No, not how to beat spam, Beat spam.
I’ve been noticing, after a large clearout of the old spam comments folder, a marked increase in the quality of the junk coming in. A large amount at the moment seems to be created by throwing together short phrases of random dictionary words, obviously in an attempt to circumvent analysis. What’s nice is that, while there’s an infinitessimal chance of creating real meaning this way, the word patterns produced often take on the cadences of real English, producing a pleasant illusion of literal meaning in the obvious gibberish.
To be honest, it makes me think of a lot of the incandescently incomprehensible poetry I encountered around university arts departments when I was in the USA. Like listening to beat poets ranting from behind a closed door: it sounds as though it probably makes sense, though you’d be hard pushed to say what it is.
I call this one ‘Increase your performance’:
Mint fiat bakery as oaks
Hopefully list interconnecting tremor potting
Scribbled saucepan crutch Catholicism
Weight opened, humiliated wariness.
[goes on for another 12 stanzas]
Comment spam is getting interesting again. I’ve been receiving some lovely comments from, among others, Bob Dylan, Stewart Granger, Harry Houdini and Erich Weiss (hm…), Charles Dodgson and Eric Clapton, all of whom seem to have developed a late interest in MP3 files. My favourite must be this from a novelist who knew all about publishing under assumed names, George Eliot:
I used to use a program called Cool Edit to do this kind of work as well as other audio editing things. I’m not even sure if it’s around anymore. This was a long time ago.
If Our George was using it, it surely must have been a venerable piece of software.
The barrage of electronic debris seems now to be coming on three fronts.
First, of course, there’s your common or garden spam. I don’t think I’m imagining that it’s on the rise again.
Second, there is that bane of the blogger, comment spam. Well, all I can see is three cheers for Wordpress, and for Kitten’s Spam Words and Spaminator, which seem to be doing mighty work for me.
Now I’m seeing a lot more phishing: spam that purports to be from Paypal, Amazon, your bank or, hey, any bank at all. Here Gmail has one of very many nice touches. It doesn’t delete emails that look like phishing attempts, but it stripes a big message across the top saying it’s probably a con. This doesn’t really make a difference if you’ve seen the same attempt ten times in the last week, but it might just save you that all-important first time.
Tonight I saw one example of the craft that sadly gave itself away. Allegedly from PayPal, it went through the usual scare ploy of insinuating suspicious activity on your account (without giving the account number, of course), then laid down the law:
However, failure to restore your records will result in account suspension.
Please update your records on or before February 30, 2005.
Some administrative points of note:
My, Wordpress is being easy to run. It needs PHP 4.1+ and MySQL 3.23.23+, but if you’ve got those it’s a snap. It’s also hilariously easy to install and administer plugins, which for me at least so often caused problems in Movable Type.
This means that finding and installing the necessary anti-spam plugins took me about 10 minutes, rather than the day or two of fiddling, troubleshooting and rolling back that MT always needed. That was a heavy burden because I don’t have the time for those fun and games (or more precisely, my fun and games don’t leave time for that), particularly as the last version of MT was in the end a sorry sufferer of comment spam overload:
In fact, we have found that there is a fairly major bug (in terms of effect, but not code size) which causes page rebuilding even in the case of a comment submission which would be moderated and hence should have no effect on the live page. This means that even if you are using comment moderation in Movable Type and even force moderation in MT-Blacklist, your server load is impacted just as if a comment had been posted to the live site. This bug has been fixed in development.
(Jay Allen, Six Apart)
For me, it got so bad across Rogue Semiotics and The Deep North that my host disabled the scripts. They were eating up too much CPU time.
I see that the latest version of MT (3.14) is aimed squarely at addressing this problem. Too late. I’ve switched, and I’m happy enough with WordPress to stay switched.
I haven’t yet bothered to do anything to the default template for this site. When I first started this, the template was of course the very first thing I monkeyed about with. Now, a couple of years down the line, I realise that it is by far the least important thing. I’ll prettify when I have some free time; maybe even this weekend.
I’ll also add back in the sidebar, which is a just a listing out of my del.icio.us bookmarks.
Also this weekend, I’ll finally get round to posting the patiently awaited Decent People first XI. Thank you Jacky for the prompt.
Two comments on this.
First, it looks as though it will be an XI. Any hold-out hopes of a rugby team of either code look short of the mark.
Second, Professor Greer’s latest stunt has placed a serious question mark over her prior status as one of the first names on the team sheet. Any advice on this matter is welcome before the final team selection (set for the traditional matchday timing of Saturday afternoon).
