Back in the 1980’s, when I was a student, I was also an avid shortwave listener (SWL). This was in the days before the web, satellite TV or 24-hour international cable news coverage. I had an upper floor room in Cabot Hall, and each night I would surreptitiously dangle out the window a 40-foot wire antenna attached to a small weight.
At first I listened only to the big broadcasters like the BBC Word Service, Deutsche Welle, Radio Moscow, and then moved on to smaller ones: Tirana, Malta, South Africa, etc. It was a great way to get a global perspective beyond the 2-minutes allocated to international news on a typical US-based evening news program.
Eventually I started writing the broadcasters and received many QSL cards. Some of my letters were read on the air. I’m sure I ended up on some FBI watch list for those letters to Radio Prague and Radio Havana. My subscription to Soviet Life magazine, and a Cambridge address probably didn’t help either.
But you don’t go far as a SWL before you notice that there are a lot of strange things going on in the aether. Some were easily explained — the Soviet Union jamming broadcasts of Voice of America or Cuba jamming broadcasts of Radio Martí. And then there were the commercial voice broadcasts, ship-to-shore, international aviation, time signals, etc. Then the various data services, radio teletype, weather fax, etc. And then there were the mysterious coded transmissions, which we rumored to be SAC tranmissions, “Sky King, Sky King, Do not answer”, followed by various authentication codes, which were either recall or go ahead codes for nuclear attack. It was an eerie feeling, in the hotter days of the Cold War, to lay awake at night, listening to the radio and wondering whether the sun would rise in the morning. Now I just wonder if my 401(k) will still be there.
Stranger yet were the cryptic transmissions of the “numbers stations“, which would transmit on a semi-regular schedule and merely read off a large list of numbers for 10 minutes. For months I transcribed one particular woman’s transmissions, trying to find out the pattern. I did some computer analysis, but the numbers were random in frequency, with no discernible patterns. Presumably they were encoded against a one-time pad.
And then there were the “pirate” radio stations like “The Voice of the Purple Pumpkin”.
Although most people knew about the BBC World Service, I don’t think many appreciated that a large portion of the shortwave universe was strange, that the fringe was everywhere.
I’m starting to have a similar view of the web. Their are major content providers, minor content providers, even individual content providers like me. And then their is the weirdness, the strange corners of the web, the space between the channels, where you are not even sure you are listening to signal or noise.
Here are a few random examples of web sites with no discernible purpose. They appear to be garbled republications of new stories.
Let’s start with the “Wet Paint Body Notes” blog, newly created, with only three posts. One is called “Microsoft Gets Foot in Mass. Office Door“. It starts:
In what could be a coup inwardly favour of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and a biff to the friendly wellspring league, the stipulate of Massachusetts personal added Microsoft’s Office Open XML norm to its document of give your declaration standards it will allow for elected representatives exploit.
This is a strange kind of English. It almost seems like a poor translation, or even a poor machine translation, of a document written in another language. But if you poke around a little, you find the this blog post is an unattributed garbled derivation of a 2007 article in Linux Insider. Not only was the original article in English, the reposted version truncates the article, posting only the first few paragraphs.
So what’s up with that? There are no banner ads or other obvious sources of revenue on the garbled version of the article. It is not a link farm. In fact it has no outgoing links. So why did someone bother?
Another example. The blog “75Software-News48” has an new article “Microsoft shows support for ODF“, posted just two weeks ago, with the intro:
Amid organization hassle surrounded by wish of interoperability, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) protected Thursday announced the discovery of the Open XML Translator Project. The overhang will fry in the air permitted software to allow Word, Excel and PowerPoint to knob documents in contrary technology format.
Again, this reads like it is a poor translation from another language. But look further and you can find that the original article is actually in English, from a 2006 TechNewsWorld article.
Again, no obvious intent here. It isn’t a link farm, and there is no evident source of revenue. It isn’t informative and it certainly isn’t timely. So why did they do it?
One more example this time a LiveJournal blog called “All Microsoft”, again newly created, with a post called “Ecma Approves MS Office Format, IBM Dissents“. It opens:
Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Open XML bureau software format, broad of via the tech giant to chase near the Open Document Format (ODF), cleared a standards hurdle this week, successful approbation from the Ecma global standards article.
Same modus operandi here. Original source, unattributed, is from a 2006 Linux Insider article.
I have dozens of examples of this kind of thing, all within the last couple of months, mainly articles about Microsoft and ODF. Something new is afoot. But what? Anyone have any idea of what this is and who benefits from it? If this just a contest between Blogger and LiveJournal to see who can claim the most hosted blogs? Or is it some SEO ploy? It has me stumped.