No, not how to beat spam, Beat spam.
I’ve been noticing, after a large clearout of the old spam comments folder, a marked increase in the quality of the junk coming in. A large amount at the moment seems to be created by throwing together short phrases of random dictionary words, obviously in an attempt to circumvent analysis. What’s nice is that, while there’s an infinitessimal chance of creating real meaning this way, the word patterns produced often take on the cadences of real English, producing a pleasant illusion of literal meaning in the obvious gibberish.
To be honest, it makes me think of a lot of the incandescently incomprehensible poetry I encountered around university arts departments when I was in the USA. Like listening to beat poets ranting from behind a closed door: it sounds as though it probably makes sense, though you’d be hard pushed to say what it is.
I call this one ‘Increase your performance’:
Mint fiat bakery as oaks
Hopefully list interconnecting tremor potting
Scribbled saucepan crutch Catholicism
Weight opened, humiliated wariness.
[goes on for another 12 stanzas]
I’m horribly aware that I’m not posting much here again, as the parcels of time I have to hand tend to be small right now. So, the last resort of the harrassed blogger, I resort to lists. Here are five things that have been giving me great joy over the last few weeks:
- The North York Moors
- Life on Mars, starring the equally excellent John Simm and Philip Glenister (who, in a moment of brilliance, seems to have partly based his rough & ready copper on Brian Clough)
- Battrick, the cricket management game
- Kate Bush
- Babies who sleep through the night
Sometimes you read or hear or see of something, and you just know.
A month or so ago I caught, halfway through, some peculiar-looking girl doing a live performance on a late night music show. Something wide-eyed about her delivery made me realise I’d be listening to her a lot in the near future.
I heard the song on the radio a couple of weeks later while fetching cat food. I waited in the car until the end so that I could learn who it was.
Of course, when I learnt that Lily Allen was daughter of TV hack Keith, I was put off mightily. But underneath, I knew I’d be buying the album.
That’s another tenner splashed on the basis of an easy way with a tune and a glottal stop the size of a bus.
Sometimes you just know.
Pandora is a terrific application. You give it the name of a song or a music artist, and it creates a radio station based on music like that. I recall way back there was a web service called Firefly that did slightly the same thing, but purely linking music together from people’s favourites. I have a feeling that’s what Amazon’s preference based bits and bobs are based on. And, of course, Pandora is a hundred different radio stations. You get to tweak each one you create as you go along, more’s the pleasure. My first five created were:
A Hawk and a Handsaw
My Bloody Valentine
Shame you can’t combine them all into one super-station of all the music in the world you love, if only you knew it.
I have reached that stage of my life when it becomes absolutely apparent that I do not know enough sea shanties. It’s not good enough to know words to just “Dance to thee daddy”, “Homeward bound” and “Blow the man down” when there’s an overflowing squeeze-box of songs that would bring the salt water to any man’s eye.
Hurrah then for collectors of sea shanties and other songs of the sea. Aside from raising the question of why I should have even a vestigial memory of Abdul Abulbul Amir (and his foe, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar), every tune listed here contains either a shiver of excitement or a glimpse of the bottomless sadness that only the sea can produce in a man.
Due to the consistency of the trade winds, the destination of the ship would have a large impact on the type of shanty being sung. Joyous outward-bound songs such as Rio Grande would even be associated with a specific action (in this case, turning the capstan, which raised the anchor):
An’ we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
Then away, bullies, away!
Away for Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, me Liverpool gels,
An’ we’re bound for the Rio Grande!
Most of the shanties, of course, are treasure chests of heartbreak and longing. Who could not tremble at the siren call of Van Diemen’s Land?
Come, all you gallant poachers,
That ramble free from care,
That walk out of a moonlight night,
With your dog, your gun, and snare;
Where the lusty hare and pheasant
You have at your command,
Not thinking that your last career
Is on Van Diemen’s Land
Finally, Lord Franklin, a song not a shanty, but one of the very few songs guaranteed to make me shed a tear, as much for its comradeliness as its equally noble and foolish subject. It also holds perhaps the most plaintive opening stanza I know, particularly when heard in Bert Jansch’s unforgivably lovely version:
We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew
In this sore and sorry world where old men may shout “nonsense” at the prime minister, and kids are to have their crack and sherbert dips confiscated at the school gates, there’s one aching deficiency that hurts more than any other: the miserable lack of comic writing conflating football with folk music.
