Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

15 Jun 2007, 9:00 a.m.

MC Masala on Spam, and Lunch Conversation

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

This week's column, on the funny spam.

I've added books to my wish list based on interesting sentences that spammers stole and pasted in to fool spam filters. I've received spam that includes passages from L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books, Mark Twain's essay "The Awful German Language" and a thoughtful New York Times essay on mistakes in hospitals. In January, I got about a hundred junk e-mails with two sentences each from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." (You can always tell Rowling because of the proper nouns -- Hogwarts, Quidditch, Snape.)...

Spam's just a new form of creepy, inept advertising that tries to inflame desire. And I catch myself, in my writing, using the same techniques to draw readers in, to keep them interested after the headline. Hint at sex. Promise instant pleasure. Ask a question and watch them click in the hope of a novel answer.

Discussed at lunch one day this week:

  • Joel's opinions on Apple's and Microsoft's font letterforms & rendering. Bonus musing: Didn't they learn the lesson of Microsoft Word 6? Mac people were used to a Mac-ish interface and so they didn't like the Windows-y feel. Safari for Windows needs to adapt to the Windows interface; if it's inconsistent with what Windows users know, they'll feel uncomfortable.

  • Fig Newtons, reasonable serving size and healthfulness of. The package says two Fig Newtons make a serving, which I find ridiculously small and others found acceptable or even large. Another noted that any given snack food that isn't a single-serving bar says it has multiple 100-calorie or 120-calorie servings on the label. My mother would serve me more like six Fig Newtons and a glass of milk as a snack, but now I won't eat them at all since they have substantial high-fructose corn syrup content and I could just eat raisins or almonds instead.

  • Asterisk. Specifically, fun things you could do using Asterisk as a switchboard for your apartment. Horrible voicemail loops, specifying separate ringtones and/or outgoing messages triggered by specific callers, setting up a text-to-speech synthesizer that reads you your email over the phone, and -- I just thought of this -- automate a Dial-A-Song service.

  • Point systems that make you game them. Like D&D, yes, but also credit card point schemes, frequent flyer programs, performance evaluation metrics at jobs....

Then there was another day this week when people didn't talk that much and we ate in relative silence. That makes two mentions of Quakers this week (the first being in a discussion of burkhas, hijabs, modest dressing as religious imperative, and feminism). I can no longer imagine working in an organization that has no good conversations. And I haven't even started talking about the software management trainees' book club.