host proteins. He gives an analogy of a record
player that reproduces all sounds perfectly -- there exists a record
that will destroy the record player by resonating at the frequency
of one of its components. Sure, you could add a gizmo that detects
records trying to play that frequency too loud and prevent them
from playing, but then a record could destroy that gizmo, so you
have to add another gizmo, and so on...
I suspect the same analogy holds for content-based 73_70_61_6D
filtering. There is always a message that escapes filtering
by cleverly representing concepts without using forbidden words
(see the title of this issue), and there are also legitimate
messages that can't get through, like my whale event posting.
This reminds me of a "Lou Grant" TV show episode in which
the newspaper staff were debating a list of "banned" words
by using code numbers for them. It didn't take long to
decode them from context, with expressions like "one you"
and "you little two," being thrown about. By the end of the
show the numbers were sounding obscene, and calling someone a
number could make them fighting mad.
!!! We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us !!!
"I really hate this damned machine
I wish that they would sell it
It never does quite what I want
But only what I tell it"
-- meme popular with programmers (note primitive
error correcting code of meter and rhyme)
The ironic thing in all of this is that your computer can
only execute local instructions; it must "choose" to let
in alien code such as viruses, and to receive the obnoxious
emails, before they can annoy you. And why does it choose
to do this? Usually because a feature you don't even want
was added to your operating system or your browser or email
application, making you more vulnerable. I am reminded of
the science fiction short stories and novels by Larry Niven
set in what he calls "Known Space." In that future humans buy
the secret of "transporter" technology from an alien race,
and begin using it on Earth. Initially people put the booths
inside their houses, until a rash of burglaries cause them to
move the booths outside.
"Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven" (1975)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345334698/hip-20 )
This year the on-line comic "User Friendly" had a strip about
one of the tech support guys in a high-tech company lecturing the
sales staff about the new dangers of viruses. "Right, listen
you two," he says, "we need to talk about how two practice
"What?" says one of the salesmen.
"Look, after working at an I.S.P. for over half a decade and
and being immersed in the web, what is the one lesson you've
They reply in unison, "Click on everything!"
( ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=20030823 )
Clearly this is problem that can never be "fixed in documentation."
There will always be too many newbies and clueless who didn't get
the memo telling them NOT to go the alleged PayPal site and re-enter
their credit card info, or whatever the "scam du jour" is. There's
a sucker born every nanosecond on the web.
!!! "We're From Microsoft -- We're Here To Help" !!!
"If you enjoy juggling straight razors, then you'll enjoy
working with today's operating systems."
-- Ted Nelson, 1987
"Computer Lib/Dream Machines" (revised edition)
Our (US) government's efforts to legislate against 73_70_61_6D
have been watered down by the efforts of marketing lobbyists
as to be almost useless to consumers, but I believe a political
solution was unlikely to be useful anyway; I don't think
anyone is currently in jail fro violating Anti-53_70_61_6D laws.
See "Senate Approves Landmark 53_70_61_6D-Friendly
Anti-53_70_61_6D Bill" in the archives of on-line column
"Good Morning Silicon Valley."
( www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/business/columnists/gmsv/7356071.htm )
Last week Bill Gates proposed an initiative by Microsoft
to control 73_70_61_6D by making email cost something to send.
I am very suspicious. They'll probably be the ones collecting.
The Firesign Theatre once said (in 1995) that it makes sense that
the head of Microsoft is named "Bill Gates" because every time they
upgrade to a new system, they have to buy their computer more gates,
and then they get a bill.
Remember this parable of Aesop:
A quarrel had arisen between the Horse and the Stag, so the
Horse came to a Hunter to ask his help to take revenge on the
Stag. The Hunter agreed, but said: "If you desire to conquer the
Stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your
jaws, so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this
saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may keep steady upon
you as we follow after the enemy." The Horse agreed to the
conditions, and the Hunter soon saddled and bridled him. Then
with the aid of the Hunter the Horse soon overcame the Stag, and
said to the Hunter: "Now, get off, and remove those things from my
mouth and back."
"Not so fast, friend," said the Hunter. "I have now got you
under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present."
Moral: If you allow men to use you for your own purposes,
they will use you for theirs.
!!! There Is a Right Answer !!!
"In the once upon a time days of the First Age of
Magic, the prudent sorcerer regarded his own true
name as his most valued possession but also the
greatest threat to his continued good health, for
-- the stories go -- once an enemy, even a weak
unskilled enemy, learned the sorcerer's true name,
then routine and widely known spells could destroy or
enslave even the most powerful."
-- True Names (1981) Vernor Vinge
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312862075/hip-20 )
( home.comcast.net/~kngjon/truename/truename.html )
Despite the current terrorism hysteria, I remain an advocate or privacy.
Privacy makes secure credit card purchases over the internet possible.
Privacy keeps the government from "rounding up the usual suspects"
whenever they need a scapegoat. But the main cause of 73_70_61_6D
is a major, humongous flaw in the design of our current email protocols,
which give 100% of the power to the sender of an email, and 0% to the
receiver. Not only is anonymity for the sender easy, but counterfeiting
identity is just as easy, while identity verification by the receiver is
almost impossible, as is blocking unwanted messages based on true senders.
If we solved just the counterfeit identity problem, most 73_70_61_6D
would go away, while anonymous messaging could remain for those who
The internet community has had the power to fix this problem
since the creation of Secure Socket Layer (SSH) technology.
