AMAZING! THANK YOU! EXCRUCIATING defeat! The tsunami of political spam that overwhelms your inboxEnter a post title

Politicalspam

We’re gonna win! We’re gonna lose! It’s amazing! It’s horrible! The Koch brothers are coming to coming to murder your cat!

If you donated to a political campaign in recent years, you know what it’s like to be punished for good deeds. You can’t check your email without a fresh deluge of optimism, desperation, congratulations, and warnings of the end of our democracy.

Does this email avalanche do any good for the pleading politicians? Hard to say. But judging from my own reaction, the answer is no.

I’m a life-long Democrat, leaning to the left edge of the party. I have, from time to time, sent donations to politicians I liked. If I received two or three emails a week asking for campaign contributions, I would probably consider them and occasionally click the Donate button.

But with the flood I get now, all I want to do is delete, delete, delete. Sending money would only encourage them.

And yet, it’s pretty clear that not sending money does nothing to discourage them. For the last ten days of August, I didn’t delete. But I didn’t donate, either. I set aside every email requesting money for a political campaign. I now have a collection of 318 such pleas. More 30 a day.

It felt like much more.

Your first impression of any email is, of course, the subject line. With those few words, a politician (or, more likely, his or her aid) tries to make you open that one particular piece of mail. Looking over 318 of these subjects, I got a ringside view of a party with multiple personality disorder. The messages were ecstatic, hopeless, pleading, scolding, and just plain meaningless.

On the upbeat note, politicians and their employees joyfully declared that something or other was "BEST…EVER…," that "McConnell DONE FOR," and "Republicans OBLITERATED" (I am not correcting for grammar, punctuation, or overused capital letters). Annie Kuster, a New Hampshire representative for whom I have never given a penny, sent me an "AMAZING (THANK YOU Lincoln)" message.

But few of these politicians were as upbeat as Annie (all of these politicians called me by my given name, so I assume I can do the same)." Most preferred to open their emails with such warnings as "TRAGIC loss," "EXCRUCIATING defeat," " end of our rope," and "We’ve got nothing left."

Many focused on famously evil Republicans. Emails warned me of "Mitch McConnell’s devious plan" and that "Rove just announced" (I had to open that one to find out what he’d announced; it wasn’t worth repeating). The Koch brothers played an important role here, as we were commanded to "SAVE THE SENATE: The Koch Brothers’ worst nightmare" and reminded that "They’ve got the Kochs, I’ve got you."

Some subjects were so meaningless in their hyperbole that they really didn’t tell you anything. "Wow!" " S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G!!!" "SENSATIONAL!!!," and "ASTRONOMICAL" were difficult to parse. But when an email subject proclaims "I’m not exaggerating," you can bet your last dollar that that just ain’t true.

Sometimes the professionals stooped to pleading, begging, and scolding. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) accurately pointed out that "we BEGGED you LINCOLN;" it didn’t move me. James Carville announced that "Listen, I’m begging." Nancy Pelosi was "disappointed lincoln."

I got a lot of email from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). The organization’s email addresses included breakingnews@dscc.org, rapid-response@dscc.org, polling-alert@dscc.org, and alerts@dscc.org. I also got mail from  Elizabeth Warren, Harry Reid, and Michelle Obama, all of which, on examination, came from info@dscc.org

Many admit that they’re spamming their supporters, but if that’s a problem, it’s our fault. Messages start with "We keep emailing" and "please read before deleting," which produces an effect similar to a telephone recording that reassures you that "your message is important to us." Someone named Anne at the DSCC tried honesty, titling an email "Flooding your inbox." She started her message with "Lincoln — I know we’ve been absolutely flooding your inbox. But I really need you for a quick second." And a quick second was all it took to close the email.

Even President Obama–excuse me, Barak–sent me four messages on one day titled "important (don’t delete)." Each started with "I’ve already emailed you this month." Four days earlier, he started a message with "Lincoln — I’ve been emailing you a lot."

