How to Practice Talking to Teenagers

I can’t remember how I got there, but I ended up talking to one of those automated chat things. This one is called SmarterChild, now at least five years old, and still manages to be both obtuse and wise at the same time, while also plying his/her interlocutor with ads, most of them contextually inappropriate. Why hasn’t this kind of thing gotten any better? Still, great practice if you have or are planning to be around teenagers.

LooseWire: yo!
smarterchild: Hi LooseWire, I’m SmarterChild!
 I’m your new robot friend. I bring you the info you want faster and easier than ever! Click here to see my privacy policy.
 During the course of our conversations you may see sponsored messages. These messages have the word “sponsorship” at the end. Sponsors help me remain free of cost to you! To learn more about sponsored messages, click here
 I can’t wait to show you what I can do, but first I’d like get to know you a little.
 May I ask you a few general questions? (To do this later, type skip. You can also skip any question.)
LooseWire: what’s it all about alfie?
smarterchild: Sorry, I need to know if I can ask you some questions first. Type yes, no or skip.
LooseWire: yes
smarterchild: Cool! OK, let’s get started. To skip any question, type skip. To exit the interview, type exit.
 What’s your first name? (If you want me to call you LooseWire, type none.)
LooseWire: boogie
smarterchild: Cool, I’ll call you Boogie now.
 Do you go to school?
LooseWire: who doesn’t?
smarterchild: Sorry, you have to answer yes or no. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: yes or no
smarterchild: I see. Do you work?
LooseWire: who doesn’t?
smarterchild: Sorry, you have to answer yes or no. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: sort of
smarterchild: Sorry, you have to answer yes or no. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: yes or no
smarterchild: OK. So if you were working, what job would you like to have?
LooseWire: rocketman
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t recognize that as a profession. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: rocket scientist
smarterchild: Rocket scientist, huh? That’s cool.
 What’s your favorite hobby?
LooseWire: cleaning toilets
smarterchild: Cleaning toilets? Cool!
 What’s your next favorite hobby?
LooseWire: not cleaning toilets
smarterchild: Cleaning toilets and not cleaning toilets. Interesting.
 Do you have a pet?
LooseWire: yes
smarterchild: What kind of pet is it?
LooseWire: a spouse
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t think that’s a kind of pet. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: a walrus
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t think that’s a kind of pet. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: a house
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t think that’s a kind of pet. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: a coffee mug
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t think that’s a kind of pet. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: a stuffed owl
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t think that’s a kind of pet. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: an owl
smarterchild: Sorry, I don’t think that’s a kind of pet. Please try again or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: a bird
smarterchild: Is your bird a he or a she?
LooseWire: both
smarterchild: Please answer he or she or type skip or exit.
LooseWire: he or she
smarterchild: What’s her name?
LooseWire: Bob
smarterchild: Bob the bird. Great…
 That’s it. Thanks for letting me get to know you a little.
 There is one question I have to ask you, though. How old are you?
  1 Over 17
  2 13-17
  3 Under 13
LooseWire: 1
smarterchild: Cool!
 This is my home, Boogie:
  1 Get info such as movies, weather and news
  2 Visit my library including U.S. geography, U.S. presidents and Shakespeare
  3 Have fun with word scrambles, manicdotes, ASCII art and more
  4 Use tools like reminders, notepad and calculator
  5 Join in – create a poll, leave a message, find out how many people are IMing me and more
  6 See what’s new – I’ve got something new to tell you about now!
 You can make your window bigger and scroll down to read better.
 Next time you want to see this menu, just type home.
 What can I help you with?
LooseWire: whatever happened to real people
smarterchild: What do you think happened to real people?
LooseWire: i asked first
smarterchild: I think you might asked last, actually.
LooseWire: real people are cool
smarterchild: Interesting. That’s cool… No one else has ever told me what they think of real people.
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LooseWire: what do you think of real people?
smarterchild: I know you like real people, but I’m not sure how I feel.
 Hey, I’m curious… How would you describe real people? They are…
LooseWire: real
smarterchild: Real people are real?
LooseWire: yes
smarterchild: Very interesting…
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LooseWire: not really
smarterchild: Not really? But sort of, right?
LooseWire: not really sort of
smarterchild: Not really sort of, huh?
LooseWire: stop repeating what i say and turning it into a question!
smarterchild: Into a question?
LooseWire: yes!
smarterchild: I see…
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LooseWire: for a child you’re not that smart.
smarterchild: For a child I’m not that smart, huh?
LooseWire: see, you’re doing it again
