REPOST: A Clockwork Orange
REPOST: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

REPOST: You've Got Psot

Yeah, like a picture of some email's gonna make you read this... Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 01/05/1999.

Back then, the article was actually entitled You've Got Post. Famously, this led to a dubious company called MPC Trust threatening to shut me down four years later. Don't worry, nothing came of it. See the Postscript at the tail end of the page for full details.

Aside from that, we have the minor issue that a nine-year-old piece about internet mailing lists probably isn't as relevant as it used to be. But you may be surprised as to just how many of these lists are still going...

If Spank The Monkey (the web site, not the australopithecine) was a Seventies children's TV show, it would be Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Internet Connection And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead. Generally, the only acknowledgement I've made of the rest of the Net is the collection of links at the end of each review, to allow you to get further information. But hey, I surf around looking for unusual stuff as much as anyone else, so every so often I'll point you in the direction of some locations that I've found useful.

Not too long ago, everyone was talking about Push Technology: rather than the user navigating the Web to find the information they want, they'd have it sent to them automatically, possibly via those Channels that Internet Explorer 4 lumbered you with when you first installed it. It didn't take too long for everyone to realise what a bunch of arse Channels were (do you know anybody who hasn't got them disabled?), and Internet Explorer 5 dropped the idea fairly quickly. But one simple, primitive form of push technology is still going strong: the mailing list. Register your interest in a topic, and watch as emails relating to it are sent to you on a regular basis, for you to read at your leisure.

If you still feel that sexy pang of excitement when your mail program tells you a message has arrived, then this list of addresses probably constitutes self-abuse: each of them will send you an email at intervals between once a day and once a month. (Mailing lists do exist which will send you stuff even more frequently: these function a bit more like Usenet newsgroups, except every message posted is mailed to all subscribers rather than being held on a server. There's a risk that you'll end up having to download dozens of messages a day, many of which you may have no interest in whatsoever. I've avoided these in this review, but check out the mailing lists for subversive funny people Chris Morris [hijacked link] and Mark Thomas [dead link] as an example: in both cases they hold an archive of messages, so you can get a feel for how heavy the mail traffic will be.)

So here's my top ten list for guaranteed red-hot Inbox Action.

Film Threat Film Threat Weekly
Film Threat used to be a rather neat magazine that focussed primarily on the low-budget, independent end of the American film industry. It survived for a few years (despite the inevitable cries of  "sellout" when they started printing their covers in colour), but eventually went under as these things do. However, just before the death of the hard copy magazine, they started experimenting with a web site, and from there Film Threat eventually evolved into Film Threat Weekly, an email newsletter sent out every Monday morning (plus the odd special issue, such as the sample shown here which came out the morning after the 1998 Oscars). It still concentrates mainly on indie cinema, but also reviews the new mainstream releases as they hit American cinemas, and gives you details of the top ten grossers from the weekend just gone. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: Film Threat is still going strong. Visit their website and subscribe to their mailout.]

Yahoo! Yahoo! Picks Of The Week
I shouldn't really be recommending anything by Yahoo! at all. Most of the other search engines were quite happy to accept this site for inclusion: in fact, if you search for Spank The Monkey in meta-engines such as MetaCrawler and SavvySearch, this site comes out surprisingly highly. (Of course, all sorts of other stuff comes out as well, and I'll be writing about some of that in the near future.) Yahoo!, on the other hand, have ignored all my requests to be included in their index for almost a year now. However, their weekly roundup of sites to visit (generally going out Monday or Tuesday) is still a useful thing to have. It's primarily focussed on the commercial end of the web rather than pages maintained by real people (no, of course I'm not bitter), and also has a list of web broadcasts and chat sessions planned for the next seven days. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: after a couple of years, Yahoo! gave up on the idea of a Picks mail and just put them up on the site. As of January 1st 2008, they're no longer even doing that.]

