Writing reviews

One of the last things I have to do at work is complete a lot of employee reviews. I've been writing them for days now. I spent pretty much all day today working on them.
I take writing reviews seriously, and perhaps it's no surprise that I get writer's block while writing them just as I do when writing fiction. I also get the same pleasure from producing an insightful turn of words, or an appropriate metaphor or descriptive phrase. Writers take pride in everything they write, from e-mails to reviews to postcards and letters.
All this typing this past week is killing my fingers, though. My wrists are really sore.


My new nephew Ryan...


I caught bits and pieces of my first real episode of Joe Millionaire today. Unintentional comedy cubed. I'm not sure if Fox can keep this going because future contestants will know the premise, but this is reality TV executed at a very high level (some people will see that as taking us one step closer to the end of humanity).
So many things on this show crack me up. First of all, Joe is clearly no millionaire. I'm not sure what type of training they put him through, but it's hilarious to hear him butchering French words, gagging over fancy foods like foie gras, and saying things in his soliloquys like "And watching two women doing the tango, that lifted my spirits." I think he was supposed to have come into the money late in life, which is supposed to explain his lack of suavity and savoir-faire. By letting the audience in on the secret, a Hitchcockian device, we can laugh at his inability to hold his wealth.
Secondly, what's up with that goofy butler? His random and occasional unsolicited commentary is unseemly for a butler (hasn't he read the stories about Princess Di's tight-lipped butler?), and there's something salacious about him.
Thirdly...I can't remember what else I thought was funny. Maybe it's not that funny a show after all. Joe (whatever his name is) does seem like a pretty down-to-earth, nice guy. His commentary seems pretty heartfelt. To see him exploited in this way on the show does leave the viewer feeling guilty, and the catty, gold-digging female contestants won't inspire much faith in humanity.
Still, I have to laugh at the people who fret over reality TV and its influence over society. People have loved to revel in the faults of others since they could communicate. This can't compare to the conversation in an old Victorian salon.

Down with Love

Trailer for a new romance starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Period design (I'm thinking Catch Me If You Can, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) seem to be in. Zellweger seems to be hanging out, knocking on the door of the elite tier of money-making actresses. The romantic comedy route seems to be her best bet, as opposed to the gravitas of, say, Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore.


A whole bunch of brainy geeks met at MIT recently to discuss solutions to spam. As long as smart people are peeved enough about receiving spam to work on the problem. there's hope that one day our inboxes will be free. To date I've been too lazy to try whitelisting, so I'm hoping filters will continue to improve. I used Cloudmark's SpamNet plugin for MS Outlook and it works fairly well.
Still, it's not perfect, and some of the material from the conference sounds very promising. Paul Graham gave a follow up to his fascinating article "A Plan for Spam" which proposed using Bayesian filtering on the likelihood that single words appear in spam mails versus regular mails. If you know the word viagra is appears in spam mail 99.9% of the time and in a regular e-mail only .1% of the time, finding it in a message is very damning. His follow-up, Better Bayesian Filtering, has some thoughts on how to improve his filters. Very interesting, readable articles since Bayes' law is understandable to even those who only took intro to probability. Clever.
Even more promising is Bill Yerazunis' CRM114. With some training, it has achieved accuracies of 99.9%. It's available for free for those reading e-mail on Linux or BSD. If you use Outlook on Windows, Network Associates recently bought Deersoft and plans to merge SpamAssassin Pro with their own McAfee SpamKiller. CRM114 can be used with SpamAssassin.
I still think strong legislation against spammers is needed. It's not as if the spam I receive is useful advertising. Usually it's so evidently disguised to try and get me to visit a porn site (spammers now disguise their e-mail as personal messages, using language like, "Hey, I finished that web page you asked about. Check it out: [insert porn URL]") that it clealry crosses some ethical line. And when you just receive overt pornography in spam it's just plain offensive. Either way, I'd love to see spammers nailed with big lawsuits and jail time.
Of course, the ugly truth is also that enough people click on these sex ads and marketing offers that spamming remains profitable, and perhaps that's the saddest truth in all of this.