Searching. Again. (Or not.)

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What brings people here?

I’ve mentioned a few times — perhaps a few too many times — that I’m interested in (or at least entertained by) the reasons people have for arriving at this pile of self-indulgent noodling.

I know that some people arrive here because they’re family or friends and they either feel obligated to take a look (“Aw mom, do I have to?” “Yes, dear. He’s your friend so you have to.”) or they just can’t believe that I can say nothing month after month (after month after month…). “It’s like a train wreck” I hear them saying. “I can’t look away. As much as I might want to.”

People also arrive here because they’re looking for something. What might they be looking for, exactly?

Hmm. That sounds better if John Spencer says it. No matter who says it, though, it’s a question with some (to me) unexpected answers.

Take spammers, for example. (Please.) They’re Bad People. Heck, spammers are pretty much the definition of Bad People. Nobody likes them. (Except maybe Marv — he might. Maybe — they might be too icky even for him. But I digress.) They’re looking for gullible people, but a certain kind of gullible people. They’re looking for people who are willing to buy what they’re trying to sell but who are also smart and determined enough to wade through their fractured syntax, bizarre prose and wildly misleading ‘contact’ information. That’s a pretty narrow window.

Oh well, who am I to criticize an obviously successful business model?

So spammers come here. How do I know where they go? Well, they leave comments. If I follow up on the ‘information’ contained in their comments, then they win. If I merely approve their comments then they still win — just not as much.

The odd thing — the thing that confuses me — is what they ‘visit’ in order to leave their comments.  I assumed for a long time that what spammers ‘visited’ was, to a first approximation, random (ish).

Apparently, I was naive. Because it’s not.

I don’t have complete statistics, of course because the majority of spam comments are caught by software so I never see them. Of the ones I do see, though, I have a bunch of notes scribbled on bits of paper and they point to an interesting (well, I think it’s interesting) picture.

As we all know, technological change is largely driven by the ubiquitous human desire to see other humans naked.

In short, porn.

And what comes with all that porn? (Besides shrill social activists and weird studies by graduate students in psychology, of course.)

Spam.

I get a lot of porn spam here. (You probably do too — the internet is for porn, after all.) That doesn’t surprise me but what does is that a startling percentage of the porn spam this blog receives is ‘aimed’ at some scribblings I, um, scribbled back in 2012…

on the failing eyesight of aging gamers.

Well, that was unexpected. Bifocals as a predictor of porn consumption? Who woulda thunk it? Not I.

Another species of spammer is the one that advertises ‘business opportunities’ so I can MAKE. MONEY. FAST. This type of spam has been around, for, well, a long time. It’s evolved, of course, but at its core it’s still the same: the sender has a way to become rich which he’ll share with the recipient for ONLY….

Yeah, right. (But it clearly works or they wouldn’t do it.)

So I get regular money making ‘opportunities’ offered to me. But, again, these offers are almost universally directed toward a single post: a whiny rant about Friendface from two years ago.

I didn’t see that coming when I wrote it.

A third type of spam that I get is not quite as focussed. It’s related to the above — it’s from people who claim to know Important Truths that will aid my visibility on search engines (and, by extension, bring me fame and fortune. Or at least fame. Sort of.). This stuff isn’t aimed at a single post. No, they’re less discriminating (?) and send their valuable offers to a broad selection of stories I’ve written about…

curling.

Again, not really what I might have predicted.

That’s spammers. But what are Real People looking for? A little history might be in order.

Once upon a time, when someone clicked on a link on a web page the address of the page where they were when they clicked was passed to the ‘new’ web page. So, in principle, any web server would know where any visitor ‘came from.’ An interesting corollary to this involved search engines — if someone arrived on a web page by clicking on a link at a search engine, the ‘new’ web page would know what the visitor had been searching for.

Werdpress is no exception. On the stats page that Werdpress provides to the obsessive-compulsive narcissists that compose their blogging population are two relevant fields: ‘Referrers’ and ‘Search Engine Terms.’