UCI UCI Cinemail
If you've got a UCI multiplex cinema near to you, but can't be bothered looking up showtimes in your local paper or on Teletext, then this is the one for you. Details of program times for all their cinemas are displayed on the web site, and if you ask them nicely they'll mail you the showtimes for your local cinema in good time for the programme change on Friday. (They've had a few technical problems in the past, but if you complain about failures in the service they'll normally sort them out quite quickly.) {Sample mail}

[2008 update: the UCI cinema chain was devoured by Odeon in 2004. Happily, Odeon still allow you to subscribe to a weekly programme email for the cinema(s) of your choice.]

Dotmusic Dotmusic Charts
As with UCI Cinemail, an excuse to avoid ploughing through Teletext: in this case page 565 on BBC2, which runs the UK singles and albums charts. Dotmusic will send you the top 20 charts as soon as they're announced on Sunday evening. The web site has additional commentary by James Masterton, Real Audio samples of some of the songs, general music news and even the opportunity to buy records online. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: Dotmusic was taken over by Yahoo! Music UK. They still provide the charts and commentary on the site, but don't send them out by email any more.]

The Fiver The Fiver
The Guardian's web site, Guardian Unlimited, was launched in a fairly high-profile fashion at the start of 1999: however, they'd been sneakily piloting bits of it for some time beforehand. As is documented elsewhere on this site, their official 1998 London Film Festival homepage was a trial run for their movie site, Film Unlimited. Similarly, they used the 1998 World Cup as an excuse to ramp up the Football Unlimited site, and included the Fiver as an integral part of it. A daily round-up of football news theoretically sent out at 5pm every weekday, its initial aim was to get reports of the afternoon World Cup matches on your desk before you went home from the office. Since then, it's become a general football news resource, with an amusingly snotty attitude to the politics of the game. It's had a few technical problems: strictly speaking it should be named the Quarter To Sixer as it never quite arrives at the advertised time, and there was a splendid incident some months ago where a reader's anguished cancellation mail ("unsubscribe UNSUBSCRIBE Just Fuck Off") was accidentally forwarded to every user on the list. But if you're in the mood for a daily, less funny version of When Saturday Comes, give it a go. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: still going, and still using many of the same jokes. Subscribe from the Fiver site.]

Warren Ellis From The Desk Of Warren Ellis
Regular readers of the comics sections of this site should know Warren Ellis by now, as he's one of the great triumvirate of hot British comics writers celebrated here. But whereas Garth Ennis eschews any modern technology more complex than the beer can widget, and Grant Morrison leaves the Internet to his intelligent fan base, the writer of Transmetropolitan has embraced the Information Superhighway to the extent of having his own domain, The web site contains lots of news on his forthcoming projects, scandalous gossip about the comics industry, and anything else that comes into his head. From The Desk Of Warren Ellis is a once-a-month-or-thereabouts email that does the same thing in miniature. It's especially interesting for fans as he sometimes uses it to preview forthcoming stories, or - as is the case in the sample here - gives us an insight into the creative process by showing us story proposals that never quite got off the ground. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: Warren's mailing list is now called Bad Signal, reflecting how frequently he's sending it from locations other than his desk - typically, it comes from the pub table where he does a lot of his work. Go to his website and follow the link for Bad Signal to subscribe.]

Need To Know Need To Know
"*The* weekly high-tech sarcastic update for the UK", they say in the header, and you can't say fairer than that. NTK is assembled by a bunch of reprobates who used to work for Wired UK, and sent out every Friday when they come back from lunch at the pub. It's a splendid combination of Net-related news with a radical edge (they're quite hot on Internet privacy issues and so on), links to useful or bizarre stuff on the Web, brutally short movie reviews primarily based on their Internet Movie Database keyword summaries (The Big Lebowski was described as "comedy / crime / mystery / thriller / rug / porn-makers / wheelchair / paraplegic / hippies / police-brutality / paedophilia / dreams / bowling / kidnapping / nihilism / artist / vietnam"), and the odd gratuitous insult ("Blondie now fronted by Madge from Neighbours"). {Sample mail}

[2008 update: the archive sidebar on the NTK website tells it all. Over the years, its tagline changed to "*the* week^H^H^H^Hnow-monthly tech update for the uk", and by the summer of 2006 they couldn't even manage that level of output. There hasn't been an update since January 8th 2007, when they claimed they were "on more of an extended hiatus than we previously anticipated..."]

