Discount coupons for things that go into your body, besides food, just strike me as creepy

6 Oct

Like cut-rate teeth whitening, and services like this, which it says in the fine print is “Valid for Women Only”  They just might have a human rights complaint coming their way!


PS  While this blog has been dormant for several months, I have NOT been.  In fact, I’ve been devoting all my creepiness energy to a forthcoming book (hardcopy and e-book) being published by OR Books, New York.  I’ll put the details up here as soon as it’s ready!

“And those clouds…they’re realtime” (until they’re hacked)

20 May

Google Maps guru Bernhardt Seefeld waxed poetic thusly, Image

as he described the features of the new Google Maps, which is still in Beta.

The whole video is at

One of the most interesting is a stream of user-posted images.  Seefeld showed interiors of the Sistine Chapel and the Moscone Center, saying there will be “a 3D photo tour that is automatically generated from user images, so it can only get better and better.”

Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same company that had all those privacy issues with embarrassing StreetView images revealing things like US Senators leaving adult video stores with piles of tapes?  Heck, there’s even a website for that kind of sighting…

And those unfortunate photos  were taken by Google’s own funny looking vehicles!  Now they’re proposing to let the whole world put content into the mix. Even assuming they moderate this  thing well, and have an algorithmic way to blur faces and license plate  numbers, is Google ready for the onslaught of fake photos with manipulated geotags.  Maybe Our Savior will soon be making a live appearance on the crucifix inside the Chapel?

This is gonna be interesting.

Move over fingerprints, here come breathprints!

16 May

The holy trinity of identification technologies is usually:  something you know (like a password,) something you have (like a SecurID keyfob,) and something you are (such as the fingerprint readers on ThinkPad computers.)  So when we talk of “three factor identification” you can imagine someone juggling a keyfob in front of a reader, while typing in a pin, and trying to satisfy a hand geometry reader.

Scientists have been trying to push the scope of biometric identifiers for decades.  In the 1970s, a Japanese researcher named Suzuki (what else?) discovered some uniqueness to lip prints.  A 2006 Master’s thesis

pushed this research, called Cheiloscopy, even further.  Still, who wants to kiss an ATM machine to withdraw $100?

The latest breakthrough in non-invasive identification technology is breath analysis.

ImageResearchers at ETH Zurich have found “that individual signatures of breath composition exist.”

Work continues, and I will resist any suggestion of what you might have to do to withdraw that $100 if banks adopt this technology.

Spelling correctors and sexting do not mix!

17 Apr


These are probably real.  It would take too much algorithmic knowledge to fake them.  It’s funny how all the examples that get posted on sites like are sexual and/or embarassing.

This phenomenon even has a name, “the Cupertino effect,”  a legacy from early spell checkers that tried to replace the (unhypenated) word “cooperation” with “Cupertino.”  (or maybe it was a plot by Apple?)

Now spell checkers are context aware.  They use Bayesian algorithms and trillion word databases, as explained in

And of course they can be “trained” e.g. by “add word to dictionary.”   One might be able to learn a lot about some people from their Custom Dictionary files, which aren’t hard to find.

Hmm, I wonder if “Gay Guy Friend” (in the second example above) actually added “assplowing” to his dictionary for convenience. Maybe he just used it a lot.

“This is not cool”…what spammers think we care about

11 Apr

When looking for a polite terms to describe spam content I often say “offers to enlarge your breasts or your garden hose or both” making the wink wink association between garden hose and a part of the male anatomy. OK, it gets a few chuckles and as far as I know never offended anybody.

Now, one of the raging spam gangs seems to be taking this literally. I’ve been getting emails with subject lines like

“Say goodbye to your old garden hose once and for all.” and

“Sick of your kinked up, leaky garden hose?” usually accompanied by photos, cheesy video, and an offer to take my money via credit card or some other way.


Putting aside the somewhat phallic nature of the “just turn on the water and watch it expand”…I suggest there are several PhD theses to written about trends in spam as a reflection of what’s on our national (and global) consciousness.  Some are predictable, others are weird and creepy.

Looking at my own home-made spam filter list reveals these categories:

Money:  Refinance your home, slash your mortgage payment, save on car insurance.  Sure it’s ok to shop around online even for something important like these products but really it should be you doing the contacting not some random person in a faraway land pitching to you.

Sex:  Meet Russian/Chinese/Aleutian or whatever women; Pick up any girl with these three magic words.  Someone flirty clicked on you.

Credit rating:  This must be a big fear because almost every day spammers try to lure me to their sites to “check your credit rating because it just went up/down/sideways”.  Since I live in Canada, many of their pages terminate in sales pages…often to take a survey and “win” a prize (“participation required”) or to get involved in those notorious “quick bid” auctions.

This is Not Cool:  Somone viewed your profile:  Yawn, I get googled all the time, and I’m on Facebook/LinkedIn/Zoominfo/ etc. for just this reason.  I would be annoyed if people didn’t view my profile.   But for the average Joe or Jane , the idea that some is cyberstalking you could indeed be creepy.

Obesity:  Try this Magic Fruit, Don’t go to the gym, eat this spice, don’t eat that.  Send us your money.

