Waldorf Word Salad

This is getting silly. Yesterday I got mail from a company calling itself HomeAdvisor Inc. in Waldorf, Maryland, addressing me as Davida and thanking me for choosing it for my project involving a heat pump service. (No comments, please, Facebook already supplies me with all the innuendo I need.)

Today it seems we’ve moved on from warm plimsolls to additional services. No, not that sort of service: bathroom remodeling, furnace installation, and so on. Well, perhaps I would benefit from having my exterior repainted. However…

While my wife assures me that I will be considering certain home improvements in the near future, I shan’t be offering work to a company 3,547 miles away that seems to think spam is an acceptable component of a Waldorf salad. I can’t speak for Davida, my evil twin, however. Especially as she is now demanding her own blog.

David Harley

Can the Can, or Arbitrage Outrage

Mostly I ignore spam – I just see too much of it. Occasionally I write about it, especially if it’s technically interesting or a fraud potentially effective enough to deserve a warning to the community. (To some extent, of course, all spam – as opposed to junk mail – is fraudulent.)

This is slightly different. It’s just funny. At least, this bit is:

“We also offer cost arbitrage opportunity wherein we can your backend arm and help you save your delivery cost.”

I can’t think why they think I’d be attracted by an offer to can my backend arm.

Now that’s a mental image I’d quite like to unsee.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

Online booking: how to annoy a grumpy old man

A couple of times recently I’ve been blessed with email from a site that specializes in finding hotel bookings. I use it almost exclusively for finding somewhere to stay in the UK on the rare occasions when I attend a conference or similar event in this country, or need an airport hotel when I have an early flight somewhere. While I like the part of the world I live in, it’s far enough off the beaten track to make it unwise to rely on public transport in order to get to distant parts of the country early-ish in the morning.

The email tells me that ‘Our team of travel scientists have thought long and hard about your next holiday. Based on your past adventures, they think you have a passion for …’ shopping, monuments and culturally diverse food. Apparently, based on bookings I’ve made through them, they think I might like to endorse all sorts of places. Mostly, places I’ve never considered booking a hotel, like Dudley, Wolverhampton, Blackpool, and Stratford-upon-Avon. Plus one or two that I have stayed in because they have conferences (London) or airports (Birmingham, Manchester). And, of course, Bickenhill.

Bickenhill? Where the heck is that? Well, it turns out to be a place I’ve been to quite often without knowing it, since it’s close to the perimeter of Birmingham airport and has lots of hotels, one of which I’ve stayed in from time to time on my way to various exotic places. Usually for conferences. I can’t say I know Bickenhill, though, as all I’ve ever done there is commute between Birmingham International station, a hotel, and the airport. So I looked it up on Wikipedia to see what it says about the shopping, monuments and food. Apparently, it’s a very small village with nothing much to focus on apart from the Airport/NEC complex. The nearest thing to a mention of a monument  is the description of the runway lights attached to the steeple to avoid aeroplane collisions. I’ve no information regarding shopping or food, but presumably some of those hotels – or possibly all 19 – can supply those services.

So, travel scientists: what does that mean? The word science comes from the Latin word scientia, meaning knowledge. But  this particular email is a classic example of totally erroneous conclusions based on an extraordinarily limited view of why people stay in hotels – the email mentions (apart from shopping, monuments and culturally diverse food) beach, sightseeing and relaxation – and doesn’t seem to take much account of little things like the location of the hotels. There’s knowledge, and there are random guesses.

I don’t think this is knowledge. It is a lot like the way practically every other company with a foot in the social media uses what data it’s able to gather to solicit more custom. And inexorably these companies are moving towards improving their targeting – a prospect that doesn’t necessarily fill me with joy, given that it’s also getting harder to escape the advertising – but they’re clearly not there yet.

I’m just wondering whether the use of ‘travel scientists’ is simple use of impressive buzzwords for marketing purposes, or an example of how easy it is for a company to believe its own hype.

In fact, the powers of the hidden persuaders are surprisingly limited, being based on generic interpretations of specific data. That is, targeted advertising makes broad assumptions about human behaviour based on previous behaviour. We do that all the time, of course, but consumer patterns are not so easily predicted and consumers are not so one-dimensional.

  • Days after I bought the laptop on which I’m writing this, I started receiving a persistent stream of ads from the same vendor for laptops, most of which are less highly-specified, so I’m certainly not in the market for a downgrade. Do they think I collect the things?
  • Every time I look at musical kit on one particular site, I know that ads for the kit I’ve been looking at will pop up on a dozen other sites that are dependent for their income on pushing sponsor ads.

Perhaps I need a pseudonym.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

Facebook changing my tune

Facebook has taken to suggesting that I Like sponsored pages (that’s apart from the little column of ads on the right, which rarely impinge on my consciousness). While from time to time I hit the tabs to explain that washing machines are not very relevant to my current needs, I found the latest suggested post, for improving my singing, just plain insulting.

However, on reading some of the blurb:

“These are the very same techniques that I have used to help thousands of people in over 100 countries how to improve their singing voices and skyrockets their singing abilities…”

I begin to think that perhaps there’s a deal to be done here.

If Mr Superior Singing Method can improve my singing, I can certainly improve his English.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow

Cosmetic Aftercare

Dear Facebook,

I’m still seeing ads asking me whether I’m a victim of botched cosmetic surgery.

Let me assure you, if I’d had cosmetic surgery and still looked like this, I’d certainly want to sue somebody. Sadly, if there’s anyone to blame for my inability to grow old gracefully, it’s me.

David Harley
Small Blue-green World
ESET Senior Research Felon. Er, Fellow.

Dear Facebook…

I find it slightly offensive that you think I might have suffered negligent cosmetic surgery. What I have may not be beautiful, but it’s all mine.  While I feel a lot better since some of my internal organs were redistributed in response to a hernia described by the surgeon as ‘spectacular’, I wouldn’t actually describe the improvement as cosmetic.

What’s more, I am not single and I don’t have a thing about uniforms.

Sometimes, you just have to have a bit of a rant before lunch.

David Harley