"A unique, wry and often satirical look at the Internet, the modern age and life in general" (there is way too much search-engine competition for the phrase "incoherent ramblings")

Monday, June 25, 2007

Domain names - going, going...!

The year is somewhere around 3007, and the Galaxy is poised on the brink of war. This will be the conflict to end all conflicts, making the oil, water and Moon wars of the mid-third millennium look like mere skirmishes in comparison.

This is the battle for the Last remaining Domain Name. Slowly but inexorably, for the last thousand years, the domain-squatters, spammers and Google subdivisions have been buying up all the possible combinations of the 256 allowed characters. All permutations in languages known and unknown have long been spoken for and for the last 500 years the race has been on to lay claim to zxzxzxzzxzzzxzxxxzxzxzxxzxzxzxzxzxzxxxzzxxxzzzxxxzzxxzzxxzxzzzxxz.com, zxzxzxzzxzzzxzxxxzxzxzxxzxzxzxzxzxzxxxzzxxxzzzxxxzzxxzzxxzxzzzxxx.com and other still relatively desirable combinations.

But the end has finally been reached - battle lines have been drawn across the galaxy laying the ground for a Final Battle that will determine the owner of the Last Remaining Domain Name:


Poo-poohed by most a mere century ago as being "too hard to remember", this is now the most desirable piece of cyber-real-estate of all time, and many will die before the final victor lays claim to it.

Let battle commence!!

(suddenly, future-phobia.blogspot.com doesn't seem half such a bad choice, most of it was decided for me, for a start!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Top 6 list of top lists to list on your blog

It's a Well-Known Fact (I read it in some Top 10 list of top list tips) that "lists" are The Future if you want to "drive traffic" to your site/blog, so here we go - this is a Top 5 List of Top Lists that I desperately hope will top the list lists:

  1. Top 10 lists - the original, the Granddaddy of all lists, the figure 10 suggesting an authoritative and comprehensive, if not exhaustive overview of the matter in hand. These always carry the risk of a couple of lamers towards the end just to bump up the total.
  2. Top 5 lists - a shorter, more compact, snappy form of list. Less comprehensive but better suited to a low-attention-span readership. Always the danger something really important might get left out.
  3. Unnumbered lists - these show a touch of daring. They suggest that you are a mine of useful information and would not be so petty as to try to enumerate the treasure-trove of wisdom you have at your disposal. Only problem is you can't really then call it a Top n list (where n is the number of items) - it has to be something like Essential list of....bla bla which defeats the attention-grabbing purpose of Top Lists.
  4. Top 9 lists - this is a no-no, tantamount to publicly confessing that you were essentially scraping the barrel and could not think of a 10th thing to put in your list.
  5. Lists longer than 10 - these can be a double-edged sword. They can make you seem frightfully knowledgeable, but at the same time nobody actually reads beyond about 7 anyway (did I not mention that under Top 10 lists?). Also, you don't want to use up all your ideas on one list. A Top 15 list can almost certainly be broken down into a couple of manageable Top 10 lists by adding a few more items, or better still, into three Top 5 lists - now they really could go a long way!
  6. Wrongly-numbered lists - an avant-garde approach whereby the title of the article refers to, say a Top 12 list of ways to make stacks of filthy cash off the Internet, when in fact the article only contains 11 such tips. Though you may appreciate the post-modern irony of this, your visitors may be forgiven for thinking you just forgot to count them, or couldn't think of any more clever things to write.
  7. Top 6 lists - to be avoided at all costs. A top 6 list is an open admission that you thought the 6th item was just way too clever/witty/important to be left out in favour of a straightforward Top 5 list. Even a Top 7 list is the lesser of these two evils.
Well, we must conclude our list of Top Lists before we get too carried away. Until next time, happy listing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Do NOT send Shane Bernier a card!

