Friday, July 13, 2007

Futility and the purpose of life

Are we just a waste of oxygen? What am I doing that is worth doing?

A few days ago someone at an LDS blog became perturbed at my participation in the discussion, and activated whatever mechanism they use to try to block me from participating. Why did I care? I wasn't aware that I did until I found that the blog did not even prompt me for a comment any more.

Well, it turns out that this blog and most others use a software black box called Akismet that supposedly filters out unwanted stuff. It is supposed to keep spammers from cluttering up the place.

I decided that anyone rude enough to presume to cut me off deserved punishment. So I started researching the Akismet machine to figure out how to break through.

According to the authors of the software, it is supposed to be very smart. As far as I can tell, it isn't. Akismet just tries to associate comments with a list of IP addresses and other possible junk associated with spammers.

I have known for some time of software servers that anonymize the IP address of a web browser session. So, being the persistent bother that I am, I experimented until I could post again.

Now that I accomplished that feat, I was nonplussed to realize that I had absolutely nothing to say. So I decided to study more about Akismet.

This defense mechanism reminds me of the Star Trek phaser dilemma when attacking the Borg defenses.

Phasers could only penetrate their shields on the first few tries. After that, the Borg shifted the frequency of their shields to restore attenuation.

Blog operators only have a few parameters they can use to check incoming traffic against known spam offenders. This approach doesn't work at all against those who know how to shift the values of those parameters. It is effective against spam only because the spammers are mostly mindless automatons exploiting easy undefended targets.

I suppose most network users do not know what an IP address is, let alone how to manipulate it. To put it simply, IP addresses are assigned by software, and can be changed or manipulated by software. Internet users with a bit of savvy and ambition can easily switch IP numbers and other software parameters. And for every more sophisticated technique of tracking addresses, there are even more elaborate schemes to conceal them.

My web browser voluntarily offers personal information to web pages I interact with. I have no obligation to do this, nor do I see anything unethical about refusing to freely hand over everything demanded. When blog operators use my voluntary compliance as a weapon against me, they forfeit my willing cooperation. The blog security structure is based entirely on voluntary compliance. Unless they resort to a closed system that only allows comments from established, trusted sources, blog operators cannot do much to block anonymous comments.

Not only that, but I strongly suspect that this blog absolutely depends on anonymity to even operate at all. Many LDS Internet users who operate on the fringe have grown paranoid about someone taking note of what they say in open forums. And rightly so. Ironically, I suspect many of those with such concerns do not exactly subscribe to the principle of common consent. They want license to criticize the Church and speak evil of the brethren without suffering any consequence. This blog is not about to jeopardize the mechanism that affords naysayers a forum in which to offer critical remarks without disclosing their identity.

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