Archive for January, 2005

Did this really happen to a spammer?

January 21, 2005 Comments off

Another spam-related post:

“…It was during the autopsy that things took a turn for the weird. The medical examiner noticed an obstruction lodged deep in the victim’s throat. He reached in and pulled out the object–a can of Spam. “I knew then that we had something that was maybe out of our league,” said the examiner, Dr. Anu Ram, a surgeon at Mojave County Hospital…”

The story comes from Brian Flemming, a blogger who is doing a little independent research on how long it takes for pure fiction to become urban legend or even accepted fact.

I must admit the idea of a spammer choking to death on a can of spam (and in the story, being shot six times) made me smile.  Maybe it’s true!  ;-)   (The whole grisly story follows…)


Death of a Spammer, in a Place Called Hope

By Todd F. Bryant
Staff Writer

HOPE, CA—In this dusty Mojave town, pop. 5000, which averages roughly one murder per decade, Sheriff James Wilcox recently encountered the first serious crime he was unable to solve in his 25-year law enforcement career.

“Incidents like this don’t happen here,” said the 50-year-old Wilcox, who has one deputy, his daughter, and operates out of a converted construction trailer with a single makeshift cell, which is rarely occupied. “We’re not exactly Crime City, U.S.A.”

The crime was murder. The victim was a local resident, a white male, 42, shot six times in the chest and arms. The time was roughly 4 p.m. The location was the post office. There were no witnesses. The Hope post office is staffed only 4 hours a day, but the lobby doors are unlocked around the clock so that residents can access their post-office boxes. The victim, Keith James Lawrence, unmarried, was gunned down in the post-office-box area.

“Heidi [his daughter] and I knew this was going to be a tough one,” said Wilcox. “Nobody around to see it. Nobody even heard any shots. Not even a suspicious vehicle seen in the area. Just bad luck for us. It happens.”

It was during the autopsy that things took a turn for the weird. The medical examiner noticed an obstruction lodged deep in the victim’s throat. He reached in and pulled out the object–a can of Spam. “I knew then that we had something that was maybe out of our league,” said the examiner, Dr. Anu Ram, a surgeon at Mojave County Hospital. “I mean, we don’t know anything about serial killers here, and I told Jim [Wilcox], ‘This is really scary. It’s probably some guy traveling around killing random people, and this is his signature.’”

It is perhaps only in small rural towns like Hope that a can of Spam and murder wouldn’t immediately conjure up an obvious hypothesis. Wilcox, while not oblivious to the existence of the World Wide Web and email, did not have an Internet connection and hadn’t heard the word “spam” used in the context of junk mail. It was only when Wilcox talked to his daughter on the phone two days after the crime (she had gone out of town for a scheduled visit with her husband’s relatives), that the pieces began to fit together.

“I told her the victim had a post-office box there, that it had letters in it, with money in the form of money orders and cash, generally five dollars each, and it appeared he was running some kind of a business selling information for a few bucks a pop. It looked legitimate to me, so I wasn’t focusing on that. And then I told her about the can of Spam.”

“I knew right then, or at least I thought I did, what the motive was,” says Heidi Jensen, 29, who has worked with her father since she was 17. “I said, ‘Daddy, this guy is a spammer.’ And he goes, ‘A what?’ And I’m like, ‘A spammer, he sends out those messages, you know, “make money fast” and “get a new mortgage” and stuff.’ He had no idea what I was talking about. He refused to believe that spam could be a motive for murder. I’m like, ‘Daddy, you’re not on AOL, you don’t understand.’”

But Wilcox was not one to ignore what he calls his daughter’s “intuition.” He acquired an expert in computers—by calling the local computer store, and securing the services of a clerk for $10 an hour—and examined Lawrence’s Dell computer hard drive and dozens of CD-ROMs. “It was true, this guy was a spammer,” said Wilcox, who is now well-versed in Internet lingo. “He had literally millions of e-mail addresses, and lots of bills from different ISPs, and we determined he’d been doing this for about two years. He grossed about $5,000 a year from it.”

