Nothing about Suzi Turner would make you think that she is a fighter on the front lines of a modern battle between good and evil.
Suzi is a nurse who lives in Northern California. In 1999, she bought her first PC. "The more I played with the computer, the more I liked it," Suzi told me on the phone.
She liked to do research online, and shop, and send and receive e-mail. In short, she liked to use the computer as most of us do: as a tool that we direct as we see fit.
Then, about two years ago, Suzi was visiting a Web site when, "all of a sudden, a number of pop-ups hit me." She tried to close the pop-up ads, but there were so many, coming so fast, that in clicking to close them she must have accidentally triggered an "install."
Her computer was soon infected with spyware, which can surreptitiously track what's on your PC, and adware, which bombards your screen with ads.
"I was angry," said Suzi. "I felt outraged. I thought, 'How can they do this to me?' "
She made it her business to learn how, and she created www.spywarewarrior.com, a Web site devoted to helping people fight back against the scourge of scumware.
I found Suzi's Web site in March, after our home computer became encrusted with "MidADdle" and "Ads234." These programs hijacked our browser and took us to Web pages we didn't want to visit. We tried to delete them, but they'd burrowed into our computer and kept reinstalling themselves. Eventually the PC just froze, a useless lump of plastic.
Suzi was our savior. She and a group of volunteers have helped thousands of people fix their PCs. A volunteer we knew only as "Blender" instructed us to run something called "HijackThis," a free program that combs your computer for suspicious code. We e-mailed Blender the lengthy, inscrutable report that HijackThis generated, and she sent back detailed instructions on how to clean up the mess.
The whole episode still inspires in me a sort of mute and impotent rage. How dare these adware people ruin a good thing?
The Federal Trade Commission is trying to hit back. Last month, it froze the assets of a company called Trustsoft Inc., run by a Houston man named Danilo Ladendorf. Pop-up ads for the company's Spykiller software invited users to run a free spyware scan, then falsely claimed to have found nasty stuff. Then they'd invite users to pay 40 bucks to remove stuff that wasn't there.
"One of the things we've found is it's a real challenge to investigate these complaints," Mary Engle, head of the FTC's division of advertising practices, told me. "A lot of times, consumers don't know where the software came from."
In March, I called MidADdle (the name means "ads in the middle" -- get it?) and spoke with someone named Andrew Greenberg. I wanted to ask him if his mother was proud that he worked for a company that messed up people's computers. He didn't really want to talk to me. Nor did Michael Katz, whom I called this week. The company now goes by the name Interclick.com, and Katz is the managing partner.
I asked him why he would unleash something as horrible as MidADdle, which one online commentator called "the evil spyware program that won't die."
"We discontinued it," Katz said in our brief conversation, "so I'm really not going to try to defend MidADdle. We changed our business model."
I'm sure that's comforting to people still trying to scrape it from their limping PCs.
On This Date
The freakiest part about having children is the dawning realization that they are separate, unique, living creatures. And not just any creatures, but human beings.
It's hard to believe at first. At first, children seem especially creature-like. As babies, they mewl and puke. They can't talk or hold their heads up. They seem less like human beings and more like some sort of garden slug. Ask them what they think of the situation in the Mideast, and they just blow spit bubbles. Hopeless, really.
But gradually, they mature. When they start talking, they reach a stage that I liken to a random number generator. Where did that come from, you wonder as you overhear their juvenile mutterings. Kids really do say the darnedest things.
Gwyneth Kelly has been our point man on this journey called parenthood. My Lovely Wife and I have watched her go from spit bubbles to spaghetti straps. Today she turns 14 and is more of her own person -- more a separate, unique, living creature with thoughts and opinions -- than ever. She's still my daughter, though, and I'm not going to let her forget that. Happy birthday, Gwyn.
Thinking of Camp
Helen Day of Gainesville donated an additional $12 to Camp Moss Hollow in honor of my younger daughter Beatrice's birthday last month. Wasn't that nice?
Our goal by July 27 is $650,000. So far we've raised $115,710.99. Here's how you can make a tax-deductible contribution:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
Join your fellow readers at 1 p.m. today for my weekly online chat. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.