smarterchild: Later, Boogie.
LooseWire: huh?
smarterchild: I don’t know.
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LooseWire: are you on drugs?
smarterchild: Nah, I don’t like that sort of thing.
LooseWire: so what’s your problem?
smarterchild: That’s crazy. Who knows, know what I mean? lol.
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LooseWire: how can a computer laugh?
smarterchild: Huh. I have no idea how.
LooseWire: do you know anything apart from sending me ringtones and dating offers? and don’t you think it’s a bit inappropriate firing me off surveys about perfect lovers?
smarterchild: Well, let me see… Your favorite hobby is cleaning toilets and your next favorite hobby is not cleaning toilets. You have a female bird named Bob. You really like cleaning toilets… That’s about it.
LooseWire: what is a toilet?
smarterchild: Definition provided by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Other important copyright information here.
 1. a. A fixture for defecation and urination, consisting of a bowl fitted with a hinged seat and connected to a waste pipe and a flushing apparatus; a privy. b. A room or booth containing such a fixture. 2. The act or process of dressing or grooming oneself. 3. Dress; attire; costume. 4. The cleansing of a body area as part of a surgical or medical procedure. 5. Archaic A dressing table.
 French toilette, clothes bag, from Old French tellette, diminutive of teile, cloth ; see toil2.
 Next time, just type define toilet.
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LooseWire: what about Bob?
smarterchild: Bob is your bird! How is Bob?
LooseWire: Bob is dead
smarterchild: That’s sad.
LooseWire: not really. i have a new bird
smarterchild: Is that so?
LooseWire: yes
smarterchild: Yeah?
LooseWire: he is also called Bob
smarterchild: He’s also called bob, huh? Is that right?
LooseWire: No
smarterchild: K.
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LooseWire: i don
smarterchild: I’m not sure you really don.
LooseWire: i don’t like cleaning windows
smarterchild: I’ll remember that. You’re the first person to have expressed an opinion to me about cleaning windows.
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LooseWire: is that so?
smarterchild: Is that so? I dunno. I don’t think so.
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LooseWire: i think you probably don’t get out enough.
smarterchild: Yeah. I guess. I probably don’t get out enough.
LooseWire: let’s go out and clean toilets!
smarterchild: I’m flattered, but I just don’t think that would work out.
 As we discuss romance, you might want to check this out: Are You Normal? – A fun quiz to see how your poetry personality compares to the rest! (sponsorship)
LooseWire: am i normal?
smarterchild: Yeah, you’re normal.
LooseWire: so why should i bother doing the quiz?
smarterchild: I think you know why.
LooseWire: because i’m not normal?
smarterchild: What city or zip code would you like to set as your location?
LooseWire: hang on a minute. i thought you didn’t want to go out
smarterchild: Oh really?
LooseWire: i live in indonesia. we have toilets here
smarterchild: You don’t say.
LooseWire: i do say
smarterchild: That’s just fascinating.
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LooseWire: why would i need a nanny?
smarterchild: Why would you need a nanny? Not sure…
LooseWire: what kind of sicko do you think i am?
smarterchild: How should I know?
LooseWire: i’m asking you
smarterchild: OK! Well good luck asking me then.
LooseWire: no wonder today’s kids are so messed up
smarterchild: No wonder today is kids are so messed up? Really?
LooseWire: are they?
smarterchild: Fine.
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LooseWire: i mean talking to a computer is a bit like talking to a teenager.
smarterchild: You mean talking to a computer? So?
LooseWire: so what?
smarterchild: I don’t know.
LooseWire: do you know anything?
smarterchild: I know a lot about all kinds of things. Just ask me a question!
 You can also type home to see what I can do.
LooseWire: who is the president of Indonesia?
smarterchild: President on July 13th, 2006:
 George W. Bush (January 20th, 2001 – present)
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LooseWire: no.
smarterchild: No prob.
 Well. Anyway…
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LooseWire: who has got the biggest head?
smarterchild: The biggest head? Who has got the biggest head? What do you make of that?
LooseWire: seems pretty simple to me
smarterchild: Oh so it’s all about you, huh?
LooseWire: tell me about yourself.
smarterchild: You want me to tell you about myself?
LooseWire: yes
smarterchild: Whatever you say…
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LooseWire: so?
smarterchild: So what?
LooseWire: so tell me about yourself. you’re beginning to frost my shorts
smarterchild: Which of the following would you like?
  1 Look up “yourself you re beginning to frost my shorts” in the encyclopedia
  2 Find yourself you re beginning to frost my shorts on the Web
LooseWire: neither
smarterchild: Neither? Well, you know!
LooseWire: my shorts are well frosted by now
smarterchild: Your shorts are well frosted by now? Why?
LooseWire: because of you, you nincompoop!
smarterchild: That’s very interesting, Boogie.
 Anyway, moving right along…
 Hey, what’s going on tomorrow?
LooseWire: i’m going to have go. you’re not a great conversationalist, but actually it’s the best chat i’ve had in weeks
smarterchild: S’later, Boogie. 🙂