At that point, Wilcox called the FBI, who sent an agent to help him scan Lawrence’s email and snail-mail records for any particularly hostile messages. Not surprisingly, they found quite a few. In fact, they found so many that they stopped cataloguing them when they reached 200.

“This case is impossible,” said Wilcox, shaking his head. “I mean, if you add up all the spam recipients who threatened his life directly, that’s probably ten thousand right there, probably more. And really, it’s the ones that don’t make overt threats who are usually the perpetrators in grudge cases like this, because the folks who write the poison-pen letters get it out of their system. So now you’ve got to add all of the other people on those CD-ROMs to the list. There’s roughly 20 or 30 million suspects in this case, all over the world.”

Wilcox tracked down a few more manageable leads. “I thought maybe one of Lawrence’s acquaintances might have killed him, knowing he was a spammer, and made it look like a grudge crime. But, no, that didn’t really pan out. I couldn’t find anything substantial there.”

Both the Mojave Sheriff’s department and the FBI classify the case as open. At this writing, ten weeks after the murder, no suspects have been interviewed.

“Will [the killer] do it again?” Wilcox asks. “I don’t know. But I don’t think he was mad at Stanley Lawrence the person. I think he was mad at spammers. And there are a lot of spammers out there.

“And I’ll tell you this much: I wouldn’t want to be one.”

from Brian Fleming’s weblog

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

They’re watching out for us

January 21, 2005 Comments off

I normally ignore Nigerian oil money scam messages but this phrase caught my eye:

…It was discovered to the dismay of all participants that your payment has been unnecessarily delayed despite been cleared by the authorized Financial regulatory bodies.
It was discovered that some unscrupulous individuals aiming to frustrating all your efforts have removed some vital documents from your payment file.
However, a 7-man harmonization, normalization, notarization, computerization and re-documentation committee has been set up to finally perfect all the necessary documentation to that effect.

Working in academia, a “harmonization, normalization, notarization, computerization and re-documentation committee” sounds all too real The only hint of fiction is that it doesn’t resolve to an acronym. :lol:


Categories: Humor

Paint a swastika on baby’s forehead, and…

January 20, 2005 Comments off

The BBC reports: It didn’t take long after Prince Harry wore a nazi uniform to a party before German MEP’s began calling for a Europe-wide ban on the symbol.   You could almost hear the cartilage cracking from all the knee-jerk reactions.

What would you think of anyone who painted a swastika on a baby’s forehead?  Or printed it on a wedding invitation?

You know where this is going… the swastika is sacred to Hindus, and also to Buddhists.  Its traditional use far predates that hairstyle-challenged dictator of 20th-century Europe.  It’s just another example of how our opinions of others are often based on cultural assumptions or some other externality. 

The politically correct are not immune to this human foible, they’re just a little more self-righteous about it.  Ostensibly against censorship, they’re ready to ban a symbol all across Europe because some royal twit committed a gaffe at a party.

One British Hindu put it this way:

“Just because at a particular moment in history one section of society used it, or a mirror image, to unleash xenophobic ideology does not mean Hindus should be punished.  It’s like saying the Ku Klux Klan burn crosses so therefore let’s ban the use of crosses worldwide.”
- Ramesh Kallidai

Thanks to The Revealer for the link.

Categories: Issues, News

Gay Bob Sponge Pants is no square

January 20, 2005 3 comments

BBC reports the “We Are Family Foundation” (WAFF) has done a video remake of Sister Sledge’s hit, “We are family” featuring Spongebob Square Pants, and is planning to mail it to US schools in the spring “to promote tolerance and diversity.” 

A conservative group smells a rat… a gay rat.  Or more correctly, a gay sponge named Bob in square pants.  Apparently, Mr. Pants is gay.  At least, he’s popular with gays, and what else do you expect from a guy named “Pants?”

“We see the video as an insidious means by which the organisation is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids,” Paul Batura, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, told the New York Times.

James Dobson even singled out the squishy one in a black-tie dinner in Washington.  But Pants’ creator Stephen Hillenberg responds that “Sponge Bob is not gay.”

The conservatives probably are right: the video probably is a vehicle to promote tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals.  Among others.

