I’m form blasting, daddy

image from www.hormelfoods.comI’ve learned a new word. Rather, words. Form blasting. The deliberate mass spamming of contact forms on websites.

For a while I’ve been vaguely puzzled by the amount of messages caught in my spam filter that have been sent via my own website’s contact form.

“My name is Dennis and I was very intrigued by benjeapes.com Great content! I can tell that you are a major leader in your field or will become it soon :)”

And other such inspiring messages clearly written by someone who has spent hours poring over my humble offering. Tweak my SEO, buy social media hits, redesign the site … those are the main ones. It’s not a great headache as Gmail’s spam filter really is pretty good. It baffles me more than anything else. One reason I have a contact form on my website is so that I don’t have to publish my email address, and hence (in theory) I get to reduce spam, as people who want to talk to me will have to take the time to enter a message in the form manually. But apparently that happens anyway.

And then the other day I read this one (which was also caught in the filter).

Why are you reading this message? Are you wondering what I want? I just wanted to show you that we have just succeeded in the first rule of advertising.. Getting people to READ our ad. Now let’s make the next 500,000 of these messages YOURS! Form blasting is the most effective direct marketing tool online today. Find out more here: http://spammers-R-us.com

And there it is. Form blasting. There really are people paid to do this kind of thing.

So out of interest I visited spammers-R-us.com (note: not their real name; they’re not getting even that minuscule amount of publicity). The page extols the virtues of form blasting as a communication method.

What are “contact us” pages? Virtually any website has them, it’s the method any website will use to allow you to contact them. It’s usually a simple form that asks for your name, email address and message and once submitted will result in the person or business receiving your message instantly! Unlike bulk emailing, there are no laws against automated form submission and your message will never get stuck in spam filters. We can’t think of a better way to quickly reach a large volume of people and at such a low cost!

So, just in case there are people out there who are considering falling for this kind of thing – maybe researching form blasting, weighing up the pros and cons, wondering if these people are bona fide or not – here’s why it might not be a good idea.

Because it’s spam. Pure and simple.

Ah, but it’s not spam, is it? At least, not according to their FAQ.

Q: Is form blasting spam?
A: No, in fact there are no clear laws against automated form submissions. After all, the only reason why a business would have a contact form on their website is to get in touch with customers and other businesses. Also, with form blasting the impact of spam filters is minimal and you will get your message out successfully to more people than you would with a mass email blast.

Let us unpack this.

there are no clear laws against automated form submissions

True. So form blasting is technically legal. Do you really want to engage future customers, build a relationship of trust, starting from the point that what you’re doing is technically legal? Does that really sell your company as one that is worth doing business with?

After all, the only reason why a business would have a contact form on their website is to get in touch with customers and other businesses.

And the only reason I have a letter box in my front door is so that people can post things to me. The concept of unsolicited mail still applies. I expect to receive letters, bills, contracts, cheques, bank statements … the usual treeware-based paraphernalia of life in the early 21st century. Unsolicited mail still goes straight into recycling, unopened.

And consider that, like mine, the point of having the form may be to avoid receiving spam in the first place.

Look also at that curious use of the word “business”. I’m not a business. I’m a writer with a full-time day job. I like people to buy my books, yes, and I engage in a certain amount of self-publicity. The website is one example. Through this I earn a little money and declare a little tax. But I’m not a business.

Doesn’t matter to spammers-R-us.com. I’m a contact form, that’s all. That is how well spammers-R-us.com choose their targets, boys and girls.

Also, with form blasting the impact of spam filters is minimal and you will get your message out successfully to more people than you would with a mass email blast.

spam filter

Ooh, look! It’s my spam menu! And that’s your message in the background! Can you guess what I’m doing to it? Can you?

So despite this categorically not being spam, they are aware that spam filters present a problem. How strange. Even stranger is that most of these that I get end up in my spam filter anyway. Funny that. So, potential customers of spammers-R-us.com, spammers-R-us.com is lying to you. Almost (almost) every message I have seen like this has been caught by Gmail’s spam filter. Those that aren’t, I mark as spam for Gmail’s benefit. And bear in mind that one of the keys to Google’s success is that its products learn.

And even if I do see it, am I going to use your services?

Or let’s put it another way. If you actually do offer a service that I am likely to want – stranger things have happened – and you don’t spam me, then one day, who knows, I might (might) do a Google search, and find you, and take what you have to offer. A mutually beneficial relationship – your services for my money – might ensue. Might.

But if you form blast me, even if you are offering something I want, then by the Nine Gods, by  Grabthar’s Hammer and by the surly beard of Mrifk himself I swear I will never, ever use your services. If you’re offering something I want, so are others.

So: you don’t form blast, you might get my money. You form blast, you absolutely won’t. Your choice.

Don’t form blast. You’re better than that.

What I learned from Geoff Love

Geoff Love's Star WarsA recent Facebook discussion made me all nostalgic for a classic of my childhood, Geoff Love’s Star Wars and Other Space Themes. I wondered if it was available on Amazon and, blow me down …

It’s probably rare for a cheesy easy listening covers album to hold a special place in one’s heart, but it does for me, and I can think of at least two friends in the sf community who have admitted similar feelings. Why? Well, because I learned a lot from this album.

No prizes for guessing that my sole reason for buying it, at the age of 13, in 1978, was to get hold of the Star Wars theme. As far as I was concerned this LP was a single with an A side and a lot of B sides. I had seen the movie once by this stage, and remembered the music as being quite good. For some reason I had it in my head that it was a bit like the theme to Born Free. (At least, it goes up and down in an approximately similar way.)