I knew this would happen sooner or later: the "virus" hoax would turn out to be true! Not actually a virus hoax, but one of those "sick kid" emails. The usual scenario is that there is a child sick in hospital whose life will be immeasurably improved by your sending the email on to all your friends. This child, in almost every case, does not exist, except in the mind of the original email prankster and the gullible recipients of the mail. The only truth in the email may be an echo of the story of Craig Shergold (see later).

Well, this time the child was Shane Bernier, and the email was true! Shane wanted to top the record for the most birthday cards received and, contrary to my prediction in the above-quoted article, years of "wolf-crying" did NOT deter gazillions of well-wishers from getting into the spirit of the campaign.

Now, I have to be careful here, I have every sympathy for Shane and his family and wish them well in their fight against this horrible disease. But I am really not sure if they thought this through. They should perhaps have first talked to the family of Craig Shergold to see what it is they are getting themselves into. Craig was the original get-well-card-kid, whose campaign was launched in 1989. To this very day, three hundred and fifty million cards later, Craig, now a fully-recovered, healthy young man STILL receives countless get-well cards. The family were forced to move house, unable to halt the deluge of cards, which now go to a special post-office box number and get pulped on arrival. According to the Wikipedia article, the Guiness Book of Records is NOT taking any more record attempts in this category, (though it is not clear whether the birthday-card category is still up for grabs). The Shergold family has pleaded many times for people to stop sending cards - in vain it seems.

Shane Bernier's family limited the appeal to Shane's birthday on the 30th May 2007, and some sources suggest that he had received some 5.6 million cards by then. But the family could have courted disaster by fulfilling Shane's request - one site even suggests that Shane wanted to hit a figure of 350 million cards, which sounds suspiciously like the Craig Shergold record. Chain emails have a way of sticking around, evolving as they go, and this may be happening already. Details may change, but the address could stay the same and the family could be saddled with a burden for years to come that could approach the disease itself in its magnitude. What seemed like a nice idea at the time could turn into a curse like it did for the Shergold family.

Future-Phobia says - and I know I am out on a limb here - the appeal is OVER! Do Shane Bernier a favour and DON'T send him any cards. And we hope that when he recovers he will thank you.

Silly things to email

This page is intended to become a growing list of silly and/or stupid things to email, or rather NOT to email. It was born mostly from being on the receiving end of "stupid emailed things", although I must confess to having sent a few silly things by email too. By silly things I do not mean those viral emails your friends insist on sending on a frequent basis, by silly or stupid I mean just plain irresponsible!

  1. Files with double-digit-megabyte-sized attachments:
    Now that IS a silly thing to email. It may surprise some to learn that back when email was invented, it was intended to carry basic text messages totalling a kilobyte or two in size. Not to send that 3072 x 2096 resolution, uncompressed bmp file of your Aunt Maureen to all 64o members of your extended family. Especially as at least 30% of them, if you have third-world or eastern European relatives, will still be using dial-up Internet and will need 17 hours to download the message at the cost of a week's wages.
    ANY picture can be compressed down to a JPEG of less than 100KB. Look up on the net somewhere how to do it, and help free up valuable Internet bandwidth for more spam and porn.
  2. Emails addressed simultaneously to 1600 recipients using the TO: field:
    Anyone who simply MUST send the latest viral funny to the entire contents of their address book REALLY ought to consider NOT listing them all in the TO: field of the email, where each recipient's email address will be visible to the other 1599 recipients. There is a field called BCC: just for that purpose and it will do wonders for delaying the (admittedly inevitable) moment when your friends' email addresses fall into the hands of the spammers. It will probably stop me from wishing injury to your person too, so think of it as a philanthropic exercise - you will be saving me from myself.
  3. ANY email WHATSOEVER that ends with the words "send this to as many of your friends as possible":
    There is no exception to this rule. None. ANY email that pleads with you to send it to as many friends as possible, usually accompanied by threats/bribes/emotional appeals (misfortune will strike you down/you will win some fantastic prize or experience statistically improbable good fortune/some kid will die if you don't) is automatically disqualified from being sent to ANYONE! Got it? (Sigh... I know I am preaching to the converted, but it makes me feel better to get it off my chest). Please see also: Virus hoax will one day be true!
  4. Anything you don't want anyone else reading/seeing:
    Stating the obvious? Well, some Robert Mapplethorpe wannabe obviously hadn't considered this when he sent my wife some frankly pathetic birthday-suit pictures of himself, evidently having accidentally transposed some of the letters in the email address to which he had intended to send them. Don't do it, emails wander and you might come across a husband who is less tolerant than myself (he only lost good standing with his ISP together with all self-respect - a lucky escape as he probably had little of the latter anyway).
  5. All the previous correspondence you have ever sent on the same subject:
    This happens when your mail program is set up to include the entire text of the previous mail when replying to an email. It of course ends up including ALL of the previous emails on this subject. It is fortunate that the message size merely increases incrementally and not exponentially, otherwise a typical exchange of messages would be hitting the gigabyte range after 20 messages. As it is, it would be an interesting exercise to calculate the approximate quantity of space wasted on hard disks the world over by this duplication, and the consequent environmental impact. Think of our children, and our children's children, won't you?
Well, these are five of my top silly things to email. Perhaps you can add to this list and hopefully make email more sensible?