The ‘Referrers’ field tells you where they come from. (The history of this term is interesting, partly because the originator of the name originally spelled it ‘referer‘. If you’re looking for information on it, make sure you search for both spellings. Apparently, computer scientists can’t spell any better than the rest of us. Well, that or they can but are more perverse. Either is plausible.)

‘Search engine terms’, of course, is what the visitor was searching for if he arrived here from (duh) a search engine. This field is usually not particularly helpful — usually it just says something like ‘unknown search terms.’ The documentation suggests that this is due to encryption and privacy:

Some search engines don’t reveal search terms for privacy reasons. Google, for example, has been encrypting the vast majority of search terms since 2013.  That’s why we often can’t specify which search terms were used by visitors who arrived at your site from a search engine. When we don’t know the search terms, we show them as Unknown search terms.

(There’s probably more than this, of course. Money is almost certainly involved. Hope your tinfoil hat is handy.)

ANYWAY.

Despite the dearth of data I can still infer a few things. I can see, for example, that a few posts stand out as having things that people occasionally look for. (Not just valuable insights into the curling delivery. Or advice on how to watch sports on television effectively. Or even the use of computer technology by potential organ donors.) In particular, three posts stand out.

The first is a ‘what if’ post written in response to a challenge. I have no idea what search brings people to it — it’s fairly short and there’s not much to it, really. The second is a story about how an eighty-seven year old man taught me a thing or two about how to insult people. (I defer to his uberness.) For that one, I actually (think I) know what visitors are looking for: apparently I’m virtually the only person on the entire internet to transcribe the ‘Doonesbury’ comic strip from January 8, 1975. And people who didn’t (I assume) buy the book sometimes look for that. Who knew?

And the third?

Well, it turns out that here (and now here, I suppose) is virtually the only place on the internet where you’ll find the phrase

ALL RIGHT YEW MAGGOTS

Oh.

So I’m the world-wide place to find that particular piece of poorly spelled invective.

On reflection, I couldn’t be more proud.

 

Clashing

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I’ve always blamed Shakespeare.

Not for everything, of course. (My grip on reality may be somewhat tenuous at times but it’s not that bad.) No, I blame him for some things. For example, in 1973 he made me sit through an excruciatingly forgettable (but not forgettable, if you know what I mean) performance of Twelfth Night. And it’s his fault there are annoying birds that harass me when I mow the lawn (as if mowing the lawn wasn’t bad enough already). And I’ve always assumed that it was his fault that I had to get dressed up for things that I don’t think require getting dressed up.

Well.

I recently saw it claimed that that last one isn’t his fault at all. (Learn something every day, I guess.) No matter where the sentiment came from, though, it’s still wrong.

Mostly.

My Thoreau-like aversion to socially dictated clothing guidelines led me to multiple degrees in physics (a tour guide once pointed to me and told her group of parents, relatives and prospective students that you could tell a physicist by his inability to dress himself properly), a career in IT (because sysadmins — at least decent ones — don’t wear suits) and

ugly curling clothes.

When I started curling, I had two (and only two) criteria for the clothes I wore for games: they had to be ‘warm enough’ and had to allow at least moderate ease of movement. It turns out I had a stunningly (and when I say ‘stunningly’ I mean stunningly) baggy sweatshirt lying around not being used; that seemed to fit the bill. To go with it I went out and bought some sweatpants two sizes too large. Add some wool socks and I was done.

That was good enough for a couple of decades but wasn’t quite ugly enough. (Somewhere in there a third criterion had appeared.) Something was called for. I tried adding liberal doses of tie-dyed shirts so I could make my opponents physically ill (and give my own team something to shoot at). That worked to an extent but it wasn’t enough, somehow. There was something missing. What could it be?  Fortunately, that question was answered by an event manager (whatever that is) from Oslo.

His answer? Pants. Loud pants. Garish pants. Let’s be honest — hideous pants. What a great idea. Just think of all the people I could annoy. And they might even be performance-enhancing, which would be the icing on the cake.

So I waited for a sale and went for it; I decided on a pattern inspired by a guy from Holland (similar to — but not quite the same as — the ones they wore to intimidate the Americans). They weren’t terribly warm but were adequate. And they contained a percentage of stretchy polymers. AND some onlookers retched. Check, check and check.