And I learned …

I began to learn new things just from the cover, which featured a montage of people and ships that were obviously based on the shows depicted on the album … but weren’t. That wasn’t Luke and Leia. (‘Luke’ is more like a bizarre Luke/Han hybrid.) That ship might be based on a Federation design but it’s not the Enterprise. There’s a space station which may or may not be the one from 2001, except that it seems to have part of a third ring which somehow gets lost.

And there was a fairly straightforward rendition of Jane Fonda as Barbarella, which no 13 year old boy was ever going to complain about.

So, I learned that artists can have fun riffing off other artist’s work. I’m sure all the rights were paid – no one was getting ripped off – but why confirm mindlessly to what is when you have your own idea of what could be?

I also learned a few things from the track list, like the very existence of Things to Come, the aforesaid Barbarella, and Quatermass. I decided I would seek these things out and find out more, and am glad I did.

And then there was the music, which brings me back to the first point – artists having fun by being inspired. The title track is a straight orchestral rendition of the Star Wars theme, and as that was what I bought it for, I can’t really complain. Other straight orchestral pieces are Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War”, a thankfully abridged version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and the theme to Things to Come. But the rest … Different versions of Star Trek and Thunderbirds and U.F.O. and Space: 1999 and … and … With everything from orchestra to sax to 1970s wacka-wacka electric guitar, sometimes in the same track (and something else I didn’t know and could not have appreciated at the time: the legendary Herbie Flowers on bass. I didn’t know that bass existed, though could probably have worked out that something must be making those deep notes).

And, what the hell was Princess Leia’s theme, I wondered? I only knew the title music: I didn’t recognise any others. But the next time I watched Star Wars, now that I knew of its existence, I was able to pick it out of the background music. Since then I’ve learned to listen to what is going on as well as watch it, and that has helped me enjoy movies on a different level to simple childlike reception.

And an extremely boppy version of Doctor Who, which at first irritated the hell out of me because I accepted no substitutes. But, you know, it grew on me … And I had no idea there would come a time when I would look back on it and wish we could have that one instead of the Bontempi drek that assaulted us during the 80s. Again, artists having fun, coming up with new ideas, fresh expressions, and why not?

Don’t take my word for it.

Soon after this Geoff Love bandwagoned his way onto the other big craze of the late 70s, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Other Disco Galactic Themes. This has been tacked onto the end of the first album in the Amazon download, so if you buy the first one you get this free. This one is … differently good.

Geoff Love's Close EncountersNo longer Geoff Love and his orchestra, note: we’re onto Geoff Love and His Big Disco Sound. Disco-tastic versions of the CE3K theme (which I will grudgingly admit actually improved on the original tune by having one) and other sf classics such as, um, Logan’s Run, The Omega Man and Flight Fantastic, whatever the hell that was last one is. Apart from the title track, the only one worth the admission price is the discoed version of Blake’s 7, which at least justifies the inclusion of a four-armed Liberator-alike on the cover. But you do rather get the idea they were running out of ideas.

And so my last lesson, which I really wish Geoff had learned too, was: quit while you’re ahead.

Because I can, I will leave you with the Geoff Love rendition of Blake’s 7.

Travesty! When you lose control and you got no soul, it’s travesty!

brigThe following contains spoilers for the “Death in Heaven” Doctor Who episode, and before anyone says anything, YES I KNOW IT’S NOT REAL.


Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was a childhood hero. His character, intended as a one-off in Troughton’s days, had already been popular enough to be dusted off for a second Troughton outing, and then came back again to provide the sole continuity between Troughton and Pertwee Who. Nicholas Courtney played him as courteous, friendly, intelligent, brave, honest, a very good soldier, and fundamentally decent. In fact, as TV father figures go, he was more accessible than the Doctor, being strictly human and of our time. I think part of his popularity was that, like Sarah Jane Smith, you always got the impression that the character was an extension of an equally likeable-in-real-life actor, and like Sarah Jane Smith, I was actually sorry to hear the actor in question had died.

Giving the Brig a daughter to take his place in latterday NuWho was a clever stroke, and Jemma Redgrave convincingly plays the part of a woman who might actually have been brought up by that particular man. She filled a Brigadier-shaped hole in the series.

And that is why it is so unconscionable that they turned him into a cyberman.


And not even handled with any kind of sensitivity, or a way that respects me as a viewer who has tuned in for entertainment, expecting my intelligence to be engaged with and by the plot. It wasn’t “Ooh, this will be a good plot twist”, it was “Wevs, let’s throw in the kitchen sink and make the fans gasp, ‘cos that’s what they do.”

When Jean-Luc Picard was turned into a Borg – back in the days when such procedures weren’t as easily reversible as changing your socks – fandom was riveted to see what would happen next. If there had been a Troughton/Pertwee/Baker era plotline where the Brig met a similar fate, I’m sure it would have had the same effect.

But, this? A 30-second knock-off to justify an utterly disposable line earlier in the episode? If there wasn’t a dry eye in the house it was only because they were tears of rage.

Until yesterday my lasting memory of the Brigadier was of him in a green pullover, lips curled wryly, moustache bristling, probably a pair of binos round his neck, hands on his hips, barking orders like “chap with wings, five rounds rapid”. He was the immovable object that any alien invasion had to get through; and we, the viewers, knew the aliens never would in a million years.

Now, my lasting memory will be of him as a soulless cyborg, a fate that is like re-animating Nelson and conscripting him into the French navy.

How dare they do that to my hero? How dare they?