Illness:  Notably high blood pressure and diabetes, but that was pretty predictable given the state of health in the developed world which of course is the target audience since they have things worth stealing like money and identities.

Aging:  An understandable fear, especially for Baby Boomers, but wow I sure don’t want to see any more “shocking” photos of “what this Mom did to her face” unless she’s looking out from prison bars (but scammers are very rarely jailed or even prosecuted.)

Quick Buck Scams, including a particularly nasty subset of ambulance chasing lawyers looking for “victims” of various drugs and medical procedures.  I guess they’re allowed to do this, but, hey, not in my inbox, please.

Learn a Foreign Language and (impress your boss, your family, horny women, etc. etc.)  This surprised me but I think results from soanners having stolen a credible set of language learning materials e.g from and trying to resell this stolen intellectual property online.

Of course it’s not hard to come up with wordlists that filter out suspected spam.  Then, of course, you have to check your spam filter to make sure you haven’t thrown out the baby with the baby water.  I just found two messages from my boss in there, and she wasn’t talking about hoses, magic fruit, credit scores or car insurance.  In fact, I have NO idea how her messages got into my spam folder, and that’s creepy.

“When Your Heart Stops Beating, You’ll Keep Tweeting”

5 Mar

I usually think long and hard for a catchy title for a blog post, but, hey that’s the OFFICIAL slogan of the soon to launch LivesOn service


and it’s pretty hard to top it.

The idea, according to media reports at least, is that this thing will keep up your brilliant twitter feed from beyond the grave.  Of course, trusting your eternal online reputation to a glorified chatterbot is risky business, but the developers have thought of that.  You can actually start this thing in motion while you’re still alive, and it will “learn about your likes, tastes and syntax” and let you “help it become a better you by giving feedback.”

No word on what it will cost except there is a mention of appointing a executor to your “_LIVESON Will” who can “decide to keep your account ‘live’”.  Presumably with a credit card, and not one belonging to the deceased.  I guess they’ve heard the joke about the guy who pranked a telemarketing funeral home that cold-called him, saying great, he had just decided to kill himself and by the way, will they accept a  post-dated cheque?

We know that when somebody shoots up a school (or heroically dies trying to save someone) the media immediately rush to the deceased’s Facebook page to gather whatever facts and photos they can.  Post-mortem social media has become an issue for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites, which had had to come up with policies.  There’s a nice round-up of them here

A memorialized Facebook page is basically frozen and access to things like pictures and the user’s wall are restricted to friends and family.  And, of course, there’s no logging in from the Other Side allowed.  LinkedIn says it “may” memorialize deceased users which begs the question if someone is hugely connected does their hard-built network of contacts live on?  Of course, they can’t very well make introductions any more.  Twitter apparently requires relatives of the decesased to mail them hardcopy documentation.  With a postage stamp.  (I can hear some young Tweeters saying “What’s a postage stamp?”)

Of course, webpages are a whole nuther matter.  Canadian cameraman John Driftmier was killed recently in a tragic plane crash, yet his webpage is still up and eerily written in the first person.  It does show some of his terrific work so, in a sense, is truly a memorial to him.

“On the Rebound” Facebook app describes itself as “creepy”; just the start of “behavioral profiling”

1 Mar

While I hate to just grab a post from somewhere else, this

does a real good job of describing the new “On the Rebound” Facebook App

on the rebound

which trolls through your friends’ Facebook profiles looking for people who are ripe for a new relationship, apparently based on “interviews with relationship experts”.  It spits out a “Rebound Rating” along with some cheeky advice like (yikes!) “Her loneliness is your best attribute.” and “Go for it. Just hope someone didn’t beat you to it.”  (apologies to the women in my Facebook world who popped up with these comments.  Trust me, your secret is safe with me.)

Of course the disclaimer says it’s for “entertainment purposes only” so if it happens to match you up with Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer you can’t sue the creators.   More entertainingly they site says “On The Rebound is for entertainment purposes only. It will not help you get laid, but if it does, please let us know. This is what an Ivy League graduate, a Carnegie Mellon engineer, and some random dude built in their spare time.”

And it’s not clear yet how they will make money with this.     Years ago, my computer programming students often chose to write “computer dating” programs so they could “collect data in class” and of course data included phone numbers.  Maybe Anthony Coombs and his pals are just looking for some hot rebounders to beFriend.

On a deeper note, behavioral profiling is also interesting to the TSA, which thinks maybe it’s a way to change the cattle pens at our airports into stratified lanes where you put all the terrorists together and hope maybe they’ll blow each other up.  Bernard E. Harcourt of the University of Chicago law school does a fine job of debunking the fantasy that those people who pat you down now can have 4 days of  “behavioral training” and then be able to spot a bad guy at 10 meters.

Ah, but isn’t what why Israel  never had a hijacking at Ben Gurion airport?  No, says Harcourt, that’s the product of 30 years of intensive security experience and because “100 percent of departing passengers are interviewed and subjected to a one-on-one forensic search, resulting in an average time spent of 57 minutes per person.”

So that’s not going to speed up the line at Logan Airport.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 268 other followers