A few weeks ago, though, I had a minor sort of brain fart; I accidentally showed up at a game in a shirt that (somehow) matched them. Well, no harm done, I thought. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out. We lost. In fact, we were destroyed. We didn’t score a single point. It’s possible, of course, that we simply weren’t that good, that our opponents had superior tactical acumen and more skill so we were out-thought and out-played. Could that have been it?

Nah. (I thought immediately of this.)

But I wasn’t sure, so I decided to do an experiment. In our next game I dug up a neon pink tie-dyed shirt that clashed with my pants. (Heck, it clashed with everything.)

We won 8-1.

That was suggestive but not absolutely definitive. So I did it again, this time with a shirt covered in a giant yellow-and-green spiral (there are things that go with a Mondrian, but that isn’t one of them).

We won again, that time 9-2.

Lesson learned. Maybe clothes do make the man — just not the way Polonius (and Bill) imagined they did.

 

(Mile)stoning

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Two hundred is a big number.

Well, sometimes it’s a big number. It depends, like everything else, on context. For a TV show, for example, that’s a lot of episodes — in that context 200 is large. If I consider the number of words I know (and know how to use) then it’s small. If we’re talking Friendface friends, it’s apparently an average sort of number. (Interestingly, my total is 61.)

How about, say, blog posts?

I don’t know. I (probably naively) tend to assume that most blogs have a life cycle (they’re born, they get old, they die) that’s fairly short. But what does ‘fairly short’ mean? What does ‘most’ mean? I have no idea; I (again naively) thought that this might be something I could find out with a few well-chosen Google searches.

I was wrong.

I found a few things that tended to support my assumptions. Unfortunately, though, they were all opinion pieces — none of them had anything resembling data to back them up. (As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of numbers.) That’s all I found because I spent too much time tangled up in questionable advice on search engine optimization, blog monetization and, of all things, dental implants. Clearly my search-fu is second-rate. (At BEST.) But why am I gazing into my navel, you might ask?  Well, Werdpress made me. By which I mean that it told me that this is my 200th post. (Yay me.) But is that something? Or nothing?  And if it is something, what do I talk about?

I dithered about that for quite a while but then decided that, while 200 may be something, it’s not enough of a something to try and do something ‘special.’ So it’s back to certain, um, ‘themes’ I’ve talked about before.

Last Monday in the locker room after hockey, there was a, let’s call it a ‘discussion’. About relationships (one guy had taken a fairly vicious body check from his wife), personal hygiene (another guy had his equipment professionally deodorized) and, impossibly, the game. At the center of that part of the discussion was a talented young gentleman who had scored several goals that game. (Unsurprisingly I didn’t get one. I scored my goal for 2015 back in June (the 22nd, not that I’m counting or anything) so I’m done for the year. I’ve been done for almost six months. No performance anxiety for me, I’m free to concentrate on the important stuff.) But back to the Discussion on hockey skills: “Where do you aim” asked one guy “because you banked your last goal in off of my jockstrap.”

Well. Take one locker room full of males, add a dash of toilet humor (seasonal or not) and you can guess where the conversation is going to go.

And you’d be right.

Things went on for quite some time, there being no diminishing comedic returns for certain conversational topics. Eventually it was decided that, while aiming for a defenceman’s groin might occasionally be effective, it probably wasn’t a good choice in general; there were better places to shoot if the object was, you know, to score a goal. (Back in the 80s a talented player (I think) suggested that you should often just aim for the goalie’s chest because you were probably going to miss anyway. Of course, the game has changed a bit since then.) Eventually it was time to leave — I slung my (ozone-free) bag over my shoulder and lurched (but gracefully I like to tell myself) toward the exit.

At one of the doorways (not, as it happens, this one) my path was blocked by a serious-looking young (she couldn’t have been more than eight or so) lady. I stopped. (I’m not a total jerk. Besides, she probably would have been the one left standing if I hadn’t.) She looked at me. I looked at her. (It wasn’t quite a test of wills, but close. No theme music, though.) Finally she spoke.

“I hurt my ball.”

Pardon? How on earth did she know what we had been talking about?