I shudder to think where we’d be, then, without that genius Harry Pearson:
[Bob] Dylan’s musical roots too had prepared him for what he saw. Country music had a long tradition of football-related songs though these tended to focus on match officials rather than players. Johnny Cash, for example, dubbed himself “The Man in Black” in homage to his idol, the referee Arthur Ellis, and recorded I Walk The Line, arguably still the classic song about the life of an assistant ref. Cash wrote from personal experience. At one time many US pundits considered the man behind hits such as Rock Island Line and Folsom Prison Blues as a future World Cup linesman. Unfortunately Cash’s Old West attitudes to discipline inevitably led to trouble. In a Nevada State Cup match he shot a man in Reno just because he didn’t retreat 10 yards quickly enough and was stripped of his flag.
The world is probably full of people who don’t find that funny. But then, the world is also full of woe, disappointment, and people who don’t listen to old Dylan records while Final Score witters away in the background on a Saturday afternoon.
To save me just quoting the whole piece at you, just go and read it, the perfect close to unofficial Bob Dylan week.
Yesterday, of all days, was not a good one in which to lose internet access. Without having a radio rather antisocially tuned to TMS, office users rely on the ball-by-ball coverage at Cricinfo or The Guardian’s infamous over-by-over coverage. With that gone, it was down to rumour, careful examination of the flight of birds, and the wicket alert email.
So, thanks to cricket-watching posse of Andy, Ben and Nick for the delightful experience of having three emails drop into my inbox almost simultaneously. “Got ‘im!” “Wickettt!” You get the idea. It kept me going long enough to get home and watch the end of it all.
It was not to be another close win against the Aussies, but a draw had the requisite moral correctness.
Speaking of moral correctness in cricket.
Via Mags, the League of Lost Languages has to be one of the strangest little enthusiasms going.
And finally, for a burst of poetic justice so beloved of subeditors everywhere it’s hard to beat Psychic’s crystal ball burns down his flat in unforeseen blaze.
For the past week or more I have been vaguely searching (or searching vaguely; or, now I think of it, both), for a lost Thing around the house.
This happens to me all the time. I think it happens to most of us. I’m sure, o best of readers, o noblest of the members of the shadow republic, that it has even happened to you.
I’ve even got a queasy feeling that, books aside, most of my world consists of Things that are actually lost around the house. Of course, most Things being sufficiently large, and the house sufficiently small, they can quickly be found if and when really needed.
However, this Thing (a Bert Jansch CD, as it happens), is small, and so its lostness has managed to persist for a near record-breaking number of days.
Things get lost. This is not my point. My point is how low I have sunk, how far my arms (metaphorically) have shrivelled. I caught myself a few minutes ago thinking brightly to myself, “I know! I’ll search for it on Google.”
Results of your search for “Bert Jansch”
1. Main bookcase in the front bedroom, third shelf down, underneath an atlas
Now that would be a search engine.
You will recall that academic spam inviting lowly researchers to robot conferences in handily pleasant locations.
Now we see the researchers fighting back, with SCIGen, a tool for creating random research papers. See examples (in PDF form) here and here.
Sadly, in the way of computer science japes, the tool currently only covers papers in the Computer Science field. I would love to see the equivalent tool let loose on critical theory. I recall one conference I attended where a paper allegedly on Pynchon and Baudrillard (yes, you can see this coming, can’t you?) consisted of a half-hour cut-up of Gravity’s Rainbow with some pop lyrics.
Anyway, the delightful thing about SCIgen (found via Kevan is that the builders have managed to get a paper accepted to WMSCI2005. After a quick fund-raising exercise, they to attend in July and deliver a completely randomly generated talk.
It is traditional to end here with a comment like “You couldn’t make it up”, a sentiment clearly inappropriate in this instance. Perhaps, instead, I’ll settle for the rather less folksy “You wouldn’t wish it to have been made up”.
Yesterday I cautiously embarked upon that most worrisome of expeditions into the past: listening to an old favourite album.
First things first. I returned alive. The natives were restless; their incessant drumming was more foursquare than the old reports had suggested, and a great deal seemed a little repetitive, but no serious harm was done and nobody ended up in a pot.
Of more interest, why was this a dangerous expedition?
I’m tempted to think that it’s something to do with the time travel involved. By my best guess, it must be nearly 15 years since I last listened to this music (terrifyingly, the album itself is getting on for 20 years old). The past as a foreign country: I did things differently there. Perhaps listening to the soundtrack of me 15 years past I would be bringing back events, people, problems from the past. Endless hours locked into meaningless journeys with only a cheap blue plastic Walkman to provide a pretend overlay of meaning. A lanker, paler version of me occupying a lanker, paler world.
