Am I causing comment spam?

Having been tempted by Rands’ introduction to home poker games, I played in my first game a couple of weeks ago. (Yeah, I bought myself a decent set of chips. They lend a certain atmosphere to the game.) Interest was high amongst the gang, and it looks like we’ll be playing again soon.

I’m learning more about the game from various web sites and books, and yesterday evening I signed up with an on-line poker room (Empire Poker) and played at a “play money” table for an hour or so. I caught a few lucky breaks (like pocket aces turning into trips on the flop, earning me a sweet little pot) and I enjoyed it. The pace was just right for me to pay attention to the betting with one eye, and catch up on my RSS feeds with the other.

However, as I was turning in for bed, I mentioned to Abi what I had been doing.

“Oh no,” she said, dripping disapproval, “you didn’t, did you? Now I’ll never be rid of them.”


Comment spammers. Advertising their poker sites. We hates them, precious. All of them. I just spent ages cleaning up their crap, and now you’re off encouraging them.”

I was deflated.

Poker sites generally don’t do comment spamming themselves. Most of the spam is a by-product of their affiliate and referral schemes. For example, if site X sends a visitor to poker site Y, and that visitor signs up for an account, then site X gets a referral fee. (The player might have to hang around and drop a certain amount of cash before the fee is paid, but that’s the general idea.) Comment spammers these days are often individual operators who set up disposable referral gateway web sites. These are the sites that get linked to in comment spam; the idea being to steer people to the actual poker site via these gateways, thus generating referral income for the spammer on the pass-through.

By signing up for a poker room (albeit via an established and respectable poker site rather than a link farm), I am contributing to the success of gambling web sites in general, validating their business model, and thus contributing to the daily flood of junk that still makes it past MT-Blacklist.


At a company induction session a year or so ago, one of my fellow inductees was talking about how she’d bought a variety of “herbal remedies” from a junk email she’d received. I clearly remember having to restrain myself from jumping up and shouting, “It’s you! You’re the one in a thousand who actually buys stuff from those assholes and makes it worth their while!”

Have the tables been turned now? Am I now the bad guy? What is the moral difference between responding to a spam link, and buying a product or a service from an industry sector that comment spammers use as a springboard for their slimy techniques?

If my doctor were to prescribe me viagra, to what extent would I supporting the email spammers who bombard me with dozens of messages every day?

I have a credit card. How much responsibility do I have for the flood of credit card offers that arrive through snail mail?

I work actively to keep this blog and the rest of our site free from spam, abusive comments, and other junk. I like to think that I’m doing my bit to keep link spam from being a profitable or productive enterprise. Does this square away with playing the occasional game of on-line poker?

Poopy can fly!

There are some things you really don’t want to hear your three-year-old son say to you over the phone when you’re on holiday three thousand miles away, and your parents are graciously taking care of the roost for a few days. “Poopy can fly!” is high up on that list.

Fortunately, this isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Alex loves playing Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Gamecube, and “Poopy” is just what he calls “Kirby”, one of the characters in the game. (If we correct him, he’ll say the name correctly a few times, and then revert to Poopy. I wonder if Kirby’s pink, blob-like appearance has anything to do with it…and then I wonder what they’re feeding him at nursery.)

Apart from that minor heart-stopper, we had a fantastic time on holiday in Boston. We flew out on Thursday, and came back Sunday overnight. While we were there we shopped a lot, walked a lot, ate a lot, and lost sensation in our faces on several occasions. (Early mornings are cold.) On Friday morning we unwittingly walked into the middle of Filene’s Bridal Gown sale. Then while Abi was shopping for paper in the afternoon, she found herself chatting to a member of staff who had, by stunning coincidence, just visited her bookbinding site just the previous evening. And this was just minutes before we met up with Keith Martin for hot drinks and a wander through Harvard…proof, if we needed it, that the world is definitely getting smaller.

Martin, Abi and Keith in Tealuxe in Harvard

Keith and I might have met two years ago at a Toad the Wet Sprocket gig, but we didn’t connect until afterwards, and we’ve been keeping an eye on each other’s blogs since then. It was great to see him in person at last, even if he did forget to wear black.

The rest of the weekend was relaxed and relaxing. It was lovely to be able to wake up early in the morning, and not have to rush up to handle the kids. On the other hand, we missed them a lot. Every time we’d see a parent walk by with a toddler or a baby we’d squeeze each other’s hand and smile and wish (momentarily) that we had Alex and Fiona with us. Then the moment would pass, and we’d realise that we were FREE FREE NO MORE NAPPIES AND POINTLESS TANTRUMS FOR A FEW DAYS WOOHOO.

