Spam Nuggets

Anyone who has been using the internet for longer than about 45 minutes will have noticed the problem of spam. “Spam” was originally used as a term to describe unsolicited e-mails, often advertising porn or under-the-counter pharmacology. On the modern internet, there’s also the problem of spam comments.

When running a website like the one you’re looking at now, there’s the option of reader interaction. Readers can post comments and start a discussion about whatever drivel I’ve written that day. You normally also need to fill in some additional information, such as your e-mail address and an optional website. What happens is that “people” (and that’s more often than not, just an automated computer program) attempt to put comments on my blog that are irrelevant to the actual post in an attempt to advertise whatever illegal or pornographic wares they’re touting.

Handily, there’s a system to detect such spam comments and filter them out before they reach the unwitting reader of my blog, and it’s called Akismet. Basically, before any comment appears on my website, it goes via someone else who gives the thumbs-up or thumbs-down as to whether this is a genuine comment or a computer programmer trying to offload some Viagra. To give you an idea of how prevalent comment spam is, the Akismet website claims approximately 83% of all comments posted to blogs and the like, are spam.

As part of the weekly running of my website, I regularly review comments that have been marked as spam and delete them. Sometimes the spam text is a fairly simple message shouting “Get Your Viagra Here”, along with a website to visit. Other times, it’s fairly subtle. An example is a genuine-sounding comment along the lines of “I like your article and will read your blog often”. The hook comes with their (automatically linked) website being the porn & pills page. There’s also a category of posts that put together very long paragraphs (several hundred words), but almost completely randomly. To non-programmers, it’s surprising to find out that it’s very hard to distinguish between several paragraphs of random words and some prose written by a normal person. Bit like my blog really, but that’s beside the point.

Normally I just delete these unwanted spam comments, but some of the comment texts are genuinely funny. I’ve included a list of my favourites below (note some website links have been removed to avoid giving them a free ride):

When you order frogs legs at a restaurant what do they do with the rest of the frog ? – Well surely they just throw the rest of the frog away and take it to the tip.

This question genuinely intrigues me. I doubt the French really do waste large amounts of amphibian, but struggle to think of a time when I’ve heard of “frog-back soup”.

I am completely impressed with the article I have just read. I wish the writer of http://www.ianburnett.com can continue to provide so much useful information and unforgettable experience to http://www.ianburnett.com readers. There is not much to say except the following universal truth: Progress cannot be achieved without suffering. I will be back.

Flattering, deep, and The Terminator all rolled into one.

Although the dog was dog shoes particularly associated dog shoes with The Shoe it is also recorded that it made appearances througout the parish of North Wraxall. The dog shoes village of Ford has a parish journal from April, 1794 that claims the dog was heard outdoor the vicarage immediately in the past the ruin of Richard Wooley, the vicar. http://www.<websitedeleted>.com

I’ll just have a half of whatever he was on.

Wow, ya got me… im going into the members area now !

What members area?

How much money has passed thru your hands in a lifetime?

I probably don’t want to think about that, because I’ve got bugger-all left now.

I would appreciate more visual materials, to make your blog more attractive, but your writing style really compensates it. But there is always place for improvement

Everyone’s a critic – even the spammers!

Just the FA Cup Semi to concentrate on now. 4th Place is out of the question.

Martin you [n]eed to sort out the awful display after this weekend. Too many tired wasters.

Oddly these two football-related comments were on an article completely unrelated to sport.

I’ll leave you, however, with a comment which was received yesterday and sums things up nicely:

I truly enjoy your site… Even the spammers are quite entertaining.

Damn right.

Radio 4 News is Crap

Have you ever listened to BBC Radio 4 News? No? Well for a station that’s breeds such pretentiousness at both transmitter and receiver ends it’s absolutely rubbish.

Every in-depth news story follows the same pattern: a long, scene-setting section of background noise; a brief introduction from the reporter, filled with pregnant pauses; a short silence to indicate we’ve changed location; more background noise with an explanation over the top; and finally the rest of the report, all of which is spoken at a pace even those on a Valium overdose would find boring.