Well, I’ve retrieved the commenting function. Just in time.
Andy offers Neil Gaiman, the late Brian Johnson and Sir George Martin to the shortlist of decent people (see post below for full criteria). George Martin is a particulary good call, I think.
This is really one for the A-list bloggers, but it strikes me that the rather wonderful del.icio.us provides a rough & ready reckoner of that all important position on the power curve.
Method: When you post a bookmark on del.icio.us, note the number of users who have also bookmarked that URL. This is your number, x. Two days later, check that bookmark again in del.icio.us. Divide x by the number of users now bookmarking the URL. Average over a large number of bookmarks. The result is a number between 0 and 1 that represents your place on the power curve.
The experiment with requiring approval on comments is over. Fine idea in principle; in execution, rubbish.
In sum, the idea was:
1) Comments would require approval by me before appearing on the site
2) This would discourage spam but not real commenters
3) That’s it
The reality was:
1) I got just as much spam as usual (though now, huzzah!, I can delete it much more easily)
2) I got complaints that people couldn’t comment on the site
3) Some comments seemed to go missing
The control was simply not worth the pain, so comment away secure in the knowledge that you won’t have to wait days* for me to approve your bon mots.
Sometimes you have to refresh to see the commment, but it is there, I promise.
* Now that my home PC has died, this would be quite true over, for instance, this weekend.
The ever-perverse New Scientist this week carries an article on how people who keep a diary are more unhappy than those who don’t.
If only we knew if this was because they keep a diary, or rather, they keep a diary because they are unhappy.
I, who never kept a diary in my life, seem to have acquired this ersatz diarissimo. Ardent readers will have noticed that I’m not inclined to use it to discuss my personal life (as in what I’m up to and where I’m going), although I do talk about my inner life (as in what I’m thinking about). This, aside from being a hilariously male behaviour, is largely to do with exposure of the soul to the shadow world that is the online community. It’s not that I don’t trust you, dear reader, it’s that I don’t trust the reader over your metaphorical shoulder.
Now, this behaviour in itself might be seen as unhealthy, but I wonder if it isn’t qualitatively different from the sort of late night diary-scrawling which the NS regards as damaging.
I never thought blogs were diaries. That’s probably what makes this one not a diary.
So the upgrade to Movable Type 3.1 only took 6 days to complete (including an unexpected upgrade to MT 3.11 in the middle of that). Things have been working (slowly, without templates) for a couple of days, but this afternoon, a couple of hours after I’d last toyed with the thing, it all clicked into place.
You won’t have noticed the pain going on in the background except by the absence of things happening in the foreground. I can only offer that I was spending so much time mucking out the stables every day (thanks spammers! I love you too!) that I was having an ever-decreasing amount of my time left to do anything creative.
I came very close to closing Rogue Semiotics for these - entirely wrong - reasons. Instead we persist and, with luck, I can now turn back to using this thing for the purposes it was created (which I have, I admit, yet to discover).
One administrative point to note: I am currently insisting on comment approval. This means that your comment, should you choose to leave one, will not appear until I approve it. I will approve all non-spam comments. This will continue until I implement further anti-spam measures or I get bored. Sadly I doubt the spammers will get bored before me.
We thought it would be fun to upgrade to the shiny new version of Movable Type.
So much fun that we haven’t been able to tear ourselves completely away from it just yet.
I reckon a very few more hours tweaking the installation and configuration should get things almost back to something approaching normal. Or, at least, stable.
This amusement is also inevitably affecting The Deep North, for which my apologies all round.
One curiosity I’ve noticed recently about running Rogue Semiotics is that activity doesn’t necessarily equate to visible activity.
There are several reasons for this. One is that, for reasons of family illness, I’ve been careering about the place rather more than usual. Thanks to the friends and shadow-acquaintances alike who have sent kind messages to me about this. They were all appreciated.
Another reason is that I’ve been spending a great deal of time fighting off the spam commenters. I reckon I must have deleted over a thousand comments in the last few weeks. So many, in fact, that I was finding that I was spending much more time maintaining the blog than writing it. Coupled with only brief snatches of available time, I was simply firefighting a fairly constant barrage of largely obscene spam, a nasty and tedious task with which most of us have had to come to terms. I won’t say that it put me off blogging, but it meant that every time I logged in there was a tiresome admin task to complete before I could even think about writing something.
Finally I got a chance to address the issue properly and, thanks to Yoz Grahame’s tips, I’ve made some changes that seem to have made a huge difference.
Ah, I can breathe again.
