Spamtastic? Get the spam out of here!

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When I was younger Spam meant to me a disgusting processed meat product that came out of a tin and would occasionally, much to my disgust. find it’s way into our sandwiches. (Spam was clearly disgusting and a world apart from corned beef, which was a delicious processed meat product that come out of a tin and was best enjoyed with cheese in a toasted sandwich) Spam! It not only sounded like someone just threw it up but it was also very close to the commonly used, if wholly politically incorrect, insult kids would throw at each other on the playground (Spaz).

So spam never had great connotations and maybe that’s why the name applied to junk mail you used to get through your post but now more commonly and in greater quantities get through the inbox or in your blog comments.

When I first started blogging I didn’t get much spam and I would carefully sift through the comments WordPress decided were better off in Spam hoping to find some dedicated followers that inadvertently got rejected by the electronic bouncers of the blog platform entrance. Maybe I’d find some gems hidden in the junk.

I’m partly proud of the fact I now get more spam because I assume it means that my blog is featuring a bit more prominently on search engines or my readership now makes spammers think there may be some merit in targeting my blog or whatever. (If the actual reason is simply about getting their website links on as many sites as possible and has nothing to do with my slightly increasing blog popularity then please don’t ruin the illusion for me!)

Spam for me seems to fall into four categories: obvious junk, delusional confidence-boosters, soliciting advice and downright insulting.

Obvious junk

This is the easiest to deal with, it’s the spam that doesn’t really pretend to be anything other than what it is, pushing you to buy miracle cures from dodgy websites, etc. It might include long comments about weight loss miracles or a generic ‘site is good’ with a not overly well hidden link to a website selling dodgy weight loss miracle pills.

 Delusional confidence-boosters

These are the spam comments that are more craftily put together hoping you’ll accept the comment and publish the links hidden behind some ego stoking sentences about how marvelous your website is and how your blog definitely deserves global recognition. These, you might find yourself nodding along in agreement ‘why, yes, my blog is marvelous, how kind of you to notice’ before you realize that something is a little off.

It might be the link to the website selling the weight loss miracle pills or it might be the fact the comment is telling you how useful our advice was and how it’s saved their marriage and you realize the comment is attached to a post about your cat being chased by a dog and try as you might you can’t find any subconscious, reading-between-the-lines, advice you have inadvertently given anywhere that might help repair someone’s marriage.

Soliciting advice

The cleverer spam posts are ones that ask a plausible looking question to try to get you to respond, they might ask for your help with something or raise a technical question about the website. This taps into the psychology that if you want to get someone on side ask them a favour, this appeals to a person’s ego by acknowledging their expertise in something.

Whilst I find the uncovering of these ‘potential fan’ comments as ‘spam’ invariably disappointing, I can’t help but admire the tactics that have gone into these and I almost want to accept the comments in recognition of their attempts at clever game play.

Downright insulting

The final category of spam is undoubtedly the most insidious and most likely to work (on me anyway). It’s put together well, it includes references in the comment to the actual post and on first glance appears genuine. What really hooks you into these kind of posts, though, are the insults. Again, it’s clever psychology of combining compliments with comedowns to shake the insecurity of the author and elicit a desire to engage.

Here’s an example:

Everything published made a great deal of sense.
But, consider this, what if you composed a catchier plst title?
I am not saying your content isn’t solid, however suppose you added something that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean L’escalade part 2 | Fear of the reaper is
a little boring. You could glance at Yahoo’s front page and note how they creae post headlines to get viewers to click.
You might add a video or a pic or two to grab people interested about everything’ve written. In my
opinion, it would bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

It starts off well, first sentence is a solid ego boost (everything made sense) and then it comes with a confidence wobble (suggesting room for improvement), followed by a quick blow to the head (your title is boring), what looks like a hand being offered to pick you up (maybe look at Yahoo or try this) followed by a knockout punch (your post is currently boring).

I’m going to be honest this spam really bothers me. And even though I know it’s spam and not actually targeting me personally, most notably because I already have pictures and things on my website so the advice doesn’t match my content, nonetheless I can’t help but feel offended to be told my blog is boring and it puts me in defensive mode. I want to approve it so I can comment and point out the error of the spammers ways, but I know this would just be playing into their hands and giving their weblinks (yup those miracle weight loss pills again!) the prominence they are seeking.

Of course I’m secretly hoping this post will invite some dedicated spam comments telling me how great/boring I am and how this information is exactly the information they were looking for on this subject (albeit without enough pictures). I shall wrangle my hands in glee at the irony and do my level best not to engage with the spam further than that.