Aside from President Obama and other political stars, I get email from politicians I barely know. In fact, I got so many of these that I confused Gary Peters (running for Senate in Michigan) with Scott Peters, a Congressman running for re-election in San Diego, California.

But my favorite emails were all about deadlines. When you’re overwhelmed by emails begging for money, there’s something heartening about messages screaming "Deadline in 72 hours," "32 HOUR ALERT," and "Only 6 hours to go." Wow! Does that really mean they won’t be able to accept my money after tomorrow?

Of course not. There’s no real deadline. But today is the last day in which you can send us money before you send us money tomorrow!

Assuming that most rank-and-file Democrats react to these emails the way I do, we’re in big trouble. The leaders of the party need to get together, ban the sharing of mailing lists, and agree to rules for keeping the spam count down.

Otherwise, we can all be sure of one thing: Whatever party wins, we’re going to hate.

New Classics Added

I’ve posted some old columns in the classic section, dated with their original publication date.

The Big Cloud
My last printed Gigglebytes column, from 2008
Billy the Chilly
Dr. Seuss parable about Bill Gates, from 1995
Decimated Decade
My 10th anniversary column, written in 1996. This one contains links to several other old columns that I just posted.

Bill Moyer, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Twitter

Bill Moyer ended his show last week with some very funny thoughts on Twitter.

You can watch the whole spiel here (pbs.org apparently doesn’t offer embed codes for their videos).

Or just cut to the funny stuff below.

The Big Cloud

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick and impenetrable as a tech support phone mail system. Somewhere in the distance, an iPod was playing a weary, bluesy tune, and I wondered what it sounded like to the misguided soul wearing those earbuds–assuming that misguided soul had any hearing left.

I was heading back to my office after a tough case. Some college kid spilled three pints of beer into his laptop. The hard drive hadn’t been backed up, of course. Luckily, the dope was smart enough to call me. I was able to recover 89 percent of the data, and 63 percent of the beer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I turned the corner and walked into a reddish, sandstone building. Holding my throbbing nose, I found the door and walked up to my office on the fifth floor.

She was waiting for me in the hallway. “Mr. Rowe,” she asked.

I noticed her immediately–and not only because she was calling me by name. She looked as sleek as a MacBook Air, and twice as expensive, with legs as long as a white paper on Recommended Security Precautions For Financial Institutions Hoping To Increase Their Presence on the Worldwide Web.

I let her into my office and sat down at my desk. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I asked as I poured myself a scotch with one hand and rolled a cigarette with the other.

“My name is Lulu Lacross, and I need to know the whereabouts of my data.”

I looked up at her as I put down my soaked cigarette paper and shot-glass of tobacco. “Hard drive flew south for the winter?”

“My hard drive is fine,” she told me. “It’s just that my data isn’t on it. Hasn’t been in awhile. I’ve been using online applications.”

I shuddered. Poor thing.

“When did you notice that you couldn’t access your data?” I asked.

“Oh, I can access it just fine,” she told me. “But I worry. Back when I used local applications, I knew that my documents were in My Documents. Every five minutes, HackupBackup for Paranoids copied it to another location on my hard drive. As an extra precaution, at the end of every day, I’d plug in an external hard drive and run Blackhole Backup. I’d follow that with burning everything to DVD.

“But last month I switched to online tools. I don’t know where my files are physically stored, if they’re getting backed up, or even whether they’re lonely. I don’t even know whether they belong to me, legally speaking.”

“Google apps?” I asked. She shook her head. “Office Live?” Negative, again. “Joe’s Bar, Grill, and Internet Application?” Not that one, ether. “Okay, sis, who’s online apps are you using?”

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com,” she told me.

I sighed. This was going to be a tough one.

Hardboiled Softpop

The next day I paid a visit to Softpop’s worldwide headquarters–a suburban house just outside of town. I rang the bell and a middle-aged man with a bewildered expression answered the door.

