A Perfect Storm

“Let’s talk about the weather or, how the weather used to be.” – The Weakerthans

Ontario skiers are dumb founded. Victoria might need to invest in a snowplow or two. There’s frost in Florida and it’s raining in Restigouche. It’s January 2007.

A Strategic Council poll in the Globe and Mail asked Canadians if they felt that global warming could potentially harm future generations. 83% said yes. It’s hard to imagine otherwise given what’s on the weather channel these days. Environmental issues are getting a boost from, well, the environment.

The debate will rage. Is recent weather symptomatic of a larger trend in climate change? Do cyclical weather patterns preclude the need to be alarmed about global warming? Apparently not. The same G&M poll shows that environmental issues are currently Canadians’ number one concern, but we didn’t need a poll to tell us that. Take a look at Canada’s political elite and it is clear – it’s the environment stupid.

With this in mind, the federal Liberal party caucus has been testing campaign slogans. The dominant theme for a new Liberal mantra is a green economy, environmental technology and a clean environment. It’s the new Liberal Party: squeaky-clean party, squeaky-clean policies. And while Stephane Dion is trying to dust out the old Liberal rugs, the other Steve is doing cleaning of his own.

The Prime Minster has realigned his cabinet in light of political realities. Ostensibly, he shuffled a half dozen minister’s around, but the only move that mattered was John Baird’s. As the new environment minister, Baird will have to convince Canadians that the Conservative government has a green conscience. The rhetoric will reach gale force. Expect to see lots of pictures like this:


It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Either way, the next election has unofficially started and the environment is the baby that every politician wants to kiss.

This post was written by alevo.

[tags]environment, global warming, climate change[/tags]


New Issue of Raise the Hammer

RTH‘s latest is out. I have two articles in this issue:

iProducts vs. weProducts

“The stark contrast between two remarkable devices reaches beyond mere dollars and into the realm of technological philosophy.”

Time for Strong Leadership on the Environment

“Changing consumer behaviour will help the environment, but without strong leadership from business and government we won’t get far.”

There is lots more good stuff as always.

Also, if you’re in the Hamilton area, come to the party on Saturday!


The Scambot: Defeating Online Scammers with Automated Chatterbots

Hardly a day goes by without some online scam artist emailing me, usually with the standard Nigerian or 419 scam. You know, the ones that start with “Dear friend, I am an officer at a bank/government leader in exile/international merchant” and go on to outline why they need help retrieving some vast sum of money.

In the past, I have successfully wasted large amounts of these scammers’ time simply for amusement. Conceivably, if everybody were to do this, the amount of time the scammers would spend dealing with people who are just stringing them along might make the scam an unprofitable use of their time.

However, this would be far too time-consuming, especially since the scammers can send out thousands of emails at the click of a button.

That’s where the use of automated chatterbots come in. A chatterbot is a “computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods”.

Basically, it’s a program that is designed to respond to things you say as though it is a human being. You can try one out by going here and clicking the “Chat with Alice” link on the left.

These programs are not very convincing when you know what you’re dealing with, but when someone is convinced they are chatting with another human being, the person can sometimes be fooled, often with hilarious results – for example, horny people trying to strike up sexual conversations in online chat rooms (warning, graphic content).

My idea is to apply this concept to scammers. A program to deal with scammers could be created that would work something like this:

  1. You receive an email from an online scammer. You forward this to another email address that belongs to the anti-scammer chatterbot (I’ll call this program the scambot from now on.)
  2. The scambot would receive the email and scan it for relevant keywords. (The scambot would already be set up to generally deal in subjects related to finances, bank accounts, retrieval of funds, etc.)
  3. The scambot prepares an email response and sends it to the scammer, thus initiating an email conversation with the scammer. Since the email will be coming from the scambot’s own email address, no further user action is required. However, the scambot will maintain a record of emails in thread format, allowing the user to step in and drop in some more convincing emails if the user wishes.

I believe that the scambot could waste large amounts of time for scammers for several reasons. First, many of these scammers speak English as a second language, so they are not as likely to pick up on cues in the scambot’s responses as a native English speaker.

Second, it would be possible to use social engineering techniques in the scambot’s initial responses that would help overcome the skepticism of the scammer. For example, the scambot could also pose as someone who speaks English as a second language, or as someone who is somewhat addled (e.g. an elderly person with a touch of dementia but a ton of money).

Finally, greed is a powerful motivator.

[tags]scams, 419, chatterbots, artificial intelligence[/tags]


I am Writing from the Darkness

A Guantanamo detainee writes:

I am writing from the darkness of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo in the hope that I can make our voices heard by the world. My hand quivers as I hold the pen.

In January 2002, I was picked up in Pakistan, blindfolded, shackled, drugged and loaded onto a plane flown to Cuba. When we got off the plane in Guantanamo, we did not know where we were. They took us to Camp X-Ray and locked us in cages with two buckets — one empty and one filled with water. We were to urinate in one and wash in the other.

At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious.



Slippery Streets in Portland

This is “Video from recent storm in Portland, Oregon. One resident heard crunching outside his apartment and witnessed about 15 car accidents at the intersection, many of which he captured on home video.”

It must not have been fun for the people involved, but it’s sure fun to watch.

Life, politics, code and current events from a Canadian perspective.

Adrian Duyzer
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