Alternatively, perhaps I would be overwhelmed by a sense of loss at those 15 years having whipped past like the tail of a kite, lively in the breeze, impossible to hold fast. Those old songs should bring back a younger, wiser me, less cluttered by the bricabrac of living, merrily cluttered with possibilities.
Was either of these true? Almost certainly both of them. And yet, and yet.
I think there’s something more visceral, something more universal to the listening of music once intimately known. I would rarely feel the same way rereading an old favourite book, or watching again one of the movies that meant so much to me in my film-a-day youth. These stand identifiably separate from you, no matter how closely you identify with them. They stand before your eyes. It does make a difference.
Music, that either most bastard or most perfected of the arts, insinuates itself in always from the sides. How can you trust it? It does not occupy your field of vision, it sits on your shoulder, passing constant comment on the world as it passes by. Devil and angel whispering in your ears, it colours everything, tints the very sky in its favoured colours.
Clever music, insinuating music, walks with you pretending to be your friend. As when re-opening an old friendship, you find yourself approaching cautiously, wondering silently just why it fell into abeyance in the first place.
The sensation of hearing those songs again is disruptive. It’s both familiar and strange. This is the excitement, and the fear.
I think there’s a pretty simple explanation. Much of musicality is prediction; like comedy, music satisfies by fulfilling expectations in often unexpected ways. The perfection of Bach is best appreciated when the listener is teetering on the edge of fully understanding the pattern. Things are clear without being obvious.
Old songs are obvious without being clear. You know moments perfectly, but can’t recall how the patterns go together. The moment one song finishes I know the opening of the next, but I don’t recognise the song itself for a while after. Everything is backwards. Songs are shorter than I recall, but the album longer. Worse. The songs are the same in their finest detail, but utterly different to their memory. It’s like waking up having fallen asleep on your arm. There is something there completely of you, but totally alien.
There’s something strange going on tonight. But I feel fine.
I’ve hit on a new way to suggest wonderful writers and musicians to friends.
Isn’t that gorgeous? Very intuitive too. Wait for the pattern to emerge, or click on one of the items for details. Click on white space to get back to the big picture.
The toy itself is here.
Any recommendations of yours are welcome.
Professor Allen Koenigsburg:
When Bell invented the phone, Alexander Graham Bell, he didn’t use ‘hello’ at all. He used ‘ahoy.’ He used it twice, ‘Ahoy. Ahoy.’ And apparently he was the only one that used it, because I’ve never heard anybody to this day say, ‘Ahoy.’ And Bell was not even in the Navy, so I don’t know why he insisted on using a call that way. But if you study the origin of the word ‘hello,’ which may come from ‘halloo,’ is the call of a ferry boat operator, and you call them over when you want a ferry boat to come to your doorstep. And you say, ‘Halloo.’ So the word may have come from that. Hello just began to be used all over the place, and by the 1880s, it was fairly popular.
(from All Things Considered, NPR, 19 March 1999)
All Things Considered helped to keep my brain ticking over during a long, cold year in the USA. Odd little things like this, the semiotics of answering the phone, are the reason it’s so good. I well remember a story about how shredded motor tyres were being used as fill for roads in the USA. The presenter noted that, to date, only two such roads had caught fire.
Of two possible options, the one you didn’t want.
Somewhere deep in a stately home a bakelite telephone insistently rings. The equally stately butler walks the length of a corridor and picks it up.
The way that we use telephones has changed as a result of the different ways in which telephones now communicate. Most of the focus in the last few years has been on those evil little pillboxes that people carry round in order to fry their heads more rapidly. However, the changes in our use of the home telephone are at least as interesting as the new issues presented by the mobile.
Back when mobile phones were new and the size of a small dog, Umberto Eco merrily distanced himself from smug mobile users on the train by noting that they were not, as they thought, displaying their importance, but rather showing only that they were forever at the beck and call of their work. He gloried in the thought that not having a mobile meant that his time was unequivocably and uninterruptably his own.
The curiosity is that home telephones have gradually taken on behaviours that reflect this issue of intrusion and interruption. I think that these new behaviours are not necessarily to our benefit.
Let’s take the main changes in order. First, answerphones meant that you could take a call even when not at home. This, I recall, seemed little short of earth-shaking and (in acknowledgement of all the Douglas Adams nostalgia at the moment) almost as cool as digital watches. Because phone answering behaviour had no particular pressure to change, answerphones were simply used for taking messages when you were out. People even switched them off until they were leaving the house. The notion of not answering the phone because it wasn’t at that second convenient would be considered as little more than sheer naughtiness.