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Happy Bloggaversary to me!

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Apparently I’ve been at this blogging game for a whole year now, so it’s time for a little reflection. Please imagine a suitably reminiscingy tune (doo de doo doo, doo de doo do…) and maybe a hazy wavering of blog imagery back in time, one whole year ago…

I started all this with the idea that one day I might want to write a book but that probably wouldn’t happen if I didn’t practice writing on a more regular basis and, so, this blog was born. What I hadn’t expected was how much I’d enjoy blogging for blogging’s sake. At first I found it pretty scary to put myself out there thinking why would anyone be interested? What if people hate what I have to say? What if I get laughed out of the blogosphere, blocked from using the internet and ridiculed in person by those who happen to know me in the flesh?

Fortunately my fears were unfounded and people responded pretty well to this, not only friends and family, who probably feel a bit obliged to be kind, but so many other great people I’ve met throught blogging, that this time a year ago I had no idea existed. Because of this initial support I think I now to be able to keep going in the face of any hostility I might attrat in the future (should this thing ever become popular enough, or I ever become controversial enough, to attract trolly types).

I set myself the challenge of blogging once a week, which I pretty much stuck to, and a few months ago tried to up this to twice a week. At times I’ve found it hard to meet my self-imposed blogging deadlines and on more than one occasion I’ve forced myself to sit at the PC and write with absolutely no idea of what I’m going to blog about. Often, even when I’ve an idea of what I want to post, I’ve no idea how it’s going to finish and sometimes the results have surprised myself.

I’ve tried a bit of fiction and a bit of poetry here and there and I’ve uncovered a previously unrealised talent for computer art (just need to skim a few of my posts to see what I’m talking about!.

But, best of all I’ve realised that this blog isn’t actually as much about me as I’ve thought it would be. I’ve discovered countless awesome bloggers and blogs that I’ve really enjoyed reading and engaging with. I’ve had 181 bloggers (not related to me) deliberately sign up to follow my blog. I’ve had friends and family telling me they enjoy my ramblings and encouraging me to keep at it.

So I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and everyone of you who have decided to follow me, like a post, make a comment, respond to comments I’ve left on other blogs, reblog me and recommend me to others in one way or another. Every interaction has motivated me to keep going even when there may have been times when I just wanted to give up on this demanding monster I’d created. But because of all of you I’ve kept at this for a year and hope to continue for many more years to come.

To borrow a line from ‘Lock, stock & two smoking barrels’…(to be read in gravelly Vinnie Jones voice)…it’s been emotional!

Liebster Award

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So  a week or two back, I’m not so great of keeping track of time these days (must be the old age kicking in). Niina, over at Northern Chapters, was wonderfully kind enough to nominate me for the Liebster Award (sorry it took me a bit longer to respond than planned).

I know that some people like these awards and some don’t but as I’m far from the point of Award saturation, I feel pretty darn chuffed at the idea that someone likes my blog enough to want to recognise that. Plus, most of the new blogs I discover are through recommendations/links from other blogs so I think it’s a good way to broaden the old blogging horizons.

Also Niina came up with some really cool questions that I’d like to answer. I do so love a quiz, particularly those buzzfeed type know-thyself kind where they try to guess what kind of Disney Princess you are (would love to think of myself as a Mulan but I’m clearly more of a Belle, bit of a geek, do love a good book and have a tendency to take pity on sad lonely creatures; which is why I feel no love for ants, they have way too many chums for me to feel bad for them). I digress anywhere here goes:

Anyway here are dem rules:

  • Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.
  • Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too.
  • Nominate some other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the ten questions asked to you by the person who nominated you
  • Make ten questions of your own for your nominees.
  • Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.
  • ALL THE NOMINEES ARE FREE TO ACCEPT OR REJECT THE NOMINATION

1. How many books have you read so far this year?

I can actually answer this one to the letter, whilst I am not cool enough for a Goodreads style online recording of my literary adventures, I am gloriously old-fashioned and delight in keeping a proper, would-burn-in-a-fire-paper-kind of book journal. This is primarily so I can recall what I’ve read, memory, goldfish, what? It’s also so I can smugly flick through and count up how many books I’ve read. Wow, what a long-winded way of answering: 20.