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com?” I asked. He nodded. “My name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.”

He smiled broadly, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside. “Mack! How nice of you to come by.” He was dragging me down the hall to his office. “Call me Norman. I’ve just got to show you my new iPhone program for viewing widescreen movies. Much better than turning the phone sideways! I use three iPhones standing side-by-side. I’m calling it Softpop CineiPhoneRama!”

I shook my arm lose and confronted him. “Forget the iPhone, Norman. I want to know what you’ve done with Lulu Lacross’ data.”

He looked at me, confused, then he smiled. “Of course, Lulu Lacross. She’s using my suite of Internet apps.”

“You know all your customers by name?”

“Well, you can’t expect us to have a one-to-one relationship with every customers. For instance, if she called Tech Support, she’d get our slave laborer in Bombay. But I try to know all three of our customers by name.”

By now we were in his office and he sat down behind the desk as he continued talking. “Her data is perfectly safe. It resides on that XT clone in the corner. That 20MB hard drive hasn’t failed me in more than 20 years.”

“And she can access it any time she wants?”

“Of course. Until we change our policies. It’s all spelled out in our End User Licensing Agreement.” He handed me a stack of papers as thick as a phone book. It was filled with impenetrable legalize printed in very small type.

He handed me a ballpoint pen as I studied the text. “Here. It will help if you underline key phrases.”

I absentmindedly clicked the top of the pen and began to underline a sentence about first-born children.

“You did it!” he cried triumphantly! “You just clicked the EULA. That means I own your data. I own your surfing habits. I own you.”

Something here made me suspicious.

He handed me a box of Oreos. “Here, have a cookie. Have lots of cookies. That way I can track you. Goodbye.”

I left his house, somewhat dazed and confused. Somewhere in the distance, Windows was booting up.

——————————————–

Dear Readers:

My first Gigglebytes column appeared in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area Computer Currents. Like the vast majority of periodicals that have carried the column over the last 22 years, that one no longer exists. I have decided to discontinue this column to save the Sunday Business Post from a similar fate.

Seriously, I’m giving up this column for personal and professional reasons. Thank you for reading it and (I hope) find it amusing.

The Big Cloud: One last adventure in the casebook of Mack Rowe

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick and impenetrable as a tech support phone mail system. Somewhere in the distance, an iPod was playing a weary, bluesy tune, and I wondered what it sounded like to the misguided soul wearing those earbuds–assuming that misguided soul had any hearing left.

I was heading back to my office after a tough case. Some college kid spilled three pints of beer into his laptop. The hard drive hadn’t been backed up, of course. Luckily, the dope was smart enough to call me. I was able to recover 89 percent of the data, and 63 percent of the beer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I turned the corner and walked into a reddish, sandstone building. Holding my throbbing nose, I found the door and walked up to my office on the fifth floor.

She was waiting for me in the hallway. “Mr. Rowe,” she asked.

I noticed her immediately–and not only because she was calling me by name. She looked as sleek as a MacBook Air, and twice as expensive, with legs as long as a white paper on Recommended Security Precautions For Financial Institutions Hoping To Increase Their Presence on the Worldwide Web.

I let her into my office and sat down at my desk. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I asked as I poured myself a scotch with one hand and rolled a cigarette with the other.

“My name is Lulu Lacross, and I need to know the whereabouts of my data.”

I looked up at her as I put down my soaked cigarette paper and shot-glass of tobacco. “Hard drive flew south for the winter?”

“My hard drive is fine,” she told me. “It’s just that my data isn’t on it. Hasn’t been in awhile. I’ve been using online applications.”

I shuddered. Poor thing.

“When did you notice that you couldn’t access your data?” I asked.

