Being the conscientious industry-news follower that I am, I've seen plenty of stories about how spam (or direct email marketing, as spammers call it) threatens to make email as we know it unusable. It sounds feasible, but then the threat's been looming for years now and we've found plenty of ways of dealing with it. My approach has been to use Google's GMail – I have a bunch of email aliases set up using my domain name, and they (mostly) forward to GMail. I love it, it's fantastic. Not only does it give me an amazing search tool which which I can usually rapidly retrieve messages (not easy to do, given that I barely ever throw email away), but ever increasingly more importantly, it has excellent spam filtering features built in to it. There was a time I used Hotmail (before Microsoft bought it, even), however I found that their spam filtering wasn't as robust, and worse yet I was getting loads of wrongly addressed mail – having been an “early adopter”, I set myself up an email address which was easy to remember & didn't have numbers appended to it. Now that it's one of the biggest webmail services in the world, it seems that there's several hundred other people with notionally the same address as me, except with an appended number. Initially I tried forwarding mail on to the correct person (“Hi, you're obviously looking for Jose – he's the_walrus77. Tell him I hope he enjoyed the party on the weekend that I mistakenly got the invitation for.”), but volume's just outweighed my capacity or inclination to do so.

Back to spam though – I still get plenty of it, although thanks to whatever algorithms & techniques GMail uses, I only get about 4 or 5 a day through into my actual inbox. In the last 30 days it seems that GMail has trapped about 3500 spam messages… so over 116 a day!! I don't bother checking the spam folder for false positives any more due to the sheer tedium of doing so, however when I occasionally dip in there I'm always amazed & amused at what these idiots actually think will get my attention ?!

For starters, there's this gem.

It must be a bit of a law-of-averages type approach – emailing an address and then tacking a random male name onto the subject line in the bizarre hope that you'll inadvertantly send your message to someone of that name, and this will therefore incline them more to read about your technique for making erections possible. Scanning a selection of these emails I was shocked that not one of them advocated getting council planning permission prior to erecting these mammoth-sounding structures, although I may have missed it in there somewhere; typically the emails are so badly worded & punctuated it's often impossible to tell what point they're actually trying to make! And if you're going to send a message which nobody has a hope in hell of understanding, doesn't that somewhat negate the point of sending it ?

Equally puzzling is this gambit:

If you're going to go to the futile effort of attempting to personally address an email to me, it may pay to go to the bother of getting the data merge to work. If I was the one paying for this mailout, I'd be unimpressed. And as for grammar – “annoyed of meeting people at the bar scene” ? The bar scene of what ? The bar scene of Three Amigos ? I can assure you, a good way to meet people is NOT to talk during a movie (unless you classify having the shit kicked out of you by someone as having met them, and even then, introductions & swapping of telephone numbers don't usually feature). Would the pertinent question more likely be “annoyed at not meeting anyone at the bar” ? I'd find the question to strike more of a chord and therefore inspire my curiosity if it had just said “annoyed ?”. I mean, let's not over-complicate !

And, to let the third fish in this barrel drift into the crosshairs, how could you ignore a bit of advice like this:

I can see how premature creaming could ruin one's professional life, and needless to say a number of people ill-suited to becoming pastry chefs have indeed been steered towards a more relevant career path for exactly this reason! Maybe some people are more tuned in to dinner party faux-pas than me.

My favourite spam story though involves my dear Mum, during her early stages of having an email account (Hotmail, for reference). I was over at Mum & Dad's visiting and conducting a bit of routine PC maintenance, as was the usual accompaniment to my visits. As we dialled in to the internet, Mum said “Oh now I've been meaning to ask – I got an email the other day which I don't think was meant for me”. On inspection it turned out that yes, my mother had staring out of her inbox a message with the subject line “Increase your penis size”, or words to that effect. I think I must have appeared puzzled as to what the problem was – as to me it was just asking to be deleted – so she explained with a confused innocence, “I think this email must be meant for someone else ? I haven't got a penis ! Should I reply and tell them they've got the wrong address?”. Wouldn't the world be wonderful if we all did that though? Not that at 115 emails a day I'd have the time.

2006-07-08 : Bloody vikings !
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