Dec 312009
Sniffy New Year 2010

Sniffy New Year 2010

A New day, A New year, A New decade, Another chance to make things better… To do something good in a sustainable way so that we can build on it and make a lasting difference.

One of the things I do is develop technology for filtering out bad email (spam, scams, viruses, “malware”). The goal is to protect people from the predators out there and help to make sure the Internet has a chance to achieve it’s potential for good.

Of course, doing that means that my team and I spend a lot of time wading through the worst stuff on the ‘Net. Honestly, sometimes I really hate that job – wallowing in humanities filth for hours on end can really bum you out.

What started as a nuisance has grown into something much more sinister. Today spam and other malware is produced largely by organized crime. Their “business” is well funded, sophisticated, and ranges from presenting you with uninvited advertisements to hacking your computer, money laundering, identity theft and fraud, all the way to human trafficking, cyber warfare and terrorism.

I invite you to view this TED talk on the intricate economics of terrorism:

As a result of this phenomenon everyone who provides services on the Internet must now spend a significant amount of money and effort to protect themselves and their customers. It has become a necessity.

It’s very depressing. I know I would like to spend that energy doing more positive work – not just holding back the darkness.

I don’t let that stuff keep me down, but thoughts like that float around in my brain with all of the others looking for ways to connect. Sometimes they connect in surprising ways and call me to start out in new directions.

The other day I was pondering all of this while shopping for a gift for my brother. He enjoys camping, and reading, and this year in particular he’s become interested in outdoor survival books (Man vs Wild kinds of stuff). I had picked up a book about surviving on K2 and was looking for something to add when I wondered into the camping isle and came face to face with a sleeping bag…

This wasn’t what I was looking for but it struck a nerve. Just recently I had made a live recording for Evergreen Church where they were interviewing some folks from TOP (Teens Opposing Poverty). The stories these folks told about living (surviving) on the streets of DC had stuck with me. Evergreen Church teens regularly work with TOP and the church has been collecting sleeping bags to donate to TOP for their next trip into DC.

Teens Opposing Poverty

Teens Opposing Poverty

Just then it occurred to me that I had another opportunity to do something good. As Steve Jennings (Executive Director of TOP) puts it: “Sleeping bags are like gold to homeless people… The need for sleeping bags never goes away.”

For the month of January MicroNeil will donate a new sleeping bag to TOP for every new customer that subscribes to Message Sniffer.

This is a way we can convert some of the darkness generated by the blackhats into light (and warmth) and hopefully make a difference when it matters most. It’s very cold on the streets of  DC in January –and this year we just had two feet of snow!

I’m also hopeful that this promotion will call more attention to TOP and efforts like it. TOP in particular is focused on engaging and connecting young people with homeless folks in a meaningful way– and reconnecting the homeless with their community. These connections are in many ways more important than providing critical services and materials because it’s the connections that translate into hope and opportunity.