The third thing that has most definitely affected my blogging habits is the linkblog on the right there. You’ll find a lot of commentary being made about how the arrival of the del.icio.us bookmarking service has produced a throwback to the primordial state of blogging - link and comment. It’s largely true. The linkblog fills up with the ephemera, the passing fancies, the ‘oh look’ comments. It works like a motion tracker of our gaze as it wanders across the web (particularly since Kevan wrote his lovely extisp.icio.us visualisation tool for it).
It also means that I post fewer fleeting comments to the main blog, both because it’s so easy to post to the linkblog (click, write one line, click) and because it renders superfluous the making of superfluous comments just to justify what was, in essence, just a link to something interesting.
I hope, I really hope, that now that things have calmed down a bit for me, the number of proper posts to the blog will return to something a bit more like normal. But also perhaps ‘normal service’ will look a little different. It may be the wind has changed direction a little, and I’m just bending my body to meet it at a slightly different angle.
Charming spam comment I’ve just deleted from this site:
“I love [useless product], even though I’ve no idea what it is. And this sentence is just filler”.
When I was a student, my rubbish summer jobs generally involved going door to door (delivering letters, free bottles of water, anything). I’m now imagining impecunious students chained to PCs for days on end, belting out 500 spam comments an hour. I think I’ve just found the cause of the national obesity epidemic.
One of the many delights of hosting The Deep North is that I get to see some of the search strings that bring users to that account of life in the further stretches of the country. Unfortunately, I can’t disentangle theirs from mine, but I’ve had a guess. I think the list tells you a great deal about the whole houseful up there. See what you think
The Deep North
- baroque angels
- basil rathbone at usk
- chinese wallpaper
- cryptographers clues
(we never did satisfactorily put the Ravilious question to bed, did we?)
- geordie story moses
- kierkegaard ingmar bergman
- landrover advertisments
Compare, if you will to a sample list I believe to be from Rogue Semiotics:
- chesterfield sofa
- hypnerotomachia poliphili
(actually, this could be from either)
- how to write a sports article
- lee jackson’s victorian london
- forgotten things
- jokes about recycling
There only remains one puzzle. Are there any jokes about recycling?
I thought I’d better get on with putting a sideblog up before everyone else (including, I fear, the more competent and inquisitive of my cats) does so, gets bored of it, and yawns widely (the cat is particularly good at this bit).
So, the sidebar on the right is produced using the user-friendly combination of the elegant (in function if not name) del.icio.us and Feedroll. These, which took me half an hour to set up, populate, style and integrate into the blog, enable proper one-click posting: from any page, I can click a bookmark on my browser, fill in a description (if I want), assign keywords, and publish.
OK, that’s at least two clicks, but there’s no denying that it’s quick and painless.
Now I have only to ask: why?
Certainly you can use Feedroll to perform proper syndicated news publishing (as in this Greenpeace news feed. But why publish your own bookmarks?
There’s something rather benign and communal in this concept (and with Kinja too), something that is also tied up with that feeling among many web people that publishing (i.e. going public with things, even your own work) is unequivocally a good thing. There is, I think, a parallel with the way in which Open Source software is seen by many to be simply (morally, legally, technically, ideologically) a good thing.
The communal aspect of publishing bookmarks is this: it may be that it’s a good thing for you (it forces you to order your thoughts, think things through, be honest), but more than anything else it’s good for those around you. Publishing your bookmarks may be of interest to friends and to those with whom you closely share interests. More deeply, it gives power to those in the community who can sample the activity of everyone publishing to see what’s going on, and to offer previously unsuspected links (between things, between people) based on what you’ve published.
I said that there’s a parallel with Open Source software. Publishing these bookmarks is on a superficial level a kind of Open Brain project. It’s about sharing, in a small way, your synaptic resources for the good of the group, whether you choose to call that the hive mind, the Third Mind, the colony, the swarm or (call me old fashioned) the research community.
Normally I wouldn’t have much to say about Tessa Jowell, and quite rightly. Today, I feel shamed into raising my attention levels on the dear girl’s activities. She is, you know, the member of parliament elected to represent Dulwich and West Norwood, where I live.
In other words, she works for me.
This piece of brutally open democracy comes to us courtesy of the same folks responsible for Downing Street Says (which I mentioned before).
The glory of the thing is that I have just plugged Tessa’s RSS feed into my Kinja account, and now I’ll be updated every time she tells some transparent porky about how much the government loves the arts.
Ah, that was interesting.
