Spam, spam, spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam!

My Favorite Web Sites - Winchester Star, 2/6/03
 by Martin Zombeck

This is one of many columns providing annotated lists of Web sites that may be of interest to the community. Each column lists sites that belong to a particular category: search engines, art, online newspapers and magazines, health and medicine, history, business and economics, etc. or sites relevant to a particular season, for example, skiing or gardening. Most sites are non-commercial. To make it easier to access the sites, each column is posted on the Town of Winchester's Web site so that the sites can be accessed and bookmarked without having enter the URL by hand.


Spam is the e-mail equivalent of junk mail. Although the percentage of unsolicited and unwanted e-mail and surface mail (aka snail mail) is currently about the same, about 40%, according to Brightmail, a company that blocks spam for six of the nation's top ten Internet Service Providers (ISPs), we can expect spam to increase at a faster rate than junk mail since spam does not require postage nor paper; it is virtually free to send. About the only up-front cost for spam is the price of mailing lists. The average e-mail user received about 2,200 spam messages in 2002, according to Jupiter Research, which tracks Internet activity. By 2005, expect to get about one marketing e-mail for every two or three personal messages.

Where does the term "spam" come from? According to Webopedia (http://www.webopedia.com), an online dictionary of computer and Internet terms: There is some debate about the source of the term, but the generally accepted version is that it comes from the Monty Python song, "Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, lovely spam, wonderful spamů" Like the song, spam is an endless repetition of worthless text.

Another school of thought maintains that it comes from the computer group lab at the University of Southern California who gave it the name because it has many of the same characteristics as the lunchmeat Spam:

  • Nobody wants it or ever asks for it.
  • No one ever eats it; it is the first item to be pushed to the side when eating the entree.
  • Sometimes it is actually tasty, like 1% of junk mail that is really useful to some people.
Along with spam, pop-up advertisements that appear nearly every time you open a commercial Web site are also a big annoyance. Even more insidious than spam and pop-ups, is spyware, software that downloads advertising while you use the associated application or at random and also permits advertisers to monitor your online activities without your knowledge or approval.

Don't despair! Help is on the way. There is low-cost and free software to counter these attacks on your time, sanity, and privacy. The Web sites below will provide you with the weapons to thwart these digital assaults.

As to the real SPAM, which some of us remember eating all to often, - "As America entered World War II, SPAM luncheon meat played a crucial role overseas. With Allied forces fighting to liberate Europe, Hormel Foods provided 15 million cans of food to troops each week. SPAM immediately became a constant part of a soldiers' diets, and earned much praise for feeding the starving British and Soviet armies as well as civilians." This quote is from the online SPAM Museum (http://media.hormel.com/anm/templates/spam_museum.asp?articleid=8&zoneid=11).

Slam the Spam
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,849402,00.asp
A recent (February 2003) PC Magazine article on how spammers get your e-mail address, how spam filters work, and reviews of ten antispam tools for individuals and six for ISPs and IT departments. Before purchasing a particular product make sure that it will work with your e-mail program.

Pop-Up Stopper
http://www.panicware.com/
A free version of Panicware's pop-up killer for Netscape and Internet Explorer is available online. This really works. I've been using for several months. They also offer a 30-day free trial for more advanced versions.

Ad-aware
http://www.lavasoftusa.com
Lavasoft's utility scans your system-including removable drives-for the most common advertising spyware and safely removes the offenders. Ad-aware's version 6 Standard Edition is free, the professional version is $39.95. From a review by PC World - "A one-of-a-kind utility, Ad-aware does its job quickly and efficiently (much to the chagrin of spyware makers), and it has become an indispensable tool in the fight for online privacy."

Do Not Call Program
http://www.mass.gov/donotcall
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Do Not Call Registration site. Although this site is not for your home computer, registering on it will reduce the number of telemarketing telephone calls to your home, leaving you more time for your computer or provide you with an uninterrupted dinner hour. Information about the new law regulating telemarketing can be found at http://www.state.ma.us/donotcall/thelaw.htm.

Previous columns with live links can be found at www.winchestermass.org/wstar

When he is not updating the Town of Winchester Web site (www.winchestermass.org), Martin Zombeck can be found at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where he is a physicist, or at the tennis courts in Winchester.
E-mail: mvz@alum.mit.edu.

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