More mysteries from the spamosphere

I get a daily Google Alert with news of web pages that mention my books. Lately the alerts have been pretty weird. I’m not going to publish the URLs because I’m not sure what mischief is behind all this, and many of the pages have been taken down already anyway, but here are a couple of text excerpts.

This one—and dozens like it—appears to be the output a Perl script with an overused $book_title variable and a shaky grasp of English syntax:

You need to know that Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions is an beautiful product! I love my Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions alot! I Track down the grade a quality of Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions is just dazzling! I purchased my Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions at and found that they have the half-price prices online for Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions!

As far as I can tell, the aim of these web pages is actually to sell copies of the book (through an Amazon Associates link that earns the referrer a small kickback). I guess I should wish them every success.

Another set of pages is more enigmatic both in garbledness and in purpose. Under a conventional-looking heading that suggests some sort of book-review service, there are great gobs of prose like this:

In the imaginative, legendary readable Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, Brian Hayes adapt the genre of the graze manor guide to “everything that isn’t nature,” as he writes. Hayes take on the destined thicket of specialized gobbledygook gracefully, adding up comparison to brand name contemporary lingo and process reasonable. A method of floodgates works “like a rolltop desk”; bricks are “sliced from an extruded flex of sand by a magnificent wire, like a cheese cutter. Now a veteran science writer has crisscrossed the U. The perfume was deep but not sickly sweetie. ” Along country roads, Hayes explore all the technological sights, from tractors and combine to the earlier extent and decoration of the once dominant technology for enclose animals, barbed wire: “As bedside light as air. He undertake this mission to some extent through hundreds of photographs taken from airplanes, cars, and the public side of many a chain-link balustrade, partly through the moving on, accessible prose of a man who appreciate the history, engineering, and aesthetics of such wonder as barn hay hood, grain elevators, oil pipelines, and the airing towers of the Holland Tunnel. Cheaper than dust,” as one of its unwary proponents describe it. Down sewer manholes: “Sounds were deadened. “It’s all in circle you. Industrial buildings Landscape architecture..

I recognize the underlying text from which this pastiche was constructed: It’s from a review by Anne Eisenberg, originally published in Scientific American but also posted on Amazon. Phrases have been scrambled and also altered with aid of a thesaurus. For example, “many a chain-link fence” in the original review has become “many a chain-link balustrade,” and the ventilation towers of the Holland Tunnel are now “airing towers.”

What I can’t figure out is why. Why did the splogger bother to alter the text at all? Why not just scrape it and spew it? Surely someone who would post this sort of stuff isn’t worried about copyright violations. Beyond that, why bother at all? On these pages there are no links to Amazon—or to anything else in the known universe, so what’s the point? What is it all in aid of? I suspect the motive has something to do with getting the page indexed by Google—and in that they’ve evidently succeeded—but then what? I don’t see the payoff.

A roundup of other spam news:

The graph below brings up to date my monthly tally of junk email. It looks like we’re back on the upward growth path, recovering from the crash at the end of last year. Also, the proportion of my spam in Russian keeps climbing. It had been running about half, but this past month it hit 63 percent.


I’m also facing a comment-spam problem here at Because I’ll be traveling in the next few days, I’ve turned on comment moderation. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I think it’s better than hundreds of messages promoting online casinos.

Finally, just to show I haven’t lost my sense of humor about all this, I want to mention a phishing email I received this morning. It purports to be a ticket confirmation from Delta Air Lines, with a zipped attachment that’s doubtless something nasty. How do I know it’s a fake? Because of this passage in the body of the letter:

On board you will be offered:

- beverages;

- food;

- daily press.

You are guaranteed top-quality services and attention on the part of our benevolent personnel.

Sent by someone who hasn’t flown lately.

This entry was posted in modern life.

6 Responses to More mysteries from the spamosphere

  1. Barry Cipra says:

    That peculiar, precipitous decline in your spam accumulation graph late last year makes me wonder, have you considered cross-correlating your spam index with the Dow Jones?

  2. Carl Witty says:

    Your second set of pages (the ones that use the thesaurus) sound a lot like what’s described here, along with speculations about the purpose:

  3. brian says:

    Within an hour of posting the item above I received another Google Alert with the familiar snippet of text: “You need to know that Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions is an beautiful product!” But on closer examination I realized it was a pointer to this page. Does this lend credence to the hypothesis, mentioned in the strange-corners-of-the-web item referenced by Carl Witty, that the real purpose of these weird sites is just to get discussed by folks like us?

  4. Larry Hosken says:

    “Why did the splogger bother to alter the text at all?”

    Maybe they wanted to fake expertise without being detected as “duplicate content”.

    (Though I work for a search engine company, I don’t speak for it. Nor am I especially knowledgeable about spam, and you should take what I say with a grain of salt.)

    “On these pages there are no links to Amazon”

    The page has a similarly-tweaked review of Infrastructure. It has an Amazon purchase button. It also shows ads; if a user clicks those ads, then the page author makes money. It seems unlikely that such a site would make money–but it’s pretty easy to generate such a thing, so it seems likely that someone would try.

  5. rms says:

    wild speculation: maybe they are probes to reverse engineering google’s (or yahoo’s) algorithms from the analysis of the results..