International Conference on Complex Sciences

Researchers at the meeting, held December 5-7 in Santa Fe, N.M., offer insight into spam blocking and sick leave.

Winning the arms race with spam
Spammers are tricky adversaries: If e-mail spam filters seek out words like “enlargement” then spammers switch up their approach. “Spam changes a lot — it starts looking more like ham,” said Richard Colbaugh on December 5. Now Colbaugh and Kristin Glass, both of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, have created a one-two punch that anticipates new tactics and makes antispam programs less predictable. Training filters, for example, to look for bits of ham mixed with spam, such as several nonspammy words, will help detect even cleverly disguised spam. And instead of using one superior filter all the time, spam fighters should mix up their weaponry. Keeping several filters on hand can keep spammers from deducing and evading antispam tactics.

When paid sick leave pays
Paid sick leave is an HR dilemma. The policy can keep an infection from spreading and limit medical costs, but it also lowers productivity, especially when employees intent on playing hooky abuse it. Computer simulations of how an epidemic might spread through Miami suggest that paid sick leave usually pays off. It typically curtails a disease’s spread and minimizes health costs without crippling work output, Achla Marathe of Virginia Tech reported December 5. But if a company offers more days than infections usually last and employees are both highly productive and dishonest about being sick, then paid sick leave does little good.

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