2. What’s your favorite holiday?

Has to be Christmas. I’ve been lucky enough the past few years to work places where pretty much the entire operation shuts down between Christmas Eve and the New Year and I really love having so much time off at a time when other people also take lots of time off so you don’t have that mad rush you get with holiday taken during the rest of the year, where you work your pants off before you go on holidays and then you work little buns off (pants already lost in pre-holiday work) when you come back catching up on everything. Last Christmas was also the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time, as the fella and I stayed in Geneva had a couple of days with chums and then the rest of the time doing diddly-squat, without feeling remotely guilty. Wouldn’t want to do that every year but was pretty nice this.

3. If you could only recommend one book, what would it be?

This is a tough question, I have books I adore but am quite reluctant to recommend to others, because if they don’t like them I’ll take it really personally so I tend to only recommend things I quite like, but won’t be devastated if not everyone feels the same way. So I’ll cheat and just answer with the last book I recommended to someone, which was ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Moshin Hamid. I liked how the book was written as a one-sided conversation with a shadowy stranger, the throw away comments that leave you wondering what’s really going on and just the really interesting approach of how a Pakistani in America fell out of love with the country he had longed to be a part of. I won’t say any more but it’s well worth a read and if you find the narrative style annoying at first (I did) keep going, it’ll completely draw you in eventually.

4. Congratulations, you just won the jackpot in a lottery! First thing you do?

Book a holiday somewhere beautiful by a beach and enjoy looking out at the sea whiling away my time as I calculate, to the digit, exactly how to spend the rest of it!

5. Would you rather go 200 years into the past or into the future and why?

Well the future scares me and I think going into the future and finding out how the world and your destiny ends up is probably going to be pretty unhealthy. If you go back in time, you can really connect with history and look super clued up, with loads of smart ideas you could pass of as you’re own. Having said all that, I’d go into the future, at a run, so as not to really think about it, the danger factor of the unknown would be too exciting to miss.

6. If you could choose one person (alive or dead), who would you want to meet?

I want to cheat again. If someone dead, I’d pick Siegfried Sassoon (First World War poet, novelist and king of the pointless rebellions), he undertook a protest against the war, which resulted in his being sent away to a mental hospital and taken about as seriously as the ribbon of the medal he tried to throw in the river and sadly just bobbed about on the surface. I like the standing-up-for-what’s-right-even-if-you-get-dismissed-as-a-nutter attitude and I’m currently reading a great biography about him. If someone alive, I’d pick Simon Pegg, have been a fan since Spaced and love the cornetto trilogy movies. I just think he’d be a great person to have a pint with.

7. When was the last time you were excited about something?

I get excited pretty easily about a lot of things, but most recent was riding my new (second-hand) bike to work last Wednesday. My old bike’s saddle couldn’t be adjusted and was far too low so riding had ceased to become pleasurable and was taking it’s toll on my knees. Being able to whizz down that hill on the way to work again, and manage to get back up without too much trouble on the way home, was awesome!

8. Describe yourself in three words!

Normally I’d be lost but did a whole blog post on this recently. I aspirationally went for ‘Counselor, Polymath and Humanist’, you can check out why I came up with those here.

9. At what time of day are you usually most creative?

Regrettably between the hours of 10pm and 2am. This is not conducive to a 9-6 Monday-Friday job. I really wish I was a morning person.

10. What’s your next blogging related goal?

To plan more. My posts are usually a bit slapdash, inspired by an occurrence of the day before in order to meet my self-imposed, if loosely interpreted deadlines. Would be great if I could produce a little stockpile of pieces I could wheel out for rainy days.


 

Blogs I nominate are all ones I’ve discovered relatively recently, don’t think I’ve nominated before, and really enjoy for one reason or another so I’d recommend you check out:

  • Would you rather be a zombie or vampire?
  • Do you prefer cats or dogs and if you pick dogs do you think that’s because you just don’t really get cats?
  • Why did you decide to write a blog?
  • Which Disney Princess would you be?
  • How early in the day would you a drink a mojito/screwdriver/other cocktail of your choice?
  • If you were helping to tidy out a colleague’s desk and you spotted a winning lottery ticket they had clearly forgotten about would you tell them or keep it and pretend it was yours?
  • Would you rather go to jail for a crime you didn’t commit or have someone else go to jail for a crime you committed but they were blamed for?
  • If you could go any place in the world right now, where would you go?
  • Who is your favourite author?
  • If you could change history, would you do it and what would you change?

Well that’s a really long blog post (so many words…) so thanks to everyone who managed to read the end of it!

Ten reasons blogging is bad for your health

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1. Everyone knows only narcissistic types that give too much importance to their own views write blogs. So if you write a blog that must mean you are one of those people and if you tell people you write a blog then that means they know that you are one of those people too.

