Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Excursions

Sunday is a day that I like to break routine and explore something new or tackle some backburner project or just chill and hang with some friends. Some days we fish, some days we mend nets, and some days we just goof off.

With this in mind, Uncertain Times is going to disengage from the cycle and go a little off-topic with Sunday Excursions.

Item: Scamorama

Most of you are probably familiar with those emails with the subject line "Request for Assistance" etc. etc., offering a cut of a large sum of money in exchange for help with transferring funds so that they can drain your bank account, or worse.

Yes, it's the Nigerian Scammers, aka: 419ers or The Lads from Lagos. These scumbags practice what is known in legalese as Advance Fee Fraud, a variation of the Spanish Prisoner con.

Although they are popularly known as 'Nigerian', 419ers operate from a number of different countries. They did, however, originate there and remain predominantly Nigerian.

Most of us ignore and delete, but many have been victimized by these folks. (as well as by their own greed and stupidity) Many have lost money, but some have been kidnapped and held for ransom and some have even been murdered. (despite editorial complaints, for our purposes, Wikipedia has an adequate entry on AFF.)

But now, the cool part. Enter Scamorama.

Scamorama is a website devoted to scam-baiting. The object is to string the scammers along for as long as possible (sometimes for months) and eventually lay some sort of smackdown on them. Some actually get the scammers to send them something; a copy of a photo id, a picture of the scammer in lingerie, money, even gold.

But what's really priceless, in my opinion, is the interplay. Some of the entries are hilarious. In fact, many are so well contrived that scam-baiting has practically become a literary genre unto itself.

Many scam-baiters pose themselves as fictional, pop-cultural or historical characters such as, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Mr. T, Joseph Stalin, and my favorite, the Miskatonic University Tales, chronicling the exploits of Thomas Mallory, a living human head in a jar!

Although many of the entries aren't quite as humorous and some are so long that it's impossible to slog through after awhile, some are so funny that I'd advise not drinking milk while reading them.

Score one for the good guys.

Late note: I've been following Scamorama since 2003, but I've only recently found 419 Eater. How I missed this, I have no idea. Although I don't think their scam-o-grams are quite as funny as Scamorama's, they're pretty crafty. So much so, that in one case, a 419er was actually convinced to provide some pretty elaborate wood-carvings. I was hepped to this after scanning Wikipedia and the Boing Boing archives. Scamorama also has blivets of links to advance fee fraud and scam-baiting sites both funny and serious as well as a number of odd nuggets worth a peek.

Item: Suppressed Transmissions

I haven't played a pencil and paper role-playing game for quite a while, but I still keep an eye on the industry and a few of the publishers, designers and writers; in particular, one Kenneth Hite.

I first became aware of Mr. Hite via his Suppressed Transmission column in Pyramid, an online RPG journal published by Steve Jackson Games. A friend of mine suggested that I should check him out. I sneaked a peek on a friend's account and I was impressed enough to subscribe. (SJG has also released two volumes of ST in print.)

The Suppressed Transmission series covers a wide range of themes and genres related to gaming, but it is built on four pillars: Conspiracy, Secret History, Horror and Alternate History. Within this framework each column addresses a particular subject, magnifies it through various historical, fictional or gaming-oriented lenses and then focuses it into an informative and entertaining transmission of ideas and inspiration. Topics include Shakespeare, Antarctic Space Nazis, The Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon, Emperor Norton, The Knights Templar, Route 66, and many others.

As an erstwhile gamer, I know that the Suppressed Transmissions are an invaluable resource for game-masters and designers. (to paraphrase Mr. Hite: If you can't get any inspiration from this, you might as well go back to drawing 10 foot wide corridors on graph paper.) However, as a writer, Hite's work is a very helpful source of insights and ideas. His erudition, perspective and wit is refreshing and inspiring.

The Suppressed Transmission collections would be a good score for any aspiring writer. Check 'em out.

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