 

Leafing

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The other day I went and played in the mud.

That’s not entirely true: I did go somewhere and while there was mud (quite a lot of it in fact), I wasn’t actually playing. Rather, I was embracing a minor aspect of contemporary North American middle-class culture. Pity I didn’t have a copy of Campbell with me.

Perhaps I should provide some, you know, context.

It’s fall in Canada. That means that it’s time for depression, for middle-aged men to flirt with dangerous levels of denial and for most everyone to have panic attacks then watch them devolve to plain ol’ despair.

In short, winter is coming. And that means that it’s time to take the snow brushes out of the basement, pile dirt on the roses and…

rake leaves.

I’ve mentioned before that we have a few (four I think) Taxus which have the exceedingly handy feature of not having leaves. But we also have a couple of nice specimens of Acer, a couple of nice-but-unfortunately-they’re-evil ones (even though they’re on our money — what was that about money being the root of all evil?), a fairly healthy (if challenging) Juglans, a Betula that threatens the car on a regular basis and a Fraxinus that’s been marked for death.

Those (and some others — this neighborhood was once named ‘Red Oaks’, for example) ensure that there’s no shortage of leaves to rake; I’m kept busy (pity I don’t know anyone named ‘Liza‘) from the autumn solstice until the snow flies — the mix of species means that when one finishes there are others just waiting to join the party. Lucky me — over two months of raking and bagging.

But what’s a misanthrope to do with all those leaves? Sometimes I have to put the car in the garage.

If I was so inclined, I could look up some history along with dates and reasons and stuff but I can’t be bothered. Instead I’ll just say that when I was a kid fall had a distinct smell — the smell of burning leaves. This changed and then fall meant huge trash collections. This changed too; in many places (like here) leaves are now collected independently of trash and then shipped off to a central (well, it’s actually east of town, but you know what I mean) composting facility. Our pickup is next week (I think) but I don’t use it — you have to go out and buy giant paper bags and, well, I’m disinclined too damned cheap to buy something for the sole reason of throwing it away. (It’s why I don’t grow zucchini.) Instead, I have a stash of plastic bags I’ve accreted over the years — some of them are well over a decade old — that I use over and over again.

bagsofleaves

It’d probably be a little less ugly without
the corporate logos.

There are two consequences to my laughable pathetic frugality stinginess. First of all, I don’t have a giant pile of soggy paper on my front lawn. Secondly, once I have a ‘large enough’ pile of loaded bags, I have to drive to the north end to get rid of them. (Fortunately, only the barest modicum of motivation is required for this otherwise I’d be in serious trouble.)

So last Wednesday I stuffed nineteen (19) (no) bags of leaves in the car (smallish bags, but that’s still a lot of bags — the prime number makes them easier to deal with) and drove out to an industrial park in the north end — past where the vampires live, past the giant piles of scrap metal, even past the cement plant. Once there I found piles of leaves, brush, miscellaneous yard waste

and mud. Lots of mud. Lots and lots of mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud. So much mud that it was hard to find a place to park: “I can’t park there because there’s too much mud to stand and besides, I’m wearing white shoes. And I can’t park there because it’s not particularly close to the pile I’m supposed to throw my stuff on and I can’t throw leaves very far. I am such a feeb.”  And so on. Life is complicated sometimes.

Eventually I found a spot and started unloading. It takes a while to empty nineteen bags of leaves from a car. You have to pull one out, dump it, then — if you suffer from moderate levels of any OCD — make sure it’s COMPLETELY empty then carefully fold it and find a place to put it while you deal with the other eighteen. Oh well, they always say that slow and steady is the way to go.

I was on about bag eight when a minivan pulled up next to me. Out got a woman in even more inappropriate footwear than me. She squelched around to the back of her vehicle, pulled out a single plastic garbage can (AT MOST half-full) dumped it on the pile, then left.

Pardon? I stood there and tried to decide what sort of situation might prompt someone to drive to an industrial park, brave epic amounts of mud and risk ruining expensive footwear to get rid of something that would fit comfortably in the city-issued green bin (not exactly as shown) and be picked up at the curb in under a week. And besides, 1 isn’t a prime number. Not really.

