Ode To An Obsequious Gherkin

This first appeared in GSABusiness

I keep getting emails with mysterious subject lines. Just today I received emails with the “Subject: pyroxenite calcareous midget” and “Subject: bangor churchman idyllic ambiguous anchor.” Amazingly, none of my spam filters recognize such hogwash subject lines as spam even though I recognize them in an instant. The filters are busy looking for a preponderance of “bad” words in subject lines and messages. If they don’t find words like “Herbal”, “Viagra”, or “Work From Home” then they think the message is probably ok.

Spam Assassin, one of the Spam filters I use, rates each message’s likelihood of being spam. It adds up a number of factors, and if the specified threshold is crossed, it declares the message spam and deletes it. What I find troublesome is that many of the junk messages I receive each day are now scoring zero. Spam Assassin thinks they are completely legitimate emails, even when they have “Obsequious Gherkin Gangplank” as the subject line. My hired gun is not killing off all the bad guys it should. Ugh.

Sending junk emails is cheap and easy. Making money off of them is almost as easy. The problem is that the emails are annoying, sometimes offensive, and proliferating to the point that you can’t see the real emails in your inbox from the clutter of all the spam. The people who monitor the net say that unsolicited commercial emails account for at least 50% of all of the internet’s traffic and that the number is rising quickly.

The government to our rescue…

On January 1, 2004, the CAN-SPAM act went into effect in the federal government’s first tentative attempt to control the flood of junk email that most of us receive each day. The Act requires internet marketers to include valid return email addresses as part of every email they send. It also requires them to include valid physical addresses in every email sent. It even imposes stiff fines for those who break the law. I figure the likelihood of these measures reducing the amount of Spam in my inbox is… zero.

I am resigned to the fact that each day my inbox will fill with 50 unsolicited commercial email messages for products I would never consider buying. Why will I get those emails? Because the law does not apply to most of the people sending me spam. Savvy spammers have moved their operations overseas where the laws are loose and they can epistilate with impunity. (If it’s not a word, it should be.)


If you were one of the hopefuls that thought this legislation would actually work, check out www.spamspotting.org. The spamspotting website reports a daily index of how much spam is being delivered each day against a baseline of last December’s daily average. The index number is 10,000 and today’s number is 9120. That’s just about the drop you might expect if some of the spammers turned slacker over the New Years holiday.

Your government at work…

By the way, here is an evil tidbit for you. Your elected officials are immune from the Act. In a move separate from the CAN-SPAM act, the House Administration committee voted last September to allow congressmen to email messages to their lists during the normal 90-day pre-election blackout period. The committee has also ruled that the CAN-SPAM act does not normally apply to congressional bulk mail, because it is not “commercial” in nature.

I think that for 2004, Spam is here to stay, and I’ll be pressing the delete key just as often as I did in 2003.

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.