Categories: Issues, News

Dizzy day

January 19, 2005 8 comments

Apparently smacking my head against the pavement real hard is not a good thing.  Since my accident in August, I’ve had problems with balance.  Not usually walls-swimming-around dizzyness, but just being off-balance.  Walking down the hall and feeling like I’m heading toward the wall.  Holding onto the railing on stairs.  Turning around in the kitchen and falling flat on my face.

Today I went in for a long series of tests of my inner-ear function.  It was a strange experience…

I missed the technician’s name, so I’ll call her “Jennifer.”  She had me sit on a torture rack specially built reclinig chair and clamped an instrumented cage to my head.

“It’s good you shave your head,” she said.  “It makes it easy to position the goggles.”

These goggles resembled a metal-and-silicone version of the face-hugger creature in Alien, wrapping entirely around my head and ratcheting tight.  Huge seals suctioned against my eyes and (disconcertingly) nostrils.  The left goggle had a double-thickness hocky-puck on it with an infrared camera and some built-in lights.  The right had a little window that could be opened to observe things in the room.

She turned my head to the right, laid me back, then forward, and did the same with the left. 

I tracked blinking lights in a frame on a stand in the front of the room.  This was less than easy with my glasses off.  “Follow the blob,” I thought.  There were many versions of follow-the-blob.

She ran cold water in my ears one at a time, studying the results in my balance with the infrared camera.  For a distraction she had me recite boys’ and girls’ names.  I did very poorly at this.  But I think I’d do poorly at listing names anytime.  I just don’t do names very well.

She ran hot water in my ears and did the same thing.  This time she had me recite places and features of American geography, at which I did a whole lot better.

“Just out of curiosity,” I asked, “how hot is that water?”

“44o celsius,” she answered.  “I don’t know how to convert that to Farenheit.” 

She kept telling me to keep my eyes open.  It was dark in the room and I wasn’t nearly as disoriented as apparently some people are.  I worked for years in a darkroom so being in a dark room doesn’t throw me.

A green light lit up inside the left “goggle.”  Jennifer told me to follow it with my eyes.  I asked her “Is the light really moving?”

“No,” she said.  “Your eye is.”

Jennifer was very nice.  But she wouldn’t tell me any results.  I don’t find that out until the follow-up appointment in two weeks but I have a feeling they’re barking up the wrong tree.  I’m really not so much dizzy as off-balance.  Just sitting a chair I have the feeling things aren’t lined up right.

One of the possibilities is inner-ear damage but there are other possibilities I like even less. After a lifetime of climbing cliffs, caving, and bicycling, I don’t mind saying it’s got me a bit rattled.  Lots of things I like to do are impossible like this.  I’ve never had reason to be concerned about heights or movement.

A question that comes to my mind is: how can medical tests find anything useful if they’re always done when you are in an abnormal state?  “No medications, don’t drink water, don’t eat.”  No medications meant no pain reliever so I didn’t sleep well.  I was dehydrated.

There was an enormous questionaire.  I wish I could fill it out again.  I’m much more off-balance when I’m tired and right now I’m very tired.

In our first meeting, the audiologist told me: “We’re not always able to impact this condition as favorably as we’d like.”  He also told me: “Dizzyness is often a long journey through what it’s not.”

44 degrees celsius is 111 degrees farenheit.  Just about right for a hot tub.

Update: next day… Wow, I made a lot of spelling and grammatical errors on this post.  I forgot to mention that on the way out of the building, I stopped for a different test at one of those blood-pressure-machines in the lobby.  135/85 is apparently “high normal” and my pulse was 51.

Categories: Personal

Giving congress the proper motivation

January 17, 2005 3 comments

On Tuesday this week, US Senator Dick Durbin visited Bloomington and met with The Pantagraph newspaper editorial board.  AFter talking about many issues including social security, he came up with a stunningly simple suggestion for simplifying the tax code:  make members of Congress fill out their own tax forms.

It seems Durbin’s bookkeeper died, so the Senator decided, “What the heck: I’m a senator and an attorney.  How hard can it be?”  Heh.

