Archive for December, 2004

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Spam Comments Again

December 31, 2004

Yesterday I deleted about 300 spam comments from mine and Paige’s blogs. Ten minutes ago I checked again and I have another 250. It’s time to start evaluating more anti-spam techniques.

For those of who don’t know how these guys work, it’s like this. They write automated scripts which go out to thousands of people’s blogs and directly hit the “submit_comment.php” (or similar) part of our blogging software. They bombard it with bogus comments complete with bogus email addresses and bogus remarks. The only thing that’s real about them is the URL they provide – it leads to whatever casino or offshore pharmacy they’re pimping. Even the IP address is false.

But do they really expect people who read the comments here to click on the link and buy viagra while playing texas holdem poker? Not at all. This is the part people usually don’t understand. The comments are there for only one reason. That reason is Google. You see, google has scripts, too. Theirs visit millions of web pages (including the ones making up this blog) and index their content. That’s how you can search for “uncreciprocated fair-mindedness,” for example, and come up with my review of Fahrenheit 9/11. Google knows it’s there because it’s scripts have visited and indexed the contents.

How does this help comment spammers? When you search for “digital cameras,” lets say, google has to decide which web page to give you first and which to give you second and so on. In other words it has to rank them in a effort to give you the result you’ll be the happiest with. So how does google decide which purveyor of digital cameras is top dog? One of the big ways is by knowing how many other web sites are linking to it. The more links to you, the more important you must be and, therefore, the higher on the ranking you go. Vendors who get listed on the top of the first page of returns presumably get a lot of business because of it.

Crazy Jim’s Online Poker Casino may not in fact be the biggest or the best, but it can get to the top of the rankings if enough other web sites are linking to it. But how to get other sites to link to it? That’s where the spam comments come in. They send out scripts, leave bogus comments linking to their site. The google script comes along and goes ‘whoa, there’s a lot of pages here that link to jimscasino.com” and before you know it Jim’s is at the top of the list.

And so for a small gain to themselves, they pee all over our web. I have largely prevented them from visually polluting my web pages, though. I have my blog software catching them via keywords (“casino” and “viagra” etc.). Once caught they go into a moderation queue where I look them over and decide which if any can actually appear on the site. (So if you ever write a comment that legitimately mentions casinos or poker or viagra or hot asian teens, do be aware that your comment will get held for moderation and will not appear on the site right away.) But even though most of the comments never appear, it’s still a pain to have to receive and delete them.

In the time it took for me to write this post I received 12 more spam comments. It’s time to evaluate what other methods for spam control are out there.

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118,000 People

December 30, 2004

118,000 people are dead. I have no commentary that seems adequate to accompany this news. Though there ultimately may be nothing one can say in the face of such a disaster, I feel it would be inappropriate not to acknowledge it at all. Thus, I mark their passing here in the blog.

118,000 people are dead.

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100 Things

December 30, 2004

Have you seen the “first time here” link near the top of the index page? If you haven’t, check it out. It’s an introduction for readers who don’t know me personally. If you have already seen it take another look. I have now expanded it with one of those swell “100 things” lists that people are always doing. Now you can know 100 seemingly random things about me. Lucky you.

So check out my 100 Things

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Merry Podmas

December 26, 2004

We had Angela’s family over for Christmas eve. Gifts were exchanged, good times were had and a fine meal was enjoyed by all. There was some trepidation about this last item, however, as some of Angela’s family are pretty gustatorily sheltered (in fact one or two of them view even Chinese food as intolerably foreign and simply refuse to eat it). In the end Angela and I decided to do something outside of traditional ham- or turkey-based holiday meals. She further decided not to tell anyone else what we were making because she didn’t want to hear any complaining.

When dinner was served – five varieties of quiche – there was a raised eyebrow or two, but every one ate and seemed to enjoy it. Chalk up one large victory for Angela and one small victory for culinary adventurers everywhere.

I do have pictures, but not of the quiches. I was too busy eating them, I guess.