(P.S. Just come across a post by Jeff Gross, who covers this whole issue far more cool-headedly than me)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Call for a radical new PC connector

Remember those "hole-and-peg" sets you may have had when you were a kid? Still a tousle-haired toddler, new to the world, you struggled to insert a star-shaped peg into a triangular-shaped hole. This exercise was meant to teach you a lesson - the lesson that the world had rules: square pegs go into square holes, round pegs into round holes

If only this could have prepared you for owning a PC. Hair no less tousled, you grunt and strain on two knees and one hand, the other hand unnaturally bent around the back of your PC case, only your twitching feet indicating to the casual passer-by that there is anyone under the desk.

You know exactly where the connector is in the PC case (USB, keyboard, mouse, monitor, take your pick). You even know which way up it is. There should be no need to actually have to SEE it. It ought to be a simple matter to just insert the cable you had correctly orientated prior to plunging yourself into the dusty netherworld that is the space under your desk.

But... It is the old "square peg in the round hole" situation. No amount of fiddling or twiddling seems to produce any result. You blindly try the USB connector both ways up - neither way fits. You rotate the keyboard connector through 720 degrees, yet at no point does it slot in and end your misery.

The temperature is now at dangerous tropical levels under the desk. You have inhaled several kilograms of dust. The quiet weeping which has been filtering up from the depths of your being now threatens to turn into a primal howling born of helpless rage.

You give up and drag the entire PC case out from under your desk, whip it around with a little more force than was strictly necessary so you can access the rear panel and, now that you can actually see the socket... in goes the connector first time, slotting into place as though it were the simplest thing in the world.

This is a call for a radical new variety of connector - one that can be inserted, blind, in one simple move. This will take a new breed of inventor, one who can think out of the box. The rewards could be huge - Nobel fame, riches beyond your wildest dreams, a happier humanity that will be able to forget the connector-based frustrations of yesteryear and focus on making this world a better place. Are you that person?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Internet sweat-shops, coming soon to a slum near you

Surely it is only a matter of time before the Internet becomes as exploitative as the real world (if it already hasn't) and we are forced to deal with examples of forced/bonded labour and modern-day slavery even in the online world!

I will give you a couple of examples where things seem to be going that way already:

1) you may not be aware of this, though it is not an especially new story (see here for example). Did you know that there are companies who employ workers solely for the purpose of "farming" online "gold" in online games like World of Warcraft? A "day's work" in one of these places means playing an online video game all day every day, solely in order to collect the in-game "gold" (the inverted commas means it's not REAL gold, ok!?), which the company's owner sells for real money to players, usually those with cash, i.e. from Western countries.