The second change was Caller ID. I suppose that Caller ID is still filtering through, but I notice that ever more phones are capable of telling you who is calling before you answer the phone. Ask yourself: what is the point of this if not to enable you to not answer the phone? A phone rings, you answer. That is the function of the ring. You cannot possibly increase the effectiveness or efficiency of phone-answering through knowing in advance who is calling. All you can do is enable the phone user to select when not to answer. The effect of Caller ID is therefore to have fewer phone calls answered.
Of course, Caller ID interacts with answerphones. If you don’t answer (if you are for instance, as I was repeatedly last night, up a ladder with a brush loaded with some extremely pungent oil-based paint), then your answerphone will do it for you. I have even heard tell that some people don’t answer the phone if they recognise the number and don’t wish to speak to that person right now.
Well, true or not, the idea of selective answering has taken hold, and has eroded the validity of the answerphone. Callers (myself included) now call, hear the answerphone pick up, are unsure whether there is anyone there or not, and are consequently caught in an uneasy no-man’s land. Does one say “Hello…are you there…hello?” before hanging up, as seems to be the current fashion? Does one launch into a precise and inevitably complex rendition of the exact timing and necessity of the call so that it will still be relevant and make sense when picked up hours later? The latter option is frustratingly likely to be interrupted by a breathless callee who then chooses to pick up rather than face an interminable message followed by the need to call back.
We are left in a state of almost permanent telephonic uncertainty. Calling (or answering a call) becomes an ever more subtle game of bluff and counter-bluff. Is the callee really not there? If I leave a message, am I committing myself to being here to answer the return call? What if I’m up a ladder? What if I’m genuinely inconvenienced, but don’t wish to give the impression I’m call-dodging (I do this a great deal; rushing to the phone in a spray of paint or water)? How do I not answer the phone in such a way as to communicate that I really, really don’t want the caller to try again in a minute ?
Because this is the ultimate issue of telephonic uncertainty: more unanswered calls means more calls. More calls means more unanswered calls. The logic is, well, unanswerable.
That’s why I’m thinking again about the butler walking, slowly, to answer the phone in the corridor. The image seems anachronistic because there’s an idea there that it’s something to do with large houses. It’s not; at least, not now that we have portable handsets.
No, I think the anachronism here is the length of the ringing. In the persistence, the patience, of the ringing there is not just a generous acknowledgement that answering the phone takes time, but also a rather insistent element of communication. If the caller holds on for 10, 20, 30 rings, it’s an indication of how much they want the phone to be answered. An off-chance caller (did we have such things?) would ring off after, say, five. A persistent ring, uninterrupted by an over-panicky
answerphone, allows you to come to the phone at leisure, knowing that if they’ve rung off by the time you’ve got there, it was, by definition, not urgent.
Now, there’s only one problem. A loud, persistent ring is deeply annoying. So how about this?
On your home telephone, you can identify a list of numbers as known. When they call, they can, while the phone is ringing, press ‘1′. This will change the ring from standard to loud (insistent, alarmist, however you care to set it). This means that important calls from known people can always be identified as such.
The corollary of this is that, for the rest of the time and for the rest of the world, the ring can be set to something inoffensive. Something soft, burbling, unobtrusive. Something that can happily ring for a minute or two without causing you to look for a handy screwdriver to jam into the mechanism. Something that asks you to answer without insisting upon it.
I suspect, finally, that the less insistently the phone demands to be answered, the more polite it is, the more it will be answered.
Sometimes the web turns around and not so much bites your ankle as nuzzles your knee with an unexpected affection. An unbriefed visit to OEDILF certainly feels like a large animal of otherwise uncertain behaviour placing its paws on your leg and purring. For at OEDILF a tremendous amount of time, energy and passion is being harnessed into rewriting the dictionary in limerick form.
That last phrase demands to be rewritten. In italics. Instead, I suggest going to look at the site itself, because otherwise the overweening nuttiness of the project can’t be sensed. A college of limericists (ahem) are working their way through the alphabet, offering definitions for every word in limerick form.
They are, naturally, still on the letter A. If you ever want to see them hit the middle of the alphabet, you’d better go and offer them some help. They’ll need it.
Little things, emails. Simple. Not formalised like letters, nor as brilliantly odd as a postcard*.
A survey of email behaviour across Europe shows, though, that simple objects can cause complex behaviours.
The survey unearths some fairly predictable behaviour: irritation at sloppy presentation, unnecessary communication, gossip, the failure to translate humour into written forms.
My eye was caught not by these but by the difference between UK respondents, where only 13% felt they had to reply to emails, and Italians, where the figure was 60%.
