Archive for February, 2007

How much more stupid can E-Mail spam get?

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

My spam filters are cool. Really cool. They catch about 90% of the spam without me ever seeing any of the crap at all. Such mails go straight to the Deleted Mails folder. The few spam mails that still get through are so easy to discover that I just look for a split-second at the subject of the mail, before I hit the Delete key.

Every now and then, just out of curiosity, I have a look at the garbage that invades my mailbox (and also the blog comments, by the way) relentlessly, every hour of the day, every day of the year. And I wonder – how much more stupid can E-Mail spam get? I mean, if someone sends me this…

From: “Laurel”
To: <mark@zanzig.net>
Subject: Dark Hfaired HOTGLIRLS Smucks & Gqets Mcuffdived
Date: Tuesday, 27/02/2007 09:05

You brain shall be your servant instead of your master, You will rule it instead of allowing it to rule you.

Blond TTEENS Toeen Sihows Bqusty Bdoobs Pcosing
http://some.spamdomain.tld/d1/p3/8/6/

Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.

…then I am seriously worried about his or her state of brain. Apparently they are aware of this, because they clearly write: “You brain [I guess they mean Your brain] shall be your servant instead of your master”. Yes, you are so right. It is my servant, and it serves me perfectly by saying: “Mark, this is just spam. They don’t mean you personally. They can’t even write correct English.” Shouldn’t it read: “Blond Teen Shows Busty Boobs Posing”? That is how many mistakes in one sentence? Six! And if you count the duplicate word (“TTEENS”) it’s seven! That is seven mistakes in a sentence of seven words. Wow – an average of one mistake per word! I wonder who on earth clicks on such links? Certainly it must be only the most stupid persons who do. I don’t.

The second current fad that often passes my filter are the image-only spam mails, like this one from abcpill.com:

Spammy Ad for Abcpill.com

You probably have seen this as well. Now, I have seen the development of image ads. First, the spammers realized that it was useless to send text mails as these were caught by the filters – as a reaction some of the spammers decided to go for the grammatically incorrect way / see above. The other group went down the “image only” path. They just put the text into an image and easily passed the filters. But the filters got better and better and started to OCR the images. So they added those colored pixels to the image to disturb the OCR filters. A few weeks later even this was caught by the scanners, and now they come animated. Unfortunately, even I have a hard time reading the message now. No wonder the OCRs are getting confused.

Then again, the spammers forget one clear point – usability. Even for them the law of usability is as valid as for any other web-based business: if it is not easy-to-use, forget about it. Yes, I can hardly read the message, but more important: they present a link to me (bold, blue, underlined – that must be a link) but it doesn’t work. I can’t click it! For 99.99% of all other links in my browser this works, with these guys it doesn’t! So they have to tell me the truth: “Do not click, type in your browser www.abcpill.com”. C’mon – this breaks the user interface: I have to open a new browser window (I am in my mail program, you know), type in the address, and see what comes up? They must be kidding.

So I wanted to know how well they are actually doing, traffic-wise. I had a brief look at their Alexa ranking. Woo-hoo, their traffic rank is 4,804,046 (3 mos. average) as of today – which is nothing compared to my site (460,126). Agreed, the spam wave has done its magic, and they see a one-week average of 1,101,492 – but still I doubt that many people actually click the spam mail. Err, yes, they may click, but that -as we now know- doesn’t work, so – anyway, you get the idea. Just imagine zillions of men sitting in front of their email, clicking that ad and turning away, saying “heck, that link doesn’t work”! :-)

The main question to me is – if spam is not working at all, why do spammers actually keep spamming? Why do they clog up the entire Internet with their useless, unwanted, unneeded, and grammatically incorrect ads?

Helping Denisse

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

It all started with a friendly mail from Denisse that hit my mailbox yesterday morning:

I really loved and enjoyed your photos of Namibia, but most of all, I enjoyed your stories at the bottom of each photo and that beautiful photo of Petra where you said “Petra is happy, I am happy, and yes, I love her”. It almost made me cry…

My husband and I are visiting Namibia for the first time next month (March 2007) to celebrate our first anniversary, and I was wondering if you did your trip (organized it, arranged it, etc…) through a travel agent/tour operator? We are going on our own and plan on not using a tour/guide company, just rent a 4x4WD equipped for camping and simply hit the road!  Is this advisable or would you recommend we use a tour company? We have been around a bit (South and Central America, Australia and Asia), but never to the African continent, hence I am not sure what to expect….. Being Dominican, I have to say that I am a bit intimidated by Africa.

I hope you have time to drop me a line or two with your thoughts about self-driving/self guiding in Namibia.

I replied to her with some tips, giving Petra the full credit for arranging the tour, and that she should not be intimidated by Namibia. I recommneded that they get a 4×4 for their trip.