Why is it exploitative? Perhaps because as usual, very low-cost (i.e. "low-paid") labour is being used to supply a need in the western markets, but more to the point, it creates a class system within the online world. Well-off, western players play games for fun, poor underprivileged 3rd-world workers slave away within the same game, collecting resources for the rich people so they can continue to have fun.

2) a market exists for extremely low-paid web services, particular blogging. Simply put, someone wants to start up a blog which they will make money from, usually by selling ad space. But they need content for that (content being the current reigning male monarch), and they ain't got none. What do they do? Employ someone to write the content for them, preferably for a pittance. See the Problogger Jobs board for examples of blog-writing jobs that are paid as little as a few dollars per blog post.

What's the problem here? Well, no high-quality blog writer is going to agree to write a blog post a day for $5 per post, unless of course they live in a less-developed country and there we are again... Problem there is, you pay for what you get - I get really cheap Chinese-made T-shirts on my local market, but the sleeves usually fall off after two washes. Likewise, if your blog is in English and you employ a non-native speaker to write it at below-the-breadline wages, you will get what you paid for... A sleeve-less blog. But there's a market for those, too...

So much for the internet being some kind of egalitarian Utopia...

With all this in mind, I would like to hereby declare that no cheap 3rd world labour was used to create any of the posts on Future-Phobia, and incidentally, no animals were harmed in the site's making either.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Dehumanising webmaster jargon! (Did you know you are a hit?)

Did you know that you are just a "hit", a mere statistic, a "click", an item of traffic? Well you would know this if you followed some of the webmaster chat that goes on, on forums such as Digital Point. The most important thing for most webmasters who are in it for business, is that they get as many people visiting their sites as possible, and as high a percentage of those people as possible clicking on advertisements, buying stuff or whatever other way it is they are earning money from their site.

Only thing is, they do not use words like "people" most of the time! In fact, to read some of the discussions, you might not realise they are talking about human beings at all! Here are some samples from a thread chosen completely at random from Digital Point:

"I checked my logs yesterday and I found that so far in June google has sent me as much traffic as they did in all of May...."
Say what? Traffic? What, like cars, buses, etc?

"The funny thing was that i also got a few from Yahoo also - and this is rare."
"A few"? A few what?! Lesser-spotted marsh-warblers?

"so most of the traffic there was only one or 2 hits per keyword phrase."
Now you've really lost me! Hits? Keyword phrase?

In fact, at the time of press, this thread did not mention human beings one single time!

Now, all business is dehumanising to an extent, but still, in the majority of businesses, their operators at least come into contact with the end consumer in some way. In this world of web business the only point of contact with the "customer" (aha, didn't know you were a customer!) is through looking at statistics in web-server logs (or bank account). So it is understandable to an extent that they can only refer to you by a logged IP address, or a "referral code", and that, in direct proportion to the popularity of a site, you simply become a statistic.

But this goes much further: for example, webmasters often make tiny tweaks to their sites - say by moving an advertisement to a slightly different part of the page, to see what the result will be on their "stats". This result usually translates to a different "CTR" - click-through rate - (the percentage of visitors that clicks on an ad), or "conversion rate" (the percentage of visitors that buys whatever they are selling) and these minute changes often yield slightly better "results" over a longer period. So you might not know it, but you are really just a tiny blip in a number-manipulation game.

The real-world equivalent might be something like a soft-drinks manufacturer making a minute change to the flavour of their beverage and seeing what that translates into in terms of sales over the coming year. But in the web-world, the results of these changes can sometimes be seen in minutes!

This kind of impersonal treatment of humans as statistics is the sort of thing that could boil over into revolution. The question is, are you and I, my precious hits, I mean, dear visitors, going to stand for this? And another question is, what can we really do about it? Perhaps in the long-term, web users will get wise to this, and companies will be forced to return to good old, personal customer service.