2. You might think you are being original but actually when you are staring at a blank computer screen you’ll find yourself skimming through thousands of other seemingly original blogs to either outright steal their ideas or at least use them as a trampoline to your own inspired ramblings. For example: this post is ripped-off from inspired by AOpinionatedMan’s ‘why my blog sucks’.

3. It’s easy to treat blogging as an online journal type thing, except the beauty of old-fashioned book type journals is that no-one else reads them. On a blog you might accidentally let slip all sorts of secrets and weird aspects of your personality, such as strange zombie imaginings, for anyone to see.

4. There are already so many great ways to waste your time (like reading, watching tv, endlessly Facebook stalking old school friends) blogging is just another excuse to go to bed later than you should do and to waste free time that could be spent on more productive things (like cultivating understand through literature, catching up on relevant popular culture through visual medium and investing time in becoming reacquainted with the lives of old friends).

5. Most bloggers aspire to have a popular blog read by more people than their mum, and want to feel the ego boost of being loved and admired far and wide. However if your blog does actually become popular then you can become a target for jealous angry types (who I understand have brightly coloured hair and live under bridges) who might tell you you aren’t as wonderful as you think and may even use mean words to try and hurt your feelings.

6. Blogging is the ultimate delusion. We’ve all heard stories of people who started blogs and now get millions of pounds a year on the back of their humorous wit and whatnot, but thinking this might happen to you is as unrealistic as dreaming that you are distantly related to a rich prince of a made up country like Liechtenstein, who will die and leave their country, castle and ridiculous wealth to you, because somehow they like you more than any other distant family member (maybe they are a fan of your blog).

7. Blogs give you a platform to talk about anything you want, but some things you don’t need to talk about. Seriously who wants to read about when you are feeling sick, worrying about getting old and the fact you like to eat weird shit?

8. Starting a blog is a bit like buying a pony on a whim. You think blogging will be a fun diversion from stresses and strains of everyday living but before you know it you are devoting more time and energy than you have to spare to this thing you have created and find yourself regularly questioning whether you shouldn’t have thought the whole idea through before just jumping in.

9. It’s easy to blog, so easy that there are millions of us doing this. So many in fact (of the probable-but-in-no-way-substantiated-by-actual-evidence kind of fact), that if you asked every blogger to hold hands there’d be enough of you to circle the globe 300 times over.

10. There is so much blogging advice out there (you shouldn’t write lists, lists are popular, you should only write posts of less than 300 words, if your blog isn’t at least 2000 words no-one will read it, you should post at least every day, you shouldn’t post more than twice a week, etc. and contradictory etc.) that if you try to follow all this you will develop mental health problems.

The Blog Hop

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I have been nominated to participate in a blog hop by WA Woman to World, which entails answering the questions below and then nominating two other blogs to share their responses.

Firstly, thanks Michelle for the nomination. I met Michelle at my very first Geneva International Book Club meeting. The club is a lovely(ish) group of people whose warm welcome to Geneva, where every comment is welcomed and valued if not necessarily agreed with, made me first feel at home in this strange city. And Michelle was one of the first people here in Geneva I really connected with. I was delighted to discover her blog and get to know her better through this medium as well as regular book club meets and to discover what a warm-hearted, funny and inspiring woman she really is. I loved her blog so much that it motivated me to start my own and her words of support were really encouraging.

What are you working on?

That really depends on how you want to define ‘work’. If we are going for the traditional sense in terms of societally-defined gainful employment for which I exchange skills for the money to pay rent and eat, then I am working for an international NGO for the advancement of human rights.

Human rights has been something I’ve been passionate about since we had a talk from a representative of Amnesty International when I was in secondary school. I felt a pull to do something about the global inequality where the rights I take for granted are denied to so many others. This started with my joining a local Amnesty group, later I undertook a Masters Degree in Human Rights, an internship with the Cambodian Centre of Human Rights followed in 2013 and now I’m here in Geneva hoping to put my organizational skills to use for something I care about.

In terms of the broader sense of ‘work’ well, I now have this blog but, my biggest non-work-work is ‘me’. It’s an ongoing project to try and be the best version of myself, not to let myself be held back by fears and to open myself up to new experiences whilst at the same time learn to appreciate the here and now. It’s an ambitious challenge I suspect won’t be finished anytime soon. At the moment, to provide slightly more specific examples, it includes learning French, enjoying a healthier version of me through improved diet and increased exercise, practicing drawing and trying not to be so darn addicted to social media apps on my phone and at work.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

In terms of the blog writing, I wouldn’t say I have a unique voice or perspective, because I doubt whether there is any such thing as a truly original thought or piece of work. Even if you think you are being radically different from everyone else there are probably loads of other people with exactly the same idea, which may or may not have been put into practice or vocalised yet. Or perhaps I’m just not original enough to accept the concept of originality in others.