I certainly wouldn’t claim Radio 4 news was the worst out there though: it’s beaten by a country mile with the easy-to-digest morsels of news snippets dropped into the chirpy breakfast or lunchtime bulletins for those who are half-asleep, stupid, or unemployed. I’ve just discovered this video on YouTube, which sums things up nicely for those “here’s how macro-economics works: dumb-ass”-type reports.

 

Wiper Trouble

My driver’s-side wiper has a small split in the end – about an inch long. That means I need some new wipers in the near future, but nothing urgent. That’s until I discovered that there was a 3 inch split in the centre of the blade, hence more urgency required. Given that main Honda dealer prices for something as trivial as a wiper blade were likely to be vastly inflated, I braved the tarted-up Saxos and Corsas for my local Halfords.

Before I left the house, I looked at their clever online tool, which confidently predicts the required wiper size for your vehicle. Simply enter your registration number and up pops your vehicle make and model, along with a list of suitable wiper-blade products. Online it reckoned I needed 24” on the driver’s side, and 16” on the passenger’s side.

So off I pop to the local shop and decide to make certain by leafing through the little flip-book that they have. This is a more manual version of the online tool – you lookup your make and model, along with model year and it gives you the various options. This suggested I needed 26” on driver’s side, and 16” on the passenger’s side.

Standing looking confused, one of the shop “assistants” asked if I needed any help. The conversation went like this:

“Can I help you there sir?”

“Yeah – I’m replacing the wipers on my car and the online tool said one size, but the book says another and I’m not sure which one to get. Do you have a tape measure I could borrow and pop outside to measure it please?”

“Well we can have a look on the computer and see what that says.”

“My car is just outside and will only take a minute.”

“Nah – we’ll have a look at the computer.”

OK then – fine. I sighed and wandered over to his little kingdom of the oily parts desk. After giving him my registration, he went quiet.

“Hmmm. Hmmm. That’s odd. Hmmm.”

“Yes?”

“Well the Halfords parts are showing up as needing 24 inch and the Bosch parts are showing up as needing 26 inch. If I were you I would get the bigger one.”

“But the difference between them is an inch at either end and that could be the difference between catching and not catching.”

“Well it depends on how far apart they are.”

At this point I was expecting someone to turn up with an honorary Physics degree from Oxford to pay testimony to his amazing spatial awareness. He then suggested we go outside and measure it, which I thought was a good plan, if a little late to the conversation.

It was late and there were only three cars in the (small) car-park: two of those probably belonged to staff because I didn’t see any other customers in there. Bearing in mind I had just given him the make, model and registration of my car, he asked me to point out which one it was.

He wandered round and measured 24” for the driver’s side. I needed to prompt him to check the passenger’s side. He measured that to be 15”.

He seemed quite put-out when I told him I was going to the main dealer because Halfords couldn’t get the sizes right.

I phoned the main dealer the following day and they promised £25 fitted for a proper Honda part. That was only just a little more than the Halfords’ own brand. When I went into the garage, they only charged me £21.73 fitted. And the service guy (who I trust) told me the Halfords ones don’t fit very well anyway.

All together: I can see clearly now with wipers on…

Water Waste of Money

A few years ago, I bought a water butt for the back garden. The idea is that I get to keep all of the rain that falls on the back half of my house roof and then use it instead of the liquid gold I’m currently getting charged for by Southern Water.

At the time I realised it would take ages to repay the cost of it, by the time I had bought the barrel, the stand, the piping and the tap; it would be something like 50 barrel-fulls before it would break-even. I was doing my bit for the environment, though; plus it’s something useful to have (at the time there wasn’t an outside tap).

The other night it was raining and I was just locking up downstairs before going to bed. Then I heard the water trickling from the supply pipe into the water butt. It sounded quite loud and that made me realise something: if it’s loud, then the water must be falling a long way from the supply (at the top of the barrel) into the current level. That can’t be right because it’s rained for the past three days and it was full before that.

So at 1am I was outside in the rain with my torch and discovered that there’s now about 3 inches in the bottom of the barrel. Hunting around I found there appears to be a split in the bottom of the water butt and there’s a steady stream trickling out of it. I think the weight of the water must have something to do with the size of the split, because the last time I looked, it wasn’t losing any more.