In the meantime, say with me, "I am not a hit, I am a free man...!"

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Agloco Holy Grail viewbar cometh out (and just sitteth there)!

NOTE (added after following post): I did it! I actually GOT the mythical Agloco Viewbar (you know, the one they had us all buying into before it even existed). I feel like some medieval crusader, recovering some jewel-encrusted cup from a Jerusalem treasure-store. Could this be the Holy Grail?! He takes it in trembling hands and places it on the table, and just gazes at it for a while, expecting perhaps something miraculous to happen. The cup does nothing. A bit like the Agloco Viewbar.

Well, it's finally here - those poor exploited Chinese workers in Shanghai probably gave up their last breath to get it to us, but we are finally all able to download the Agloco Viewbar! It says so in an email everybody received in the last few days. All you have to do is go to the site... erm... oops, seems to be down. Oh wait, got in after the 15th attempt. Then all you do is do what we have been waiting with bated breath to do for months: click on the "Download Viewbar" button that has appeared on the main page... Er... "Connection Timed Out"...

Agloco Viewbar-mania must be reaching fever pitch. It's all those 17,000 referrals of John Chow's flocking to start making him huge piles of money and clogging up Agloco's poor servers! Or perhaps it's MY FIVE referrals adding the straws that broke the server-camel's back (oh yes, FIVE! You think I have been sitting twiddling my thumbs!?) .

Anyway, once you succeed in actually downloading the viewbar, you are going to start making 10s and 10s of cents JUST FOR SURFING, think of that! Not only that, but the people YOU referred will be bringing you in loads of money too! Well, you won't actually be making it straight away... Only when they think they might have enough money to pay anyone out, which seems perfectly reasonable.

The moment of truth has finally come though - after months of obfuscation, speculation, titilation, expectation, we will finally get the chance to install a spurious bit of software that doesn't actually seem to do anything and start raking in the filthy lucre! What are you waiting for!!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why you will stop using ICQ at the age of 30

Remember ICQ? It was the first widely popular chat client, far more user-friendly than IRC, allowing Internet newbies suddenly to chat to people all over the world for free (though a lot of us were still using it over dial-up).

The thing about it was that you got a lot of unsolicited chat requests, and probably still do if you use it. If you are a girl you get a lot of guys of similar age, or older, wanting to chat, and I can say as a guy that there were a fair amount of girls initiating chats with me. I won't go into my opinion of the motivation behind these chat requests, though you should definitely be careful, especially as a girl.

Now, on ICQ, the way you search for someone to chat with is via certain criteria, and one of them is age. So the guy searches for girl, 23-29, say (the latter being one of the age ranges ICQ offers you), maybe adds his city or some interest, and out pop a number of "victims" (ahem, excuse the expression).

Well, it WAS kinda nice getting the occasional girl aged 24-25 initiating chats with me when I was 28-29 - even though I used ICQ for talking to known friends and really did not do much "blind" chatting - I did not (and still don't) rate it much as a way of getting to know someone. But it was sort of flattering.

But then I turned 30, and what happened? Of course, I started getting "hit" by ladies searching in the 30-39 bracket! There is nothing you can do about this short of lying about your age - ICQ just lumps you into this new, rather arbitrary and wide-ranging age-bracket! The 23-29s vanished overnight, and suddenly I was no longer the focus of interest of young ladies of this age group, to whom surely, until this fateful event, I represented an older, more worldly-wise guy. Now I was running scared from the aggressive advances of the "older woman", me, a mere stripling, the prey of femmes fatales, some of them, like, nearly 40 years old!!

Well, that was very quickly the end of my use of ICQ - along came the relative anonymity of Skype and I could use my computer, safe from the clutches of Thelma, aged thirty-eight from Theydon.

And that is why, when you turn thirty, you will stop using ICQ...!