I couldn’t think of an obvious one, but while I was considering the possibility of homicidal ambulatory trees attacking her house and leaving debris behind that she was afraid might grow into more homicidal ambulatory trees, another car pulled up. This one had two people in it. (I think it was a Buick, but of course that isn’t important to the story.)

Plus one (1) bag of leaves. (Scratch that — half a bag. And inappropriate footwear as well — that seemed to be a theme.) I went back to speculating about the propagation and growth of ambulatory trees — it’s something Tolkien didn’t really cover, after all — and their obvious-but-previously-unsuspected ubiquity in eastern Ontario.)

And I thought I only had to worry about a zombie apocalypse. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

 

Soaping

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I didn’t shave today.

Despite being touted (well, sort of) by one of the largest newspapers in the country as an authority (or at least an enthusiast) on scraping the hairs from one’s face, most days I don’t. It’s not that I think that looking like a hobo is particularly becoming, it’s just that I’m fundamentally a lazy person. And besides — I really don’t feel particularly comfortable applying sharpened steel to my throat while still half-asleep. (I am not a morning person.) Because, as I mentioned more than three years ago (that’s a bit of a surprise), I’m a little old-fashioned: I prefer to use soap, water and a brush made from hairs pulled out of a mustelid — not expensive, heavily (not to mention ‘strangely‘) advertised, chemically-laced goop from a can.

My first brush was an inexpensive plastic thingy; I have no precise memory of where it came from, only that it was cheap. (This was important — at that point in my life money was pretty tight and ‘cheap’ was paramount. Food was budgeted at $20/week, rent at $83/month and badger-hair shaving brushes weren’t even close to being on the radar.(Some still aren’t.) But soap — soap shouldn’t be expensive. Where would I find some?

Bi-Way to the rescue.

Back in the day (most of them vanished by ’01 or so) Bi-Way was a chain of discount department stores in this part of Canada. (How discount? Well, if you were out of clean underwear, under some circumstances it was cheaper to go to the Bi-Way and buy more rather than do laundry. In those days I had a lot of underwear.) Conveniently — if somewhat inexplicably — they also stocked ‘traditional’ shaving gear. This may be where the brush came from. (As I said, I don’t remember.) I don’t remember their price for shaving soap either, just that when you bought it you got change back from your quarter.

So. Brush? Check. Soap? Check. The only thing left was a mug/bowl/thingy-to-hold-the-soap. Purpose-built ones were expensive and the Bi-Way didn’t stock them. What was an unshaven student to do?

I briefly contemplated using my JNET mug, but I drank tea from that mug with a young lady who now lives in Colorado and it didn’t have a lid. (Lids are nice when you’re a maladroit.) So, in keeping with the theme of frugality stinginess, I looked in the fridge and there it was — a single-serving plastic tub of yogurt. (Fruit-bottomed, but I don’t think that’s particularly important.) It was certainly cheap, it was about the right size, it had a lid and it was sturdy enough to last for a while.

A while. How long is ‘a while?’

Well, I took it out of the fridge over three decades ago. It’s still going strong — or so I thought. Because last year, on a trip to a remote tropical island, I noticed a Problem — there were (admittedly small) cracks on the lid. Oh no — the cheap thing I’ve had for over thirty years and have used, if not daily then at least weekly, was starting to wear out. I wasn’t sure how to react.

My first reaction was concern: “A disaster! Whatever shall I do? That thing has been with me for more than half my life — it’s irreplaceable.”  (Indeed it is — contemporary yogurt tubs are significantly flimsier.)

Which brought me to anger — “How dare they make a disposable item that could last half a lifetime?” There in a faded blueberry yogurt cup was a damning indictment of the entirety of contemporary consumer culture. No wonder the world is in such bad shape.

After that was irritation (I did some shopping and these things are way more expensive than you would think.), frustration (Can you believe what they’re charging for shipping?) and maybe even despair (That lid doesn’t even look like it fits all that well.).

My next reaction was, for lack of a better word, guilt — how could I possibly be this concerned about something this trivial?

For not the first time, I have to ask why everything has to be so COMPLICATED.