I love Gmail. For mostly practical reasons; it has a wonderful user interface, seams nicely with other tools I use all the time, like Google Docs, Maps, and Calendar, and an excellent search feature which means that I can always, in a matter of seconds, find any old e-mail, no matter how old or obscure its content.
I remember that, when Gmail started, one of the big worries about it was Google’s automated search algorithm. Just like, when you enter ‘XBox 360’ in Google’s search engine, you’ll get websites about the XBox 360 in the center, and purchased ads for places you can buy an XBox 360 on the right side of the page, when you send or receive mail through Gmail, Google’s servers will scan your e-mail for buzzwords and give you ads on the side and top of the page that it thinks might relate to the topics you’re e-mailing about. People were very concerned about the fact that Google is “reading” every piece of mail you send and receive, although, in practice, no person ever sees the content of your e-mail, just an automated computer program, which promptly throws the information away once it’s done analyzing it.
In a recent conversation thread, a friend and I were discussing the ins and outs of oatmeal. As with many questions culinary, my authority on the subject is Alton Brown, who, of course, did a whole show dedicated to oatmeal. Ever since then, whenever I have the forethought to think of it ahead of time, when I want oatmeal, I prepare his Overnight Oatmeal Recipe. It’s a sublime creation, thick and gooey and chewy and fabulous; Faithful Readers who have been on ski trips with me have probably had it once or twice, and its praises are invariably sung at every turn.
Somehow, Google interpreted our conversation about the finer points of haute cuisine oatmeal (if there is such a thing) to mean that I would be interested in hearing more about SMORSTiX, which are 30″ white birch branches that you order in the mail and then take on your camping trip with you, because “finding the perfect marshmallow roasting stix isn’t always easy or safe. Very often, sticks are scarce, dirty, too short, in a patch of poison ivy, or in a thorny briar patch. Campers often trample underbrush and damage trees and forests in their search.” And at the low low price of only $8.50 (plus $5 shipping and handling), in this difficult economy, who can afford not to purchase these fine products?
I love that lower case ‘i’ in the name, by the way. Gives the whole thing a whole ‘Really! This isn’t a product being sold by the same people who brought you your long-lost Nigerian minister cousin, who just needs your bank account number to shuttle some funds out of the country!’ vibe. Good stuff.
Here’s an idea, for any readers who are, for some exceedingly unlikely reason, considering purchasing these fine American goods: pick up some sticks in your back yard. Or the neighborhood park. Or on the hike to the campsite. Wash them. Voila! Home-made SMORSTiX, and I just saved you over a dollar! Don’t thank me, please; just doing my job here…