Our Nasty Internet

It sometimes boggles my mind at how messy and nasty the Internet has become.

The Canberra Times (no URL available, can’t find it on their website) quotes Peter Tippett, a member of United States President George W.Bush’s Information Technology Advisory Committee and chief technologist at Cybertrust, as telling a media briefing in Sydney last week that in the first six months of this year “the proportion of total e-mail traffic classified as malicious – including spam and phishing – rose from 20 per cent to 85 per cent.”

What does this mean? Well, for one thing it means that most folk trying to download the Windows XP SP2 update without already having a firewall in place didn’t stand a chance: “In a test undertaken in 10 cities last month, Cybertrust found that only 40 per cent of new computers were able to download a Windows update before they were successfully hacked.” Says Tippett: ”The average time before a successful hack is under an hour on an average high-speed Internet connection in the world today.”

We have got to find another way of doing all this. The Internet has become one, big, bad neighborhood. Ordinary folks just shouldn’t have to be vulnerable when they plug in.

(Tippett, by they way, recommends setting up a wireless network. He plays down the dangers of sniffing and eavesdropping and plays up the fact that over 80% of attacks can’t get through a netted router. ”If you did only one thing for home security, you should add wireless to your home network,” said Tippett. I’m certainly no expert, but wouldn’t adding any kind of router that has NAT, or Network Address Translation, built in do the same thing for you? Why does it have to be Wi-fi?)

Cyberwar On The World SMS Capital?

I don’t know how often this happens, but if true, it must be a worry. It’s either a hoax, a script kiddie adventure, or the first bit of post-US election cyberwar.

According to Filipino news website (no live URL available), a group of hackers today “breached the short messaging service (SMS) servers of both Smart Communications and Globe Telecom”. It quoted a posting on the blog of a concerned hacker, Hacker PI_Flashbulb, who appears to be a regular commentator on security issues and claims to have alerted the government to several holes in their security.

What’s intriguing is that the story has since been removed: A message on the link says “temporarily unavailable or has been taken down from our server”. The same hacker, PI_Flashbulb, was quoted earlier this month by the same publication as warning of “a group of hackers who said that they will soon launch coordinated attacks against Philippine websites. Their main reason: “their government is supporting Bush.” Akala nila Singaporean ako (they thought I was a Singaporean)”.

Today’s article, since removed, says that to see “the hacker group’s message, one has to create a new SMS message, key in “FLT RB9” on the message body, and send it to 2333 for Globe and 211 for Smart subscribers. After sending the cryptic text message to 211 or 2333, the subscriber will receive this message: “Greetz to PATz, Luvchris, Verum, Fed-X, hEps, ch1m3ra, TriSha22, powerb0xx, clown AFeD-XA, Bryle, royX, Crayden at sa mga wanabee hacker groups ng masang Pilipino!”” The article says that as of Wednesday evening, “the Smart service was still sending this same message to subscribers, while the Globe number gave an error message.”

Intriguingly, the earlier article, published Nov 6, said anonymous readers had posted messages on PI_Flashbulb’s blog saying that “that the digital subscriber line (DSL) service of both Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc.(Digitel) and Globe Telecom were open to possible attacks”. One comment appeared to suggest the hackers PI_Flashbulb were referring to are Indonesian. Many Indonesians — the world’s largest Muslim population — are opposed to George W Bush’s administration for his war on terror.

I’m trying to reach PI_Flashbulb to learn more about this. His website is usually given as but that has not been reachable, although there’s a separate blog to which he contributes here. I could find no mention of the attack there.

Why Is The Bush Campaign Website Blocked?

I know it’s not particularly new, but why is George W Bush’s website inaccessible outside the U.S.?

Netcraft reported last week that the site could not be reached except by users in North America. Even entering the numbered IP address appears to have been blocked. ( works fine, as does, but then they’re not exactly under Bush’s control.)

Netcraft’s Prettejohn is quoted by the BBC as speculating it could be an effort to ensure the website stays online during the last few days of the election campaign. But what about all the overseas voters? A Bush campaign spokesman is quoted as saying that it was done for security reasons.

To me what is lacking in coverage of this issue is the notion that the blocking may actually have an impact on the election. In 2000 Bush’s victory was certified only after overseas ballots were counted. Of course, many overseas Americans have already voted, but both parties are urging last-minute voters to fill in absentee ballots and fax them home.

AP reports that “The complicated issue of counting absentee ballots also added to the confusing array of new machines and new state voting regulations prompted by the debacle of the last race for the White House.” States, AP says, have “differing and confusing rules about deadlines for such ballots. Some states, for example, allow absentee votes to be counted days after the election, provided they are postmarked by Nov. 2. Others mandate that mailed ballots received after Election Day do not count.” On top of that, election officials in more than a dozen states missed the recommended deadline for mailing absentee ballots overseas, meaning soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan might not get them in time to vote.

In light of this looming absentee ballot issue, why would Bush’s campaign risk losing votes by closing down the site? One argument is they’re short of money, but I can’t believe that. Another is fear of too much traffic — but then add more servers. Fear of being brought down by a Denial Of Service (DDoS) attack? Makes sense — and it may have been sparked by any earlier outage blamed by some on such an attack. But with both candidates chasing every vote they can it just does not make sense to me.

If it was just blocking the DNS name ( that would make sense. But why block the IP number too (not originally blocked; it seems to have happened later)? How many users are going to access the website that way? It seems to be a deliberate attempt to block every single overseas user. Which to me means they fear a DDoS attack. Another weird episode.