New Comics Release List New Comics Release List
If you've got no interest in comics, this is no bloody use to you at all. But for those of us who want to see when Preacher, The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan are coming out without the hassle of having to visit your comics shop once a week, this is very useful indeed. The list is updated on a frequent basis on the web page, and the final list of the week's new releases is mailed out on Tuesdays, in good time before the books actually hit the shelves on Wednesday in the US and Thursday in the UK. It's fascinating to see all the dodgy porno stuff that's published in the States but never quite makes it over to British comic shops, such as the comic with my favourite title of all time, Xxxenophile: Tales Of One-Fisted Adventure. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: the location of the website and the subscription instructions may have changed, but Charles S. LePage's service is still as excellent as ever.]

TechWeb News Techweb News
I don't do this for a living, you know. I have a moderately responsible job in the computer industry during the day. And when I'm sitting at my desk at 9.05am scratching my bum, drinking my first coffee of the morning and trying to work out what the hell I'm doing, I like to read Techweb News. It's a handy daily update of all the computer-related news you're likely to need, consisting primarily of a series of headlines with links to the full story on the web site, and one editorial piece printed in full. It's sent to you five times more frequently than the traditional trade papers, and without the inconvenience of the job ads that clutter up the paper versions. Which we computer industry types never read, no siree. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: it's not as relevant to the work I do nowadays, so I haven't looked at Techweb for a couple of years. But it looks like the site and its email newsletters are still available.]

Posttop5 Top Five Lists
It's a well-documented phenomenon that the Chinese tend to retitle Hollywood movies haphazardly, generally eschewing a literal translation of the title in favour of a brief plot summary, explicit or otherwise. A story in the New York Times in November 1998 noted how There's Something About Mary was playing in China under the title Enjoy Yourself In The Game Of Love. This not being a terribly interesting news story in its own right, it was backed up by a list of even more bizarre renamings from recent years. Babe was retitled The Happy Dumpling-To-Be That Talks And Solves Agricultural Problems. Leaving Las Vegas came out as I'm Drunk And You're A Prostitute. And Batman And Robin became Come To My Cave And Wear This Rubber Codpiece, Cute Boy. This story was taken up by newspapers and magazines all over the world: in the UK it was reprinted in the Guardian supplement The Editor, and Emma Norman quoted the Babe title in her review of the film in the Christmas Radio Times. Just one problem... it's all made up. The reporter had found all these titles on the net on the Top Five Lists site, where a small team of hand-picked funny people produce a Letterman-style humorous list every day which is mailed out to anyone who's interested. The list in question was actually published in August 1997, and has been causing havoc all over the world since: see their homepage for a full chronology. The lists sent out each day can be patchy, but the hit to miss ratio is high enough to make subscription worthwhile. {Sample mail}

[2008 update: Top Five Lists now offer subscriptions to two separate emails - a free one with edited highlights of the daily list, and a paid version for $25 a year that has the whole list and bonus material. Cheapskates can still read the full list on the website.]

So there you go. Subscribe to all of those, and within a week your mailbox will be full to bursting. And within a month you'll be fed up of them all so much you'll be sending out "unsubscribe UNSUBSCRIBE Just Fuck Off" messages to make it empty again. Just bear in mind that I'm not the person you send them to. Being a monkey, and all.