She was quite happy that I did reply to her (taking her fears to travel to Namibia), and she replied, explaining her trip in greater detail. Just from her email, I felt that this must be a wonderful trip! I told her so, and a few mails further on, she finally even posted her planned itinerary. I had a look and suggested some (minor) improvements. After some discussions with her husband, they finally came to an excellent trip plan:

March 31 – Windhoek
April 1 – Otjibamba Lodge
April 2, 3, 4, 5 – Etosha National Park
April 6 – Twyfelfontein
April 7 – Cape Cross
April 8-9 – Swakopmund (The Stiltz B&B)
April 10-11 – Namib Desert Lodge
April 12-13 – Sossusvlei
April 14 – Mariental
April 15 – Windhoek
April 16 – (departure to home)

So, Denisse and her husband will be in Namibia soon, and I sincerly hope that their trip is going to be as exciting as it sounds. And I hope that they experience the country like we did – very friendly, full of beautiful nature, with a hint of adventure.

Tips for your trip to Namibia
All addresses on one printer-friendly page
Map of our 2 week trip to Namibia

Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Canon announced yesterday the brand new EOS 1D Mark III, the replacement for the EOS 1D Mark II N. The specs look awesome: Canon increased the picture size to 10 megapixel (from 8), while at the same time increasing the speed to 10 frames per second (from 8) and up to 110 consecutive shots! Incredible.

The new body also features “Live View” on a 3-inch LCD monitor, i.e. you can view the viewfinder image on the monitor and do not have to use the viewfinder. They also improved the shutter lifetime (now 300,000 photos), and included the new EOS ICS (Integrated Cleaning System) for the sensor. All-in-all these are very useful improvements.

Canon USA says the product will be available “from April 2007″ (while Canon Germany already says “from May 2007″), so it remains to be seen when you really can get your hands on the product. At 4,300 Euro RRP (about US$5,650), the price seems to be a bit higher than the 1D mark II N, but I think the camera settles nicely between the 1D mark II N and 1Ds mark II.

I won’t drop my 1D Mark II N for the new body, simply because the improvements are not enough to justify such a step. I seldomly make use of the 8 fps I have now, and often I scale images down to 2,000 x 3,000 pixels in order to get the file sizes down, so having 10 instead of 8 megapixel is nice but not required. For high-end stuff I use the 1Ds Mark II anyway (16.7 megapixel).

It’s interesting to see though, that Canon did an evolutionary improvement, apparently listening very closely to the market. I guess the new body will be a big success (among press photographers anyway).

See the equipment I am currently using
Canon’s announcement of the EOS 1D Mark III

Revealed: The secret formula of Zanzig.com

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Everyone is amazed about the success of Zanzig.com. It has grown from a tiny homepage to a huge website serving more than 40,000 readers each and every month. The first question I usually get is: How did you achieve this?

To be honest: there is no secret formula to it (sorry for the catchy headline)! ;-) I am just presenting useful, unique, high-quality content to my visitors. They read and enjoy my pages, they recommend them to others, they link to the pages (some of them also hotlink to my images, which is not welcome). And I write text along the photos. I am not just a photographer who enjoys putting nice pictures online. I am presenting them within context, otherwise they are of little value to my visitors.

There is nothing worse than a picture that does not tell about the where, why, and what? Sure, some photos look nice on their own (when presented out of context), e.g. a beautiful sunset, but if you tell your readers where the sunset was taking place, if you describe what the scene was looking like, if you share the experience, then people get attached to the photo. A sunset is just a sunset. Put into context, the same sunset makes people think.

Context is also one of the reasons why I am doing so well in Google. In January 2007, a whopping 90% of the traffic from search engines was coming from Google. 5.4% was from Yahoo!, and 2.2% was from MSN. The rest of the traffic was coming from smaller search engines and web directories. I know that 90% is not a very balanced traffic stream, but so far Google has not disappointed me. Apparently, the other search engines do not consider my site as quality site, but as long as Google loves me, I don’t care.

And the truth about search engines is that you have to be on the first two pages of the search results, or you won’t be seen at all. My log analyzer presents some interesting data specifically for traffic coming from Google. Roughly 8,000 search terms (January 2007) were bringing people from Google to Zanzig.com. 81% of them clicked on a search result on the first page. 9% clicked on a search result on the second page. Apparently only 10% of the clicks came from page 3 and beyond. This behaviour has been pretty much unchanged since I started to track it in March 2006. The very rough guideline is always 80/10/10 (first page/second page/all others).

If you are a photographer thinking seriously about publishing on the Internet, I can only encourage you to not only think about your photos but also to write excellent captions and other useful copy. But do not design your pages for specific search engines. If you want to attract Google traffic, you will want to have a look at their excellent Webmaster Help Center. But I’d recommend to just make your site useful to your visitors. Then the results will follow.

For me, this has worked very well. :-)

How can I create a Google-friendly site?