E-mail shows technology is only as smart as the operators involved


i found your email somewhere and now decided to write you. let me know if you do not mind. If you want I can send you some pictures of me. i am a nice pretty girl. Don't reply to this email. Email me direclty at…

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The old expression was “garbage in, garbage out”… and it implied that something without a brain, something mechanical, something man-made, something designed to do only as it was told, would only be as good as the instructions that it was given.

I’ve always heard of it with reference to computers… and I do believe that the thought remains true today… but I also believe I could explore a few articles without a computer-operations-theme that involved the concept.

Funny thing though, because as simple as the idea is, there’s more to it than the general idea of a crappy foundation delivering crappy results. If we’re being honest, in general the rules of nature favor the fools. Nothing is truly impossible… nor is anything as safe as it may seem. Garbage does not necessarily result in garbage.

Two great quotes to ponder as we continue building our foundation…

“A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” ~ Douglas Adams

“I’m simply saying that life… finds a way.” ~ Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldbloom in Jurassic Park)

And, lastly on our checklist of introductory materials, take a few moments to check out this article (link not active). It reviews how Facebook had a situation where e-mails were being sent to the wrong people.

I would like you to consider that in the past year we’ve had floods plague New England, and later Tennessee… a volcano effectively crippled Europe… oil endangering the Gulf of Mexico (and beyond)… and any number of earthquakes, dams breaking, and assorted disasters of natural and manmade origins. The uniting idea in all of these is simple… nothing is perfect, nor foolproof… life, nature, whatever you want to call it, adapts or ignores or in some way just keeps moving along.

About twenty years ago, I may have been riding as the passenger in my best friend’s car just outside of Syracuse, New York. And, we may have been speeding. And, he might have had a radar detector. (And, for any people reading this involved with law enforcement, I may not have been the passenger in a speeding car with a radar detector in Syracuse. And, I know I don’t remember his name. (Hi Chris!))

I asked my friend a question. Something about why the unit had multiple settings and didn’t the police know what these things were designed to pick up. His answer was simple. In summary… the police have radar guns… companies make detectors to pick up what the guns are doing… the police find out what the companies are doing and order new guns that use something different that will not be picked up by the detectors… companies make new detectors… lather, rinse, repeat.

I didn’t sit down today though to talk to you about air travel or radar detectors… nature or Douglas Adams. Instead, my goal was to talk to you about my computer and the excitement I’m having with e-mails.

Yes. E-mails. (Remember that quote way back up there before the title?)

A few years ago it certainly seemed that everyone having anything to do with computers promised you that they made the best pop-up blocker in the world. And then what happened?

Without covering everything that has taken place… some advertisers got sneaky and began running video on web sites… others played the radar detector game and just created an advanced pop-up, which in turn created new blockers, which in turn created newer pop-ups, which in turn… and, in the end, some web sites these days have annoying features that are a royal pain in the tush.

It’s reached the point that people don’t even care about pop-up blockers. Not really.

And I tell you all of that, to tell you this…

I kind of understand why people click on e-mails from sources they should never, ever trust.

Let’s go back to that e-mail I showed you earlier…

i found your email somewhere and now decided to write you. let me know if you do not mind. If you want I can send you some pictures of me. i am a nice pretty girl. Don't reply to this email. Email me direclty at…

I mean… come on… seriously? Is there really someone so dumb that they fell for this one? “I found your email somewhere…” from a nice, pretty girl?

Now, let’s forget that the thing hit my junk mail as being from someone named Irving, and yet that address she says I should use directly was for a Bethany. We don’t need to go there. (We also don’t need to wonder if Bethany is or isn’t a girl.) Look at the rest of the e-mail.

There is no link noted. Just asks for a response if I “do not mind” hearing from her. What’s the harm in that one? Right? Just break off a quick little conversation starter and… oops… getting carried away by a nice, pretty girl offering me some pictures. How did that happen?

Well… the reality of it is simple… these sleezeballs upgraded their radar detectors.

See… at first it was e-mails from overseas. You remember… those ones that came from someone in a foreign country that was a prince and needed $1,000 from you in order to regain a fortune. The types of things that made no sense at all and shouldn’t be trusted.

That turned into the click here messages with links. And again… if you don’t know, don’t open was an easy enough motto to get past them.

Occasionally I would find ones like that I have quoted, some girl trying to fake a sense of familiarity by saying she already had my e-mail address from some place and was therefore someone making contact. Again. Right?

(Can’t you just see two teenagers in a foreign country with a limited grasp of English. “Oh, oh, tell him you are a girl. Wait, wait, a pretty girl.” And then they laugh hysterically. Like two kids that just got an elderly woman to admit her refrigerator was running.)

Now check one that I’ve received in recent weeks…

Dear taxpayer,

The Federal income tax is a progressive tax, meaning that the more you earn, the higher your tax rate. Your tax rate depends not just upon your taxable income, but also upon your filing status (single, married filing jointly, etc.).

You're in a higher tax bracket because: your annual income for the last tax year has increased.

Please review your annual tax report immediately at: click here

Hey… sure it should be addressed by name… and sure it stops you as you read while creating questions… and sure we can debate whether a single word in it makes sense. But in a shotgun approach, maybe there is someone that got this e-mail, made more money in the past year, and decided that this is a bit more realistic than some girl from Europe or Asia that wants to send some pictures after finding an e-mail address in her treasured possessions.

Hold on though. Check this one out…

Dear Facebook user,

Due to Facebook policy changes, all Facebook users must submit a new, updated account agreement, regardless of their original account start date.

Accounts that do not submit the updated account agreement by the deadline will have restricted.

Please unzip the attached file and run “agreement.exe” by double-clicking it.


The Facebook Team

Like many people, I happen to have a couple of e-mail addresses. And, as a general practice, the one this Facebook message arrived at was one of the ones I wouldn’t use for signing up for a Facebook account. But there’s something else that immediately didn’t ring true on this one for me… see, at the time it was sent I didn’t have a Facebook account.

But what if I was a Facebook user at the time? There are now 500,000,000-plus Facebook accounts. Let’s keep in mind that not all of the people in the world are on the internet or have e-mail. Credit where credit is due… meant as a cliché and not to truly give a lot of credit… this one is closing in on hitting a target.

And let’s overlook the stupid “…will have restricted…” phrase that makes no sense when it just dead ends there. Instead… chances are really good that if a person has an e-mail account, then they use the internet, and they have a Facebook account. And the invitation just says they are updating their rules and want you to agree to them. Pretty crafty.

Another one I supposedly got from Facebook asked me to open the attached file to retrieve a new password for my account. It was being sent to assist with a security issue they were taking safety measures in combating.

Once again… much better than trying to get me to send $1,000 off to someone from another country that I’ve never met.

And I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails about packages that weren’t delivered. (Seems the recipient’s address was wrong. Of all the dumb mistakes for me to make. Now that package is late.) I keep telling my wife about all of these young Czechoslovakian girls that want to be my friend.

But as the stupid traps fall off to the side, it seems like those that would take advantage of us are becoming better and better at it.

So hold on folks. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. And if it smells like garbage, it might be wise to treat it as such.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com