It was a good weekend.

Boston 2005

Abi and I are off to Boston (MA) on Thursday, for a short weekend break. That’s right, just Abi and I. It’ll only be the second time that we’ll have been away from Fiona for an overnight trip, and it’s the longest that we’ll ever have both been away from Alex. I was on Boston for a few days back in 2003, and Abi attended a bookbinding convention that same year, but apart from those isolated occasions, we have never been apart from the kids for anything more than a very rare overnight stay.

It’s going to be good, but it’s going to be strange. I’m looking forward to the plane trip (I love travelling–being on the move), and to hanging out in Boston again, which is a lovely city. Staying in a hotel, eating out, sightseeing and shopping–it’s all going to be great.

Spending that much time alone again just with Abi is going to be good, too. I know it will be nothing like it, but somehow our first trip to Rome together keeps popping into my mind. That was a great holiday. We saw the sights, we ate wonderful food, and we spent a lot of time sheltering from the afternoon heat in our cool hotel room, reading books, and munching on fruit, bread, and meat bought from the nearby alimentari. (I very clearly remember reading Mike Resnick’s Second Contact and Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio.)

But I’m also feeling terribly anxious about leaving the kids behind. They’ll be with their grandma & granda, so they’ll have a wonderful time. But still. Abi and I have got out of the habit of being away from them. We let each other have evenings off, but we only rarely get someone to babysit so we can both have an evening out together. It seems that recently we’ve both been so absorbed in our own housebound activities (bookbinding, computing, etc.) that we haven’t had much interest in “just” going out.

Well, Boston will certainly shake us up a bit. We’re also likely to freeze our asses off. Romantic weekend away in Boston…in February? Brrr….

2004 in review: Music

(Shag, it’s February already. If I don’t get this list out of my head now, it’ll just sit in there forever. Here goes…)

Top 10 albums of 2004

Note: Some of these albums were released in 2003, but I’m still counting them in my “best of 2004” list, even though I used different criteria for films. This is mostly because I listened to far fewer new albums than I saw new films, and if I had to restrict myself purely to 2004 releases, the top 10 list would include some pretty weak material. And that’s just not cool.

(Also, take the rankings with a grain of salt. I’m sure of numbers 1 and 2, but after that things the distinctions get a little blurry. Ask me again tomorrow, and you’ll probably get a different order.)

  1. Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
    I’ve already raved about this one, and a year on it still sounds great. Amazing blend of hip-hop, rap, rock, and soul. Favourite tracks: almost everything.
  2. Green Day – American Idiot
    With a loose storyline connecting the songs, this is more than just a great rock album–it’s a rock opera. An anti-establishment Les Miserables for the media generation. Plus it has some of the best rock drumming I have ever heard. Favourite tracks: Jesus of Suburbia, Wake Me Up When September Ends.
  3. Sondre Lerche – Two Way Monologue
    It was Keith’s raving about Sondre Lerche that made me go out and buy this album. It sounded a bit bland at first (I’m a sucker for hard drums & some heavy bass), but I stuck with it and on every play a new track stuck with me. Light, beautiful pop, with subtle, happy melodies. Favourite tracks: It’s Too Late, Stupid Memory, Days That Are Over, Track You Down.
  4. Blink 182 – Blink 182
    Blink 182 have grown up. This is still a youthful, bouncy speed-rock album, but underlying it all is a great deal of maturity and sophistication. It’s a fantastic pick-me-up energy booster for a slow afternoon. Favourite tracks: almost everything.
  5. Dogs Die In Hot Cars – Please Describe Yourself
    Fabulous debut album from a Scottish band worth keeping an eye on. In terms of stardom they’ve been overshadowed by Franz Ferdinand (see below), but that’s not really the zone they occupy. Think XTC, with perhaps a little Crash Test Dummies thrown in. But in a cheerful kind of way. Favourite tracks: Modern Woman, Pastimes & Lifestyles, Godhopping.
  6. Alanis Morissette – So-called Chaos
    It’s a lot less bitter and angry than her earlier albums. Actually, it’s happy. On the one hand, this robs it of some of her traditional songwriting highs, but on the other hand, it has cut out almost all of the disjointed lows that littered Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept. What’s left is an album consisting of ten near-perfect pop songs. From the up-tempo to the slow and moody, each one has a solid hook, and you’ll find yourself singing along with the choruses before you know it. Favourite tracks: Excuses, So-called Chaos, Not All Me, Spineless.
  7. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
    Scotland’s answer to The Strokes, apparently. Only better. Meandering, spiky pop with easy listening punk leanings. Favourite tracks: Take Me Out, This Fire, Auf Achse.
  8. Tears For Fears – Everybody Loves A Happy Ending
    Nothing like a big comeback, is there? Orzabal and Smith back together again, making music like it’s 1989. Not quite The Seeds Of Love revisited, but it’s got the flavour. Big, spacious soudscapes, and gorgeous melodies. A must for any fan. Favourite tracks: Who Killed Tangerine?, Secret World, Last Days On Earth
  9. Beastie Boys – To The 5 Boroughs
    Taken individually, the songs here sound a bit sparse; I tend to prefer a fuller mix. But put them all together as an album, and they resolve into an energetic old-skool whole. The rhymes are filled with a tasty blend of politics, silliness, and genuine affection for New York. Favourite tracks: Ch-Check It Out, Triple Trouble, All Lifestyles, An Open Letter To NYC, We Got The.
  10. Belle And Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
    Hard to believe that this was my first exposure to Belle and Sebastian, but there you go. It’s lovely, too. Light, airy pop, with a melancholy twist. Favourite tracks: Step Into My Office Baby, I’m A Cuckoo, Roy Walker.