“Oh, I can access it just fine,” she told me. “But I worry. Back when I used local applications, I knew that my documents were in My Documents. Every five minutes, HackupBackup for Paranoids copied it to another location on my hard drive. As an extra precaution, at the end of every day, I’d plug in an external hard drive and run Blackhole Backup. I’d follow that with burning everything to DVD.

“But last month I switched to online tools. I don’t know where my files are physically stored, if they’re getting backed up, or even whether they’re lonely. I don’t even know whether they belong to me, legally speaking.”

“Google apps?” I asked. She shook her head. “Office Live?” Negative, again. “Joe’s Bar, Grill, and Internet Application?” Not that one, ether. “Okay, sis, who’s online apps are you using?”

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com,” she told me.

I sighed. This was going to be a tough one.

Hardboiled Softpop

The next day I paid a visit to Softpop’s worldwide headquarters–a suburban house just outside of town. I rang the bell and a middle-aged man with a bewildered expression answered the door.

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com?” I asked. He nodded. “My name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.”

He smiled broadly, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside. “Mack! How nice of you to come by.” He was dragging me down the hall to his office. “Call me Norman. I’ve just got to show you my new iPhone program for viewing widescreen movies. Much better than turning the phone sideways! I use three iPhones standing side-by-side. I’m calling it Softpop CineiPhoneRama!”

I shook my arm lose and confronted him. “Forget the iPhone, Norman. I want to know what you’ve done with Lulu Lacross’ data.”

He looked at me, confused, then he smiled. “Of course, Lulu Lacross. She’s using my suite of Internet apps.”

“You know all your customers by name?”

“Well, you can’t expect us to have a one-to-one relationship with every customers. For instance, if she called Tech Support, she’d get our slave laborer in Bombay. But I try to know all three of our customers by name.”

By now we were in his office and he sat down behind the desk as he continued talking. “Her data is perfectly safe. It resides on that XT clone in the corner. That 20MB hard drive hasn’t failed me in more than 20 years.”

“And she can access it any time she wants?”

“Of course. Until we change our policies. It’s all spelled out in our End User Licensing Agreement.” He handed me a stack of papers as thick as a phone book. It was filled with impenetrable legalize printed in very small type.

He handed me a ballpoint pen as I studied the text. “Here. It will help if you underline key phrases.”

I absentmindedly clicked the top of the pen and began to underline a sentence about first-born children.

“You did it!” he cried triumphantly! “You just clicked the EULA. That means I own your data. I own your surfing habits. I own you.”

Something here made me suspicious.

He handed me a box of Oreos. “Here, have a cookie. Have lots of cookies. That way I can track you. Goodbye.”

I left his house, somewhat dazed and confused. Somewhere in the distance, Windows was booting up.

——————————————–

Dear Readers:

My first Gigglebytes column appeared in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area Computer Currents. Like the vast majority of periodicals that have carried the column over the last 22 years, that one no longer exists. I have decided to discontinue this column to save the Sunday Business Post from a similar fate.

Seriously, I’m giving up this column for personal and professional reasons. Thank you for reading it and (I hope) find it amusing.

Poetic Frustration

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.

Hi, I ordered your desktop, the Power Machine
With 12 USB ports and 20-inch screen.
The box came today and I opened it quick,
I pulled out the Styrofoam, ten inches thick,
Found the mouse and the keyboard, that big LCD.
But one thing was lacking; you left out the PC.

Left out the PC? Now that’s some displacement.
But we’ll fix you up; send you out a replacement.
Whoops! I cannot do it; this is customer care.
We’re here to take phone calls, not ship out the ware.
We’re not here to help when the system, it fails.
Since you bought a computer, you should have called Sales.

I must call again? Just the thought makes me cold.
For eighteen full minutes I waited on hold.

You need not call again, nor this time need you wait,
I’ll transfer you over and put you through straight.
I’ll tell your whole story to Stanley or Leon,
And you’ll have your PC in the flash of an eon.

Well, alright. If it must be, I’ll…my, she was bold.
Before I consented she put me on hold.