Did this mean that the Italians answered questions more than four times as frequently as the British? Somehow I think not. I suspect there’s a lovely demonstration here of cultural difference.
The British are far more likely to avoid responding by feigning ignorance (I didn’t see your email) or busyness (I haven’t even opened it yet), both because a form response merely acknowledging receipt is culturally quite alien, and because responding is allowing your eyes to meet. Once the eyes have met, it is impossibly rude to not respond properly.
I think Italian etiquette is less troubled by this anxiety. It is culturally far more acceptable to say ‘no’ or ‘you will have to wait until it is convenient for me to respond’. Such a response is just the start of the dance, the courtship if you like, of the overall communication.
Little things, emails. But they are after all just steps in the dance.
* Postcards are odd, don’t try to deny it. Sending a postcard with no message is perfectly valid behaviour. A blank letter would simply be sinister. Also, postcards are, under British law at least, a form of publication. The postman is assumed to read the postcard and pass on any gossip; hence a ‘poison-pen postcard’ is actionable for libel. In addition, unlike letters, postcards assume no reply. As Jane said this week, a blog is “a cross between a postcard and a message in a bottle“.
I’ve mentioned before the found poetry of the error message.
One of the software concoctions keeping me entertained at the moment is particularly prone to the odd snort of poesis. This morning it offered:
Uncaught galaxy exception
On second thoughts, this may not after all be a Miltonic tag for the cosmic misdeeds of Lucifer, but instead Professor Hawking’s latest workaround for black holes.
Splendidly, while I was musing the poetics of this crash, the computer upped the ante:
Crash within crash
Bravo, machine. It only leaves us to ask whether a crash that crashes means that everything’s all right.
To clear up any little misunderstandings that may be floating arund this blog:
First, I haven’t beaten the comment spammers. Damn their eyes. Further action will be taken.
Second, I may have given the impression that Andy’s Barcelona guidebook is very cool. Now I’ve seen it, I can confirm that it’s beautiful: a masterpiece of cunning design.*
Third, I would like to make clear that when Freddie Flintoff bowled Brian Lara round his legs (the shame) this morning I did not leap around the office shouting ‘you beauty!’ I only felt like doing so.
* Incidentally, a spotter’s badge to Andy for noticing that Erwin James (and his excellent, rather moving fortnightly column) have been quietly released from prison.
Idly flicking through these Google Hacks, I noticed that one of them is a gimmick for making Google finish your sentences for you.
Clearly, the only sentence worth getting it to finish was “The secret of life is…”
“the secret of life is a cellular automaton, devised by the British Library, in London) and the UK and the world. ECONOMY. John Wiley, Sons Inc. New York, NY, USA. portfolio. Press Corporation, ISBN did did did did did you see the gorilla? walk by run in.”
Somehow I always knew it would come down to that damn gorilla.
I was at the splendid Somerset House last night to see the utterly lovable Belle & Sebastian, part of a very hip summer season also featuring PJ Harvey, Lemon Jelly, Orchestra Baobab and the Afro-Cuban All-Stars. That’s quite a line-up.
B & S were, indeed, as lovely as their records suggest, winsome in the peculiarly Glaswegian manner that always takes me by surprise. Their music glittered and shone, whistled and shimmied, sweetly harmonised and rang out across the courtyard and up into the purple evening sky.
In deference to their surroundings there was a quick version of ‘Taxman’, and in deference to their slightly broader surroundings a full blown version of that old Madness stager, ‘Embarrassment’. And a bowler hat.
I was very struck how everyone there failed to be any taller. I’m an unexceptional six feet tall, and I found that I had a pristine, unobstructed view of the stage. I couldn’t spot one person in front of me who I would have said was a six-footer.
I think the band themselves are all not particularly tall; though these things are notoriously difficult to judge on stage. After the sparkling music had faded away, I was left wondering whether:
(a) A small band attracts small fans.
(b) Belle & Sebastian happen to make music that attracts small fans.
(c) By a sort of sympathetic recognition of the very limited confines of Somerset House, larger fans had shied away, leaving only the smaller ones to attend.
(d) The same as (c), but with the additional factor that Belle & Sebastian themselves had unconsciously been selected for the venue by virtue of their essential unlargeness.
(e) The same as (b), but with the added consideration that Belle & Sebastian were chosen to play Somerset House because their fanlets would be conveniently small.
(f) Short and tall people are attracted to different types of music; or, at least, tend to look for and express different emotional sets in their choices of music. Thus, both band and fans grew alike together in their musical education, and are bound evermore in a swirling mutual appreciation of the smaller person’s universe.
(g) I could have been standing on a step.
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