Microsoft, with near-monopoly control of the Email Client Programs
(Outlook & Outlook Express) also could have acted as a standards-maker
and solved it. The solution is, use encryption to ensure the identity
of email senders on a voluntary basis, and let receivers block
anonymous emails if they wish, as well as unknown or "bad list"
Such a system would give receivers the same powers they have now
with telephone "caller id" features. (I might add that snail mail
also lacks this sender confirmation.)
Not only that, but according to eweek's Security Editor Larry
Seltzer, we could prevent most email viruses, such as MyDoom, as well.
( www.eweek.com/article2/0,4149,1473093,00.asp )
He writes of changes needed in the Send Mail Transaction
There is an answer to the worm problem, and it's a bit of a
surprise: SMTP authentication. Designed largely to combat
73_70_61_6D, it involves a modification to the SMTP protocol to
allow servers to confirm that a message purporting to come from a
particular server in fact does come from that server. I've
identified 9 proposals so far for SMTP authentication; a couple
weeks ago I wrote about Yahoo's Domain Keys proposal, and AOL
recently began supporting Sender Permitted From (a k a SPF),
which is the method furthest along in development and deployment.
Most of these proposals are based on dual-key encryption, which is
well-explained in "Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
Saving Privacy in the Digital Age" (2001) by Steven Levy.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140244328/hip-20 )
!!! You Can Be a 53_70_61_6Dmer Too !!!
"I'm not selling out, I'm buying in!"
-- Yuppie slogan, 1980s
As promised in a previous issue, I'm giving you all the source code
to the "bulkmail" program I use to distribute this e-Zine.
The code, scripts and examples comprise 6 files:
* Build - a C Shell script to compile the program
* Run - a C Shell script to run the program
* Bulkmail.java - source code
* mail.java - source code
* in.txt - test email body
* list.txt - test email recipients list (one per line)
Here are the first two files:
# get help
java Bulkmail -h
# test the program
java Bulkmail -D -s "subject" -i in.txt -l list.txt -c email@example.com -f firstname.lastname@example.org
You can get all six off a page on my e-Zine web site.
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/bulkmail_code.html )
I have found the tough part was not so much getting it working as
getting all the needed components, including Java Beans, from the
Sun web site.
You may ask, is it irresponsible to distribute this code?
Well consider the following:
Actually, SMTP is mind-bogglingly simple, and if you look
at my program, it's amazing how much power I have as programmer.
The act of "spoofing" a return address is trivial, because there
is no verification anywhere. My program verifies the domain
of the return address exists and responds to a Domain Name Service
(DNS) query, but that was my choice; I could take that out.
The odd thing -- at least to me -- is how all the you-know-what
filters block certain content, but don't seem to mind my messages
which SAY they are from "email@example.com" but are REALLY sent from
the domain "cox.com" -- a typical 73_70_61_6Dmer type trick.
Recently a professor at Algoma University in Canada held
a demonstration to show the simplicity -- and flexibility --
of the internet protocols.
Professor George Townsend offered extra credit to anyone in his
fourth year Computer Networks course who could take up the
challenge of implementing internet based protocols over a new
form of medium -- Bongo Drums.
Eight weeks later, the first public demonstration was given to the
class by using a simple ping packet. With a blinding 2bps speed,
the class sat patiently as the packet was received in roughly 140
What's the point you may ask? We aren't trying to set any speed
records here (actually, we have been developing some ideas for
highspeed bongos), but rather were showing that the lower layers
of the OSI model can be replaced with any form of media without
affecting the layers above it.
( eagle.auc.ca/~dreid/index.html )
What would have REALLY been irresponsible would have been to sell
my program to the sender of this email:
From: "###@hotmail.com" <###@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue Dec 30, 2003 1:58:57 PM US/Pacific
Subject: I want to buy
Hello: ( I want to buy)
I want to buy Email Sender Express (bulk email software) that may
send @sina.com,@163.net (eg: ############@sina.com)
You whether to possess there this kind of Email Sender Express?
If you have it , I shall buy it at once . Please talk that the
quoted price .
Please in case may , give a DEOM .
If you have this soft,please contact to me,thank you. My email
I wait your reply
Thank you very much
You may email to ############@sina.com and test once .
In case the success , the directions was send successfully .
I was made suspicious by the misspellings, the two email
addresses: one hotmail, one Chinese (?) and no name given.
Who are these people? Hong Kong opium addicts?
- I got most of the code it straight out of a book,
with a few additions from some web sites. There's
no secrets here.
- The Send Mail Transaction Protocol (SMTP) is flawed,
that's the problem. One more or less copies of bulkmail
programs won't change that.
!!! Please Opt-In !!!
"YOU MUST ACT NOW to receive this exclusive offer!"
-- Power Spike Stock Trading System web site
Well, gentle readers, here's my problem. After over 18 months
of concentrated effort, I finally have a product to sell. But, as
I mentioned, only one of you all has opted in to receive commercial
solicitations from me. I think it's a great product, and I've even
set up a web site to market it, with my own domain.
( travelingtechie.com )
-- Oops, I didn't mean for that to slip out (as Janet J might say).
I think it's a product that can help many people, and is interesting,
too! But I can't tell you about it unless you opt in. Do it today!
(I hear they love 73_70_61_6D in Hawaii, especially grilled over
a bowl of rice with a fried egg and gravy -- they call it a
Answers and Follow-ups
For answers to questions posed in previous e-Zines, see:
Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to
others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to
receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener,
by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "opt in" -- you
can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default
you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject
line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you
purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my
links, which helps to support my research.
Copyright 2004 by Alan B. Scrivener