The Pantagraph thought Durbin’s suggestion was made tongue-in-cheek, but I would like to see it really happen.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Luckily, I have a good accountant, whose services I cherish.  There’s no way in hell I could make sense of those tax forms by myself.  (As a bonus, he’s a Libertarian – just the perfect political persuasion for a tax accountant!)

Categories: Issues, News

A not-so-liberal reason for universal health care

January 16, 2005 6 comments

I’m not a very consistent liberal.  Despite voting for both Clinton and Kerry, and opposing the war in Iraq, I disappoint my friends by shopping at Wal-Mart and opposing gun control.  (There are lots of other examples but I don’t want to get off-track here.)  Universal health care is one of those issues – I’m for it, but not for the usual reason.  Leaving aside the curious notion of a “right” to health care, I prefer a greedy, capitalistic “what’s in it for me” approach.  We’re spending more on health care than anyone else and getting less for it.  In short, we’re being ripped off.

Go read this entry at Stupid Evil Bastard: “The problem of 45 million uninsured Americans hits home.  Hard.  It seems that one of Les’ cousins died young because of pneumonia – because she didn’t have health insurance.  She thought she had the flu and couldn’t justify the expense of a doctor visit …

I hope you will go read the entire article with the comments.  Here’s an excerpt:

…I called my mother back to see if there were any more details and that’s when I learned how Debbie had died. It wasn’t a bad car accident, as I had assumed, or a long term known condition such as a weak heart or cancer. Debbie was killed by pneumonia. That’s right. An easily treatable disease that is normally semi-serious to people our age only if left untreated. Debbie had been sick for awhile with what she believed to be the flu, but she never saw a doctor for it because her family didn’t have health insurance and she couldn’t afford to pay for the office visit herself. Her husband is working a newspaper delivery route that doesn’t offer benefits and I believe she was unemployed. Her kids were at home with her when she died. They called 911 first and then they called Diane who tried to talk them through CPR until the paramedics arrived, but it was to no avail. Debbie was gone before the paramedics ever walked through the door. Apparently Debbie never recognized just how ill she was as she never asked her mother for help. Diane says had she realized how sick her daughter was she would have given her the money to go to the doctor, but Debbie assured her she was OK. She wasn’t OK and she ended up drowning in her bed because she couldn’t afford an office visit.

When I heard this I was stunned and angry. My heart breaks for Diane as I can only imagine the pain of second-guessing yourself over the death of your child. So too for Debbie’s husband and kids. I barely know these people so my sense of loss wasn’t immediate with the first phone message, but it hit home once I learned the details of what happened. This sort of story probably happens many times every day in a nation with 45 million people living without health insurance and that’s just insane…

One commenter thought the anecdote was not important to policy questions and that Les should be more “objective.” If you’re unmoved by that tragedy, you just don’t have a heart.  To me, being an American involves thinking about the best way to achieve “a more perfect union” and promoting domestic tranquility.  In other words, it does make sense to keep unnecessary holes from being torn in the fabric of society.  What’s the cost of this kind of travesty?  Here’s a partial text of the comment I left on the thread:
…As for the proported debacle of government-led (“It would be a disaster”) health care, you have to ask, has it been a disaster in other countries where they do it?  No?  You mean those pinko countries are spending less per capita on health care than we are and living longer in the bargain? Exactly.  We are spending more and not getting our money’s worth.

Health care for all serves the taxpayer’s purely selfish interest.  It gives doctors a chance to spot early warning signs, so it often prevents unnecessary major medical expense.  It keeps people working (and thus paying taxes) because it helps them manage chronic diseases better.

As for the danger of an inefficient bureaucracy, what we have in this country is a whole bunch of inefficient buraucracies that can’t communicate with each other: health care providers and insurance companies.  The waste – the egregious diversion of money that is supposed to be for health care – is unconscionable…
I included two personal examples of why bad health insurance (and its more-evil twin, no health insurance) aren’t just a hazard of poverty, they’re a hazard to the economy.  We all pay when people working low-end jobs don’t have adequate health care – believe it!

The objection might be made that the rich will always have better access to health care and I have no problem with that.  If the national policy didn’t cover heart transplants but did cover cholesterol screening, that would be OK. 