Honourable mentions:

  • Barenaked Ladies – Everything To Everyone
    I’ve had my doubts about this album. But whenever I start thinking about it closely, I have to figure in the fact that there are three tracks here that are some of the best they’ve ever done: For You, Aluminum, and Take It Outside. (Make that four, if you ignore the main version of Second Best, and take the far superior bonus acoustic version instead.)
  • Mutual Admiration Society – Mutual Admiration Society
    Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad The Wet Sprocket) and Nickel Creek often play together, and this is their collaboration album. All-acoustic, laid back and a bit folky. Very pleasant. Favourite tracks: Somewhere Out There, Trouble, Think About Your Troubles.
  • Groove Armada – Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub
    Okay, so we’re way out of the 2003/2004 zone with this one, but this has a minor, yet special significance for me. I’ve had a low-grade rip of this disc for a few years, and it has been a solid favourite for ages. It was one of the first albums I loaded up when I got my iPod in November last year. It has now also become one of the few albums that I associate with a memory of a specific time or place: just after I got the iPod I took a trip from Oakland to San Jose. Most people would do this by car, but I took the train instead. The trip took about an hour and a half, and took me through abandoned industrial estates, pleasant residential areas, parks, and reed-filled mud flats. I had a book with me, but most of the time I spent gazing out of the window, watching California pass by. With Groove Armada in my ears. Fabulously chilled-out music to go with a fabulously relaxing journey.

2004: The compilation album

Around Christmas I put together a CD of my favourite songs of 2004. There are some tracks here from albums that didn’t make it onto the list above, and there are a few albums above that aren’t represented in this mix. These are not ordered by preference; I fitted them together in a sequence that I thought sounded nice. It starts upbeat, goes mellow in the middle, and has a strong finish with a fruity aftertaste. Or at least, I think so.

  • Muse – “Hysteria” (Absolution)
  • Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out” (Franz Ferdinand)
  • Outkast – “Flip Flop Rock” (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below)
  • Dogs Die In Hot Cars – “Modern Woman” (Please Describe Yourself)
  • Belle & Sebastian – “I’m A Cuckoo” (Dear Catastrophe Waitress)
  • Elvis Costello & The Imposters – “Bedlam” (The Delivery Man)
  • Groove Armada – “Hands Of Time” (“Collateral” Soundtrack)
  • Maroon 5 – “Sunday Morning” (Songs About Jane)
  • Scissor Sisters – “Comfortably Numb” (Scissor Sisters)
  • Tears For Fears – “Secret World” (Everybody Loves A Happy Ending)
  • Blink-182 – “I Miss You” (Blink-182)
  • Barenaked Ladies – “Aluminum” (Everything To Everyone)
  • Mutual Admiration Society – “Trouble” (Mutual Admiration Society)
  • The Blue Nile – “I Would Never” (High)
  • Keane – “Somewhere Only We Know” (Hopes & Fears)
  • Barenaked Ladies – “Second Best” (Everything To Everyone)