After our guests left we decided to go ahead and open the rest of our gifts for each other. I mean, the kids are a little old to be waiting for Santa Claus and we’ve already established Christmas eve as the time for celebration and gift exchange with the rest of the family. So, in the spirit of Christmas, we decided to forge ahead on our disgusting display of holiday materialism.

Dan got a Lego Mindstorm robot kit. Paige got a mini iPod. Angela and myself each got a 20 gig iPod.

In a way it’s kind of odd that I didn’t already own an iPod; I’m an Apple enthusiast and an iTunes Music Store junkie. What could be more natural? Anyway, so far I love it. It sucked up all 5.8 gigs of my digitized music in about 15 minutes and was only 25% full. That’s over four days worth of music if you play it 24/7. The player is as easy and as pleasant to use as everyone says.

I took iPod on a Christmas day run where it proved to be as motivational as I had hoped. (Yes I have now bought Maynard Ferguson’s Gonna Fly Now, good for you for remembering.)

Equally important, though, is getting the iPod pumping tunes in the car. Of course I know headphones are illegal while driving – I mean to put the music through the car stereo. And this is where my amazing foresight pays a huge dividend. You see, when I bought my aftermarket CD deck for the car I insisted that it have a minijack on the front of it. This way I can simply plug the iPod right into the stereo with a little cable from the headphone jack.

The surprise of the day was how terrific it sounded. One of the issues I’d always had with this stereo is the fact that the darned thing is always so loud. I mean even with the volume on “1” it’s uncomfortable to have a conversation over it. And you would dare not turn it up past 10 or so for fear of blowing the speakers. With the iPod connected and turned up about 50% it’s a whole different story. Suddenly a volume of “1” is whisper quiet and you have to turn it up to 25 to really rock out. This alone would be a very welcome improvement, but eve beyond this the stereo also just sounds better. Cleaner and punchier. (Like I’m a real audiophile that I can describe these things for you.)

So now I can listen to music with headphones. Any of the music I own, whenever I want. And I can take it with me when I exercise. And I can listen to it at work and on the commute. This is, as Martha would put it, a good thing.

But enough about my materialistic overindulgences. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and that you got to spend time with people you love.

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Book Buying

December 23, 2004

New ways of doing things often cast the old ways in a different light. The ability to buy things like books online, for example, has revealed some previously unnoticed limitations of the traditional way of buying them. Have you noticed that your search for the book you want is always easier and more successful online than it is in a real store? On the other hand one misses the charm and ambiance of a physical bookstore; you can’t order a latte at http://www.bn.com.

Here’s an idea. Why can’t I have it both ways? Why can’t I walk into the Barnes & Noble store, walk up to a computer terminal, type in some search terms and have it tell me where in the store the book is. Like with a little map or something. How hard can this be? I hardly need point out that B&N already develops and owns a swell system for doing similar online. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could afford me the convenience of computer-aided searching within their physical store, too?

Next challenge: getting Amazon to deliver me a double espresso with my next book order.

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Winter: Day One

December 22, 2004

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Potter 6 To Be Published July 16, 2005

December 21, 2004

It’s official. The new Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, will be published on July 16th, 2005.

I know what my family and I will be doing every night in the second half of July – reading it aloud to one another, as we have done with the previous five books. There will be shrieks of delight; there will be tense nail-biting; there will be an inordinate number of frozen-pizza dinners.

At least the kids won’t have school, so we’ll be free to stay up late reading it.

In today’s increasingly insane culture war, my family tradition with Harry Potter stands as a shining example of what side I’m on. You see, I first heard about Harry Potter years ago when I saw on the news that there was a movement to have it banned from public schools. I distinctly recall saying at that moment: “we have to get that book.” Not only do I think the objections to these books are totally without merit, I love to point out their role in my family’s wholesome habit of reading together. What they wanted to ban in the name of “family values” turned out to be a terrific and healthy boon to my family. There’s a lesson in that, though I don’t suppose anyone will pay any attention. At least not the people who desperately need to.