Please, go read the thread.  You’re welcome to be against universal health care if you like but please understand there are other reasons for it than just bigger government. 

UPDATE: 17 January ‘05, check out this article, “The nail hit him in the head” over on Capitalist Pig vs. Socialist Swine.

… “This is the second one we’ve seen in this hospital where the person was injured by the nail gun and didn’t actually realize the nail had been imbedded in their skull,” neurosurgeon Sean Markey told KUSA-TV in Denver. “But it’s a pretty rare injury.”

Lawler was recovering Sunday in the hospital, where he was expected to spend several more days.

Despite his lack of medical insurance and hospital bills between $80,000 and $100,000, Katerina Lawler said her husband is in good spirits…

Categories: Issues, News

Flow dynamics

January 16, 2005 2 comments

I drink hot water, which means I often turn the faucet on to get hot while I get a glass out of the cabinet.  This time there was an empty root beer bottle in the sink, right under the aerator.

Normally the water would just burble over the edges and down the sides of the bottle.  But when I turned back to the sink, glass in hand, I found the water shooting up in a neat jet above the bottle.  There was hardly any water at all running down the side of the bottle – just a drop or two.

My guess is that the bottle was empty when I turned the water on, so the down-moving column of water punched through the rising water inside the bottle, creating a turbulent reigion at the bottom concentrating into a sleeve of upward-moving water around the down-moving.  I surmise that the aeration somehow kept the two streams from interfering with each other.

If anyone can think of a way to do something useful with this phenomenon (like mixing chemicals in an industrial process,) it’s all yours.  Go get rich!  (click on the “Read more” link to see the close-up picture)

Categories: Geeky, observations

Trying to fly before I can walk

January 15, 2005 4 comments

This is one of the dangers of blogging, I suppose: blog envy.  MrsDOF sends out an email newsletter to about 50 people and there are mounting requests for her to get a blog of her own. 

I ‘spoze I could just send her to Blogger but I just escaped from there myself and now face importing 250+ entries one at a time into my Expression Engine blog.  Not a fate I’d wish on the Mrs, let alone the interminable anguish of posting on Blogger and waiting for several minutes only to receive an error message – sorry!  Try again later!

So while I am wobbling along on training wheels under Expression Engine, I’m trying to set up a blog for MrsDOF to call her own.  So far I’ve got it to produce a – blank page – when you type in “” – hey, if you don’t count all the words and pictures and stuff, it’s practically finished!  Stay tuned.

Update, 20 January ‘05: Looks like I’d made an error on pointing the domain.  It boils down to my misunderstanding of how EE works.  Now that that’s cleared up (at least on that little point) the domain does resolve to mrsDOF’s home page so I can begin making the blog work and look pretty.

I’ll write later about the whole folder/path/domain-pointing thing in EE.  It usually works this way – concept first, then procedure. 

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Huygens runs longer than expected

January 14, 2005 1 comment

While NASA (under happily soon-to-be-gone Sean O’Keefe) can’t seem to lift a shuttle to fix the super-useful Hubble space telescope, the European Space Agency has lifted the horizons of human imagination.  Their Huygens space probe outlasted its design expectations to send back dozens of pictures and other data from Saturn’s mysterious moon, Titan.

When the batteries finally went dead (long after they were expected to,) Huygens was resting on the surface sending back pictures, mass-spectometry data, and even sounds.  We may get to hear thunder on another world.

There were so many hazards, so many ways it could have failed to work.  One system – a data channel – did fail but it was backed up by redundant systems.  We’ve seen unprocessed pictures of what looks like a hydrocarbon seashore, rocks on the surface, ice – material for insight into another realm.

Everything about this mission is mind-blowing: the planning, the design, how it was built, the distance it had to travel, the time it had to survive the cold of space, the pressures and heat of entry into Titan’s atmosphere, the pictures themselves, and the thought of an example of Earth’s finest craftsmanship sitting on the shore of an alien sea. 

In the weeks following the tsunami we’ve seen human generosity and compassion, and now the boundless desire to learn about things unimagined in all the generations of our ancestors. 

See also: The Scotsman, UTI, and Wired.

Categories: News