"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Information Underload


[CNN Reports on Internet Indecency Case]

If watching old-school media

equivocate on the question of

whether the Internet is more of

a threat or a menace is akin to

following a thread's descent into

Nazi name-calling, observing net

spokespeople's exasperated

reactions to grim hyperbole is

about as amusing as the

umpteenth invocation of Godwin's

Law. When the great unwired's

only exposure to online culture

is suffered via CNN

mock-quandaries on porn and

local news net.stalker

anecdotes, the emergence of a

newbie FAQ cottage industry

becomes inevitable.


[Santa Claus Can]

Most of us can barely remember

the first time we opened an

all-caps money scam Usenet post,

much less our first tries at

authoring our own. Etiquette and

common sense manuals, at worst,

remind us that purveying the

obvious will always be

lucrative. At best, they prompt

fond recollections of

loss-of-innocence experiences...

The day we discovered you can

never win a game of three-card

monte. The day we realized that

Santa was less demigod than

desperate creation of the

Coca-Cola corporation. The day

we were told that our young SWF

AOL paramour was really a

grossly overweight, middle-aged

database consultant named



[The Tao of Pooh]

But just as mature adults return

to their battered copies of

Winnie The Pooh and The Little

Prince in search of new meaning

and perspective, it's also

possible to study Internet

lessons custom-tailored for the

naive and come away with

insights more subtle than those

gleaned upon first contact.

Bandits on the Information

Superhighway, one such

entry-level manual, is different

from your average O'Reilly book

insofar as reading it

cover-to-cover is unlikely to

bump your salary up another

$10K. If other books serve as a

kind of textual Prozac for

overwary neophytes, Daniel J.

Barrett's new book proves that

mood stabilizers can be

recreational drugs.


[Bandits on the Information Superhighway]

So before you exercise your

Samaritan instincts and give

Barrett's book to someone less

savvy than yourself, crack the

spine and take a quick browse

for your own edification.

Remember, the candy-ass swindles

that dupe chuckleheads in the

AOL classifieds section are

simply less sophisticated

wordings of the same scams that

make Ph.Ds look like

balloon-twisting clowns. In the

end, yahoos who squander bucks

on the state lottery will rest

alongside sticky-fingered

investors who toss dollars at

the Yahoo IPO.


[Shafting Greedy and Ignorant Investors]

So let's take a look at some of

the lessons we mined from this

prospector's guide to fool's



[No Trick To It!]

"One of the lessons of this book  
 is: if a deal seems too good to  
 be true, it probably is." (p. 63)

The most stunning aspect of this

catalogue of familiar Ponzi

schemes, pyramid scams, and

letter-stuffing pitches is

neither their inherent illogic

nor the fact that the net, if

anything, makes them more

transparent, but the baffling

fact that, online or off, it's

as much suckers as their money

that makes the world go 'round.

But before you hurt yourself

laughing at the shills who fork

over dollars for Internet

"pen-pal lists," take a moment

to send that check to your ISP.


[Man With Chart]

"If you encounter a web page that
 contains strange or confusing   
 claims, it pays for you to be   
 skeptical." (p. 11)             

In direct marketing terms, email

might be a more insidious medium

than the Web, but when it comes

to pointing out the dangers of

Web scams, it's hard not to feel

Barrett doesn't go far enough.

Considering the

institutionalization of

middle-man gambits in the Web

economy, from "value-added"

search round-ups to "cool site"

linkoramas, we tend toward

skepticism when we don't see

strange and confusing claims.

Have you heard the one about the

Web as an "information

repository" yet?


[Man In Barrel]

"Most people wouldn't display a 
 list of their belongings on the
 front door of their house. So  
 why are people so casual about 
 announcing their possessions to
 the whole world?" (p. 41)      

While sound in principle, a few

hours of surfing random home

pages suggests exactly the

opposite: the best way for the

average Web hobbyist to

discourage property theft

is by presenting a

comprehensive catalogue of one's

most treasured possessions.

Fools abound, but even the

dimmest thieves have their

limits: nobody would risk

incarceration for a CD

collection featuring Michael

Bolton, Foreigner, and Milli



[Wheelbarrels o' Money]

"If a 'Net friend' you hardly    
 know starts asking very personal
 questions or tries to borrow    
 money from you, be on your      

Doubly true if you haven't

deduced the finer functioning of

mail filtering. What prompts

ostensibly reputable Web

publishers to reward obedient

demographic info-surrendering

with quintuplicate mail-bombing

upon every update of their

content? Considering the glee

with which liberties are taken

with Web polls, the day isn't

far off when sites crop up

devoted entirely to the critique

of the low profile Web PR

economy. Of course, the day

after that day, they'll take a

poll and start a mailing list of

their own. Put another way, have

we mentioned that we're hard at

work on the Suck Survey?


[Bags o' Money]

"Take notice if a newfound "Net
 friend" suddenly knows details
 about you that you have not   

As Bandits itself shows, the real

mystery is how so many can so

blithely ignore the gullibility

we all have in common. Every

Netscape-enhanced button, every

private response cc'd to a

public mailing list, every page

with reams of sex verbiage in

its header, and every URL on a

beer bottle conspires to craft a

portrait of the world as

predictable to the point of

absurdity. Go ahead, compose

your resume on a Web page and

post your sordid life history to

your home page. When all secrets

are revealed, it might

finally dawn on us that what we

knew all along matches perfectly

with what we knew all along.



"Dishonorable users have been    
 known to use anonymous addresses
 to annoy people and get away    
 with it." (p. 23)               

courtesy of the Duke of URL