So that’s a waste of money and the savings have literally gone down the drain.

Window Shopping

The other evening, I spent a good 2 hours web browsing looking for a new car. Note that I am not changing my current 54 plate Honda Accord diesel, but like women go window shopping for bags, boots, and bracelets, I am window shopping for a new car.

It was probably prompted by the disappointingly early demise of the clutch on my current motor. 65k is not an acceptable distance for a modern clutch to last, but there we go. There is a glimmer at the end of the £500+ tunnel though – there’s lots of reports on the web of there being a manufacturing fault with clutches on Honda diesels and this causes premature failure, so there’s hope that Honda will replace it at a reduced cost.

The seed of doubt had been sown, however, and I went off to look around the internet for a virtual replacement. The basic premise of my next car would be that it would be:

  • relatively new (< 12 months) – this would take the major pain of depreciation off the car
  • low mileage – anything that’s done 25k in under a year is likely to have been lived in and hammered quite hard
  • diesel – for the fuel costs
  • estate – for the extra room we need

So let’s start looking round at what’s out there and why not start with another Accord? Well the latest Accord Tourer I just don’t like. I really do want to like it, but it just doesn’t look right, it tries to hard to be a 3-series / C-class / A4 rival and falls short by being too fussy and generally too Japanese. It’s also too expensive for what you get. That had been dismissed pretty much before I started clicking, so that was a no-brainer.

Alternatives then? I’ve really fancied a Volvo V70 for a while now and you can get a good one with a decent diesel engine for under £15k (their first-year depreciation is horrendous). But then I started reading around and considering some alternatives.

What about the BMW 3-series, Merc C-class, or Audi A4 offerings? Nah – their expensive initial purchase price combined with strong residuals means on my budget I would end up with an asthmatic poverty-spec wardrobe on wheels.

OK – so what else? The Renault Laguna, Citroen C5, and Peugeot 407 are all French. That instantly rules them out because I’m not trusting anything built by the French. That’s not a xenophobic statement, because it’s been proven time and time again. Most car review websites politely put it as “questionable reliability”, but we all know that French cars aren’t great.

Next on the list? Ford Mondeo. A very big estate, with lots of them out there (hence it’s a buyer’s market) and known reliability. Also offered with lots of toys on most models (including the infinitely desirable quick-clear windscreen for those icy mornings). It is a dull choice, but there again, it’s a diesel estate; I’m not likely to be the envy of the McDonalds car-park crowd anyway.

At this point I digressed a bit and dreamed of winning the lottery and ordering a brand-new BMW M5 Touring. In this colour:

BMW M5 Touring in lovely blue

Apparently that’s “Interlagos Blue”. Add some nice black perforated leather and a couple of “go-on-why-not” options and you’re handing over a cheque for 80 grand. Eventually I came to my senses and went back to the task in hand.

So from that I wandered over to Vauxhall and their latest repmobile offering in the Insignia. It’s actually a nice car – I’ve been in one and looks half decent. Unfortunately Vauxhall’s diesel range lets them down and there’s also complaints that the estate version isn’t as practical or roomy as one would like.

So what’s left in the real world then? The VW Passat is like most of their range – quite expensive for what you get. I never really considered Mazda or Nissan. There’s the Toyota Avensis but I really don’t fancy one at all (for no real reason). Skoda Octavia? Nah.

But then I suddenly had a thought. Do I really need a diesel? And secondly, do I really need an estate? The first question would involve some long sums considering fuel economy, price, car tax and estimated mileage (I only now do around 12k a year, rather than the 20k I used to do 4 years ago). That’s something for another day.

So it really boils down to “what extra I do I get with an estate?”. That’s actually a hard question to answer, because most reviews of estate cars quote “standard boot volume” (measured in litres). That is how much space you have up to the window line. The other figure they quote is usually maximum boot volume (including with the rear seats folded down). Now that’s useless for me, because I want lots of room with people in the back, not just for a day trip to B&Q.

I’ve given up window shopping – it’s too hard.

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