I started my blog thinking what I was saying was revolutionary, that no-one would have heard anything of the like before. I was quite astounded by the amount of people who came back to me saying this is exactly how they feel. At first I felt a little put out by that but actually I’ve realised how great this is and now I love the idea that through opening myself up on the blog others may find things they can relate to. Through doing my part to create a little interconnectivity I hope we can all feel a little less alone and a little stronger.

But even if we share the same ideas with others which ideas we have in common, how we voice these, how these affect us and shape our own understandings is unique to all of us. I’m trying to hold onto the thought that I am both nothing more than a snowflake in a blizzard and nothing less than a one of a kind snowflake. It’s a dizzying vertigo effect of trying to balance one’s own sense of self-importance with the realisation of one’s insignificance.*

Perhaps my work is different in not trying to be different and not really trying to be anything more nor anything less than mine? Or perhaps it’s the same as everyone else’s in this respect?

Why do you create what you do?

For some time I’ve thought there is a novel or two inside me but it occurred to me that I wouldn’t become a bestseller anytime soon unless maybe I started writing a bit more frequently. I then met a couple of inspirational bloggers and I thought I’d start my blog as a technical challenge to polish my writing skills. However I completely underestimated the effect that blogging would have on me and this developed into a passion in itself.

I wasn’t sure, and still aren’t, exactly where I wanted to go with the blog and what I wanted to say. But I did know that I wanted to write honestly about who I am and how I understand and interpret the world around me. Through trying to truthfully address my sense of self and then put it out there for others through this blog it’s actually helping me to understand myself better.

The concept of the blog was to spell out my life philosophy and how I’m applying that on a daily basis. Since starting the blog I discovered my philosophy isn’t as concrete as I had imagined and is constantly evolving, so this will continue to be something to work on.

How does your creative process work?

Deadlines are pretty essential to how I operate. I’m very good at wasting time and can spend whole weekends doing nothing more than flitting between television, books or perhaps having a little wander outside. I blame my dad, he is king of the procrastinators and passed that particular talent on to me.

So I imposed a weekly deadline on myself, which I’ve actually managed to stick to reasonably well, and try to avoid the trap of thinking ‘oh well it doesn’t matter this week’. I know that sort of thinking will be a slippery slope for me because if I start to make excuses it gets easier to keep on making excuses and before you know it months will have gone by without a single new post.

Knowing I have the weekly deadline means my inspiration drive is pretty much always whirring away in the background looking for ideas for the next post. Sometimes it’s obvious and I’ll see, experience or feel something that moves me to write and sometimes I have to work a bit harder to try and find anything worth expressing. I’m starting to develop a little store of rainy day blogging ideas to avoid moments of panic about what the heck I’m going to write about next, which has happened a few times.

Book club has also been a useful muse by pointing me towards reading books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, thinking about books in greater depth than I used to and most importantly from getting insights into others on how they have interpreted the same texts I’ve read. We all have the same material but our brains make quite different work of it, proving humans are pretty amazing and providing plenty of food for thought.

My nominees

I have chosen to nominate the blog ‘Lori and the Caravan.’ Lori is a truly inspirational person who is not afraid of a challenge and shares her experiences openly and honestly through her blog. Amongst other things she is a loving mother, a historical geek, a passionate vintage promoter, and, obviously a blogger. I worked with Lori in London and then our lives took us in different directions and we drifted, but I’ve been able to reconnect with her through her blog. You can also check out her shop and start thinking of little people you can buy Lori’s great vintage finds for.

My other nominee is the brilliantly insightful ‘Self-styled life’. This was one of the first blogs I discovered when I started my own blogging adventure and it really resonated with me. Despite the fact Jean and I have never met, live on different continents and have very different lives I have felt a connection with her through her writing. When first starting out it was really encouraging to find a blogger that could entertain and move me (my last blog post was directly inspired by one of hers). Her blog was the first stranger’s blog I dared to comment on and I have really appreciated her warm and thoughtful responses to my random comments. It’s nice to know the internet isn’t such a scary place full of trolls under every article.


*This is starting to sound either a bit profound or super self-indulgent and poncey, sorry if it’s the latter.