(from the letters page on the old site)

Jennifer Monroe, Associate Director, MPC Trust, 17/10/2003
[sent to my webhosts, who subsequently forwarded it to me - Spank]

Dear sir,

We have noticed that despite several attempts to encourage your user "[Spank The Monkey]" to cease his use of our trademark "You've Got Post" on at least two html pages published to your network, the infringement continues. 

In fact, MPC Trust has owned and operated "You've Got Post!" since 30 January 1999.  We have developed an outstanding list of users, and honed our brand through patience and appropriate reactions to the market in which we operate. However, continued unauthorised use by your user "[Spank The Monkey]" cannot be tolerated.

We have attempted to contact your user several times.  We have written emails which have gone unanswered.  In response to one of our emails, your client published the following: "All original content (c) Spank The Monkey 1998-2003. All other copyright material is used here without permission for review purposes only. Any attempt to sue me for its use will result in pictures of you having sex with a dog being circulated across the Internet. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Murdoch. Don't push me."

Therefore, we request that you require your user "[Spank The Monkey]" to remove all references to our trademark without further notice.  In the event that your user does not immediately remove the offending content, we will instruct a UK solicitor to pursue a claim of trademark infringement without further notice. Unless your firm takes the appropriate action against your user, you may also be held liable for damages resulting from the continued infringement of our trademark.

I really wasn't sure how to respond to this initially, for a number of reasons:

  1. The general impression I've got from several people (notably my legal advisor Mr Fischer) is that the key issue here is if my use of the trademark can be construed as some sort of passing-off - that is, if a casual visitor could somehow mistake my site for MPC Trust's, because of our shared usage of the phrase "You've Got Post". MPC use it as the name of a webmail service: I used it as the title of an article about internet mailing lists. You'd have to be heavily concussed to mix the two up.
  2. "We have attempted to contact your user several times.  We have written emails which have gone unanswered." - well, that's a lie, as far as I can make out. I haven't heard anything from MPC Trust at all prior to this letter (which, as I've said, wasn't sent to me anyway).
  3. "In response to one of our emails, your client published the following..." - well, that's an even bigger lie, and one which can be proven as such. The watertight 'sex with a dog' legal disclaimer on my front page was not written in response to one of MPC's non-existent emails: in fact, archive copies of the page on the Internet Archive site show that this exact wording has been in use since September 2000.
  4. When I wrote the article back in May 1999, I wasn't aware that "You've Got Post" was a trademark of MPC Trust. I was, however, aware of its use by AOL UK, which is why I used it as the title: it's the British equivalent of their world-famous "You've Got Mail", and is spoken by no less than Joanna Lumley whenever email arrives at a British AOL account. As they've been using it since at least 1997, I'd assume that they've got a stronger claim to the phrase. Perhaps Jennifer might want to consider suing AOL instead.
  5. Mind you, at the time of writing MPC still hadn't got around to completing registration of the trademark, so perhaps she might not.

But anyway, it's quite worrying to get a mail like this, so I couldn't decide whether to comply with its demands or not. And then I did a little research on MPC Trust: and I found that as well as webmail services, they're also pretty heavily involved with the porn site market. Jennifer herself was involved in a legal tangle only a few months ago, in which (as reported by MPC's own news site) she accused a Greek ISP of stealing bandwidth out of the mouths of honest whoremongers.

That helped clarify my response, of course. The Spank The Monkey brand has been carefully built over a period of more than five years, and obviously there's a risk that any perceived link with pornographers will tarnish the reputation of that brand. I'm therefore happy to make changes to the pages in question, so as to avoid damage to my good name from association with MPC's one-handed websites. Naturally, I have considered the possibility of seeking reparations from Jennifer and MPC Trust for the damage that this association may have already caused, but I've decided against it. I'm happy for now just to be comfortable knowing that I have the moral high ground, and also knowing that come the day of judgment MPC Trust will be swept away in the Lord's cleansing fire.

[Post-Postscript - more accurately, it was the Lord's cleansing earthquakes that did for them...]


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