(23 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputers, my name, it is Eddy,
The Department of Sales, have your credit card ready.

I’m not here to buy, not this time, not this minute.
You shipped me a box. No computer was in it.
I want what I bought; it’s that simple and clean.
I want my Krell Deluxe fast Power Machine.

I can see why you’re angry; we’re the ones that did err.
But this isn’t for Sales; please call Customer Care.

That’s who I just called! What I’m telling is true!
I tried Customer Care and they sent me to you!

This is Customer Care’s job. I’m not being brash.
I’m not here to solve problems; I’m here to take cash.
I’m speaking the truth; I’m a really straight shooter.
Only Customer Care can replace your computer.
But I’ll tell you what: I will stay on the phone.
We’ll do this together. You won’t be alone.

(45 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.

I’ve been on the phone now, an hour or more.
Are you the same person I spoke to before?
I hope so. This hassle will soon make me cry.

An hour? No way! Our turnover’s too high.

Alright, then, I’ll tell you; I’ll start at the top,
‘Though I fear that this phone call will end in a flop.
I bought a computer, I bought it from Krell;
In the box that you sent me, no PC did dwell.
A keyboard and mouse, yes, so true I could hug ‘em,
An LCD too, but with no place to plug ‘em.
The PC is not there. It’s a thing I ain’t got.
But it’s paid for, so please, won’t you send what I bought?

This is Customer Care, you need someone in Sales.
I’ll transfer you, but will you stop with these wails?

I’m wailing because you folks make my heart droop.
My life has turned into an infinite loop!
I won’t go to Sales! Won’t you please help me out?

Let me ask you one question and please do not shout.
This computer you don’t have-the source of your rage-
Can you use it to look at an Internet page?

Of course I cannot. What a question is that?
No computer! No browser! No e-mail! No chat!

The PC ain’t working, from keyboard to port?
I’ll transfer you gladly to Techie Support.

To Techie Support? But I…cursed is my fate!
She’s put me on hold. Well, I guess I must wait.

(63 minutes later)

Welcome to Krell’s Technologic Support.
What is the problem you wish to report?
We’ll find a solution that’s easy and true,
Or we’ll bring you a death screen with white text on blue.

I bought a computer, I bought it from Krell,
And you’ve all turned my life into one living hell.
The box, it arrived and I opened it wide
To find keyboard and mouse but no PC inside.
I’ve been on the phone now for hours so long,
That I could have watched Jackson’s remake of King Kong.
But I would be happy; yes, I’d dance with glee
If you would just please mail my PC to me.

Are you saying we shipped you a box that was bare?

No. Keyboard and mouse, and a screen were all there.

And was there a disc labeled Rescue CD?

Let me check. Yes there is. But what good can it be?

What good? Why you’re saved? Put it into the drive,
Reboot while you cry “I’m so glad I’m alive!”
This disc, will work wonders just like a magician,
Returning your system to fact’ry condition.

What system? What drive? Why can’t you understand
That I have no PC? Your advise should be banned!
Factory condition? Can you possibly get
That my PC has not left the factory yet?

Yes, I understand why you’re angry today?
But I simply said what they trained me to say.
Customer Care’s what you need; I’ve been told.
I’ll transfer you there. Wait a minute on hold.

(98 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.
We’ve made good on our promise; for that we’re quite proud.
Your cursing is coming through clear and quite loud.

