Friday, 7 November 2008

Google Ate My Spam

It's not often that Bill Blunt waxes lyrical about a product. It takes more than the inducement of a free razor and gel to prod Bill into endorsing something, as my regular readers will know. At the same time, I think I have been around long enough to know when a product doesn't deliver.

I'm of a generation that thought the Welfare State was designed expressly to prevent anyone under the age of 70 ever having to encounter reformed bits of pig, still less to have to eat the stuff. I know there are some (mainly those who lived through the War) who will try to tell you that Spam has it's virtues, but I'm not one of them. Too many Spam fritters for school lunch made that inevitable, I'm afraid. That's why, when I learned that Googlemail had a 'Spam Filter', I was fairly relaxed. I wanted nothing to do with the stuff.

Thanks to the eagle eye of my son, Justin, however, I now realise there's another meaning to the word 'Spam'.

'Pa,' he said, just yesterday ... 'take a look at THIS!' With the flick of a mouse, he took me to a place I never knew existed.

I've had a Googlemail account for over four years. It was Justin who persuaded me to become one of what he termed the 'early adopters'. What he failed to do, however, was tell me that Googlemail has a very sophisticated 'Spam Filter'. It came as something of a shock to discover that the Mighty Google was able to weed out a huge amount of supposedly 'unwanted' mail. 24,572 items, in fact.

Call me an investigative journalist if you must, but I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was that Google was automatically filtering out of my in-box. Well, here it is...

As you can see, GoogleMail has not only prevented me from winning a vast array of international lotteries over the last 4 years, but has also denied me the ability to help an awful lot of people in Africa - many of whom are apparently distantly related to me, and who have been involved in tragic accidents. If the Mighty Google had only kept it's nose out, I could even have had a larger manhood, with access to almost unlimited supplies of cheap Viagra.

I, for one, would quite like to have made contact with the lovely-sounding Loreta Tamala, Rene Cammie et al, but I suppose it's too late now.

It's pure speculation as to whether my life would have been different without the interference of the Googlemail spam-filter. But I can't help feeling that being a multi-millionaire, distributing my largesse across the African continent, and availing myself of a more pronounced manhood, would have made the last four years altogether more interesting.

When I tried to explain this to Justin, he merely laughed. I can only put that down to the folly of youth. It's more than slightly annoying that I've missed such a myriad of opportunities... thanks to the so-called (for that is exactly what it is) Googlemail spam filter.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Dawn of An Old Era?

Only a hardened misanthrope could have been failed to be moved by the sight of the youthful Barack Obama speaking in Chicago earlier this morning. The world has shifted on it’s political axis – and not before time.
Speaking to a nation that was less divided than it had been for a generation, Obama told how a 106 year-old voter he had met had lived through everything from the dust bowl, the New Deal, the second world war, the hatred of post-war racism in America through to man reaching the moon and going on to dismantle the Berlin Wall.

Somewhere, within the rhetoric, there is a message, and it’s one we had better get used to. The time’s they have a-changed.

When my fellow journalist, HG Wells, visited the Soviet Union in 1920 to stand witness to the great advances a socialist economy had brought to an otherwise backward, peasant society, he was scathing in his assessment. By embracing Marxism, Russia had embarked on a road to tyranny. In an era when the King of Shaves Azor was only a glint in his grandmother's eye, Wells only had to take one look at the effigies of Marx to know what had to be done:

"About two-thirds of the face of Marx is beard, a vast solemn woolly uneventful beard that must have made all normal exercise impossible. It is not the sort of beard that happens to a man, it is a beard cultivated, cherished, and thrust patriarchally upon the world. It is exactly like Das Kapital in its inane abundance, and the human part of the face looks over it owlishly as if it looked to see how the growth impressed mankind... A gnawing desire grew in me to see Karl Marx shaved. Some day, if I am spared, I will take up shears and a razor against Das Kapital; I will write The Shaving of Karl Marx."
Alas, Mr Wells never did get round to shaving Karl Marx’s beard. But if he had, he might have discovered John Maynard Keynes beneath it. A liberal to the core, it was Keynes who came up with the idea of an active economic policy by government that would stimulate demand in times of high unemployment – by spending on public works, whether that be a new dam, a new highway or (almost a century later) an infrastructure that supports the environment, rather than works against it.

Keynes had a fair point. Personally, I’m glad to have a proto-Keynesian at the helm of the British economy at this difficult time. Gordon Brown has already shown his willingness to bite the bullet. We know he’ll borrow to invest. The real test will be how far Obama follows suit. Let’s hope his grandmother, who lived through the New Deal, taught him how to suck eggs...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Those who have known Bill Blunt a good while will know he’s not a man whose endorsement is easily bought. As a columnist at the Stockport Sentinel, I built my reputation for impartiality by never being swayed by a freebie.

That’s why I was sceptical (to say the least) when - courtesy of those fine people, Kevin and Sylvie, at FMB – I was asked to ‘test-drive’ the new Azor shaving system by King of Shaves.

I have always had something of a professional interest in shaving equipment, anyway. I rarely trumpet the fact that my grandfather lost thousands of pounds in an ill-fated venture to design and market the perfect razor blade. As a project, it went well-enough, until he took it to market, that is. Lady Retrospect is a harsh woman, I know, but he’d have saved himself a few bob if he’d realised that promoting Blunt Razors was always going to be something of an uphill battle.

The Azor media pack, when it arrived yesterday, was initially impressive. Less so when my ageing laptop couldn’t access the free CD that came with it. Would it be churlish to expect King of Shaves to send out a high spec laptop just to let me view their images and logos? I think not. As it is, the web already has images aplenty for me to look at.

Well, what’s different about the Azor? As a British contender against the might of multi-nationals Gillette and Wilkinson Sword, it certainly cuts a dash in the design stakes. Cool and sleek, it’s a departure from the over-engineered, garish orange, blue and silver Gillette Fusion, which seems to sprout an extra blade every month. King of Shaves have bucked the trend, and stuck with four blades.

It appeals to my innate sense of economy, too. In a time when money is tight, there’s something to be said for a razor that costs half the price of its competitors, and doesn’t require a battery to make it work.

So far, so good, then. But what’s it like to shave with? Alas, my divorce from Mrs Blunt means I couldn’t submit the Azor to the toughest of tests (one which even the infamous Prolectix Epliator, with its 36 discs rotating and twisting bunches of hairs together and plucking them from the roots ‘like a large pair of tweezers’ was never really up to).

I had to be content with using it on myself, then. The flexible head certainly seemed to make the razor hug my famously rugged chin much more closely than other razors I’ve used. And four blades were more than enough for the task of removing my ‘Mexican Bandit’ stubble. I hope it wasn’t just the psychological fact of having read all the accompanying hype that made me feel that it did, indeed, produce a closer shave.

I hope I wasn’t mistaken, but I’m sure I got more than my normal share of admiring glances from the barmaids when I sashayed into the bar at The John Laird for my usual post-prandial whisky last night.