(Phone hangs up)

Longhorn and Bull

Tired of viruses? Of lost files? Of Windows freezing up because your firewall is incompatible with your printer driver (before you updated it, the firewall was incompatible with the firewall). Do you want an operating system that’s easy, stable, and secure, but you’d rather give money to Bill Gates then Steve Jobs?
Have no fear. The operating system you seek is on the horizon. As you read this, Microsoft is busy creating the absolutely flawless next version of Windows. Codenamed Longwait, it will probably be released under the moniker Windows 2005…06…07.
(Why the codename? Because it’s a secret. No one is supposed to know about this version except Bill Gates, Microsoft’s programmers, and people who read articles like this.)
Let’s look at the many wonderful features that Longwait has to offer:
Users want security and stability, so it’s hardly surprising that the first thing you notice when you boot Longwait are the beautiful icons (assuming, of course, that it boots). Folders now look like the Mona Lisa. My Computer (renamed Bill’s Computer) is based on Goya’s The Incantation. The Systray’s tiny Windows Messenger icon is an accurate reproduction of the Sistine Chapel.

Hide and Seek
On a less visible level, Microsoft is revamping the file system, replacing the warn-out NTFS with WinSLS (Win Some Lose Some). More than just a file system, WinSLS promises to be an organizational storage platform where clusters of data (called “files”) can be grouped together in superclusters (expected to be named “folders”), then permanently stored in a special off-the-drive state (commonly referred to as “lost”).
Searching a WinSLS-formatted hard drive will be as easy as watching an annoying, animated puppy. Search for “Aunt Frederick,” and you’ll get every file that mentions her name. Not only that, but you’ll get every photo on your hard drive that includes Aunt Frederick, as well as those of people with similar complexions. Not good enough? You can refine your photo searches by right-clicking each of your photos, selecting Properties, clicking the People tab, and typing “Aunt Frederick” into the list of people who are not in that particular picture.
There’s no question about it: WinSLS is one of the most important and vital improvements within the Longwait package. Microsoft is now promising that WinSLS will not be part of the initial release. Even without WinSLS, Longwait will make file management manageable. For instance, click on a drive in Windows Explorer and you’ll see a bar graph of the drive’s used and free space—a major productivity gain over XP’s pie chart.
And you can forget about confusing drive letters like C:. Longwait will identify drives by meaningful tags like 0A88C507-9D61-49C2-AC98-CFF2B996F9FD.
Look at the desk or table where you keep your computer. Notice how the phone, the monitor, and the plate with yesterday’s food rise above the flat surface to varying heights? Technically speaking, this effect is called a “3D desktop.” Longwait will offer the same capability. You’ll be able to bring document windows up close so that you can study them in detail, or send them far away so that you can lose them under bills that you should have paid six months ago. You can even turn them on their side, allowing you to examine them from a unique, never-before-visible angle where they become—to use the technical term—”a line.”
And if the line is too wide, you can make the window disappear. Each window on the Longwait desktop has a slider for setting its “transparency level.” If the slider is all the way up, the window looks normal. Lower it a bit, and you can sort of see what’s underneath. Bring it all the way down, and the window disappears completely—along with the slider needed to make it visible again. For years now, user interface experts have called for a “transparent” operating system. With Longwait, Microsoft finally delivers on this never-made promise, offering a desktop where nothing is visible.
Security Blanket
What about security? Longwait will feature a built-in firewall guaranteed to let any data out of your system, plus a Security Center window to tell you things you already know. It also offers a good deal that isn’t in XP SP2.
For one thing, everything on your hard drive will be encrypted, including the program used for decryption, insuring that no one will ever access your sensitive data. And preparing a used Longwait computer for a new owner will be easier than ever—a Wipe Hard Drive button will sit right next to Turn Off Computer.
To protect computers from their users, Longwait will offer what Microsoft is calling Least Likely User Accounts. This setting will block people from doing anything potentially dangerous, such as formatting the hard drive, editing the Registry, or simultaneously running two Microsoft Office applications. But these users will still be able to, for instance, add a printer driver—a task that everyone agrees is perfectly safe.
Administrators will have no trouble remotely gaining full control of a system with a Least Likely user logged on. All they will have to do is send a single e-mail to that system with a subject line containing the word “v1agra.”
There’s no question about it: Longwait is the perfect version of Windows. It’s stable, secure, and 100-percent bug free. And it will remain that way right up until the day before it goes on sale.


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