Next time I’ll try not to have my site hosting renewal period coincide with a manic period of work, followed immediately by a month of leaping around on holiday. I was as surprised as you were to come back and find the entire rereviewed domain offline.
Unfortunately, this put The Deep North on unexpected hiatus as well. My utter apologies to Peter and Jane, who no doubt guessed from the fact that I was busy sending jokey postcards about pirates from the Mediterranean that I had no idea what was going on.
And my apologies to you; if you missed the journal, or even noticed its absence, that’s sweet of you. Rest assured things are as normal.
In fact, better. The interminable project is finally (virtually) complete. Holidays bracing and relaxing respectively have been had in the pirate country of South West Ireland and the fishing havens of Southern France. Summer glowers down on all of us. I am off to see the excellent Derren Brown on Wednesday night. There are fewer and fewer excuses for not doing useful things.
So, welcome back to you and to me. I wonder what I missed?
I seem not to be doing that thing with links much at the moment, so time to catch up with some of the outside world.
Andy, fresh from provoking mass confessions to distract the Times (and taking paranoid readings in his stride), is in today’s Guardian talking about the pre-election protests in Spain.
While Andy was with the crowds in the middle of a terrible event, the rest of us seem to be getting by with walking amongst the imaginary.
Up in the Deep North it is walking with angels.
Kevan, meanwhile, is walking among zombies, and the things folk are remembering walking in a computer game version of the Barbican. I remember that too (the game, not the zombies).
Me, I’m toying with a basic distinction used for walking in crowds: people with earphones versus people without. The former require more defensive walking, of course. The latter respond politely to a sharp, well-timed, scrape of the shoe just before the overtaking point.
Can you tell I’m one of those aggressively fast walkers? Good.
Sifting through the spam is one of those chores usually done on automatic. But sometimes I stop and wonder exactly which lists I’m appearing on. At the moment I’m receiving shedloads of mail offering to sell me prescription drugs. Why? Am I listed on someone’s website under “obviously needs medication”? If I receive pills for multiple personality disorder through the post, how can I be sure I didn’t order them?
The spam does tend to come in similar batches, so the juxtaposition of two pieces today set me wondering afresh. The first was titled “More fun with my wife”. Hm. My hypothetical alter ego seems to be leading an intriguing life. It turns out that it’s trying to sell me anti-wrinkle cream. I am suitably scandalised.
The next message is offering to subscribe me to “CongressDaily”, a daily email detailing the political heave-ho inside the Washington beltway. I see no connection, and I struggle to imagine what my spam profile says about me.
Elsewhere, and assuredly unrelated, we are receiving reports that up in The Deep North they have finally found a Weapon of Moss Destruction.
I very nearly ignored this blog’s birthday today. I wasn’t looking out for it.
I’m staggered that Rogue Semiotics is a year old. And yet, at the same time, I feel as though I’ve been blogging for ever.
The reality is that, although I don’t post every day, and almost never at weekends, I’ve still racked up some 387 posts over the year. That’s nearly 1.5 per working day. I must be more assiduous than I thought.
I’m certainly not going to produce an anniversary edition or an index, as some Geezers I know would, but I thought I’d quickly revisit twenty of my favourite moments from the year. Please bear with me.
- Syllogisms and dark forces at work on day one
- Meaning of ‘rereviewed’, ignoring the
- The House on the Rock
- Is the brain patterned after nature?
- Ergodic literature
- Our Reasonable Media (one of many similar posts)
- The Visiblog experiment
- My PC has Artificial Intelligence (I’d completely forgotten this, and it made me laugh)
- On the river (about as autobiographical as I get)
- Luggarato (to prove I can be a soppy old dozer, too)
- In which we celebrate the arrival of The Deep North
- Storm over Asia (Tuvan throat-singers Yat-kha perform a live soundtrack to a half-forgotten Soviet film) (for more Tuvan obssessiveness, try this archive)
- Moved to tears by a documentary about flowers
- “It’s easy to forget how much time we straddle”
- Trying (and failing) to watch Tarkovsky
- Roman a clef (took me a while and some proper research, that one)
- My coffee tin
- Sports journalism and nostalgia
- ASYLUM SEEKERS WILL COVER LONDON BY 2005
- A new word for the dictionary
Normal service again after the weekend and, I hope, the test to which I darkly alluded not so long ago.
The great Google-Blogger double-whammy appears to be kicking off.
The new version of the Google toolbar has a ‘Blog This!’ button. The idea is that when you’re on a page you wish to post about, you click the toolbar button and a post is generated with a link to the page in question. If you’ve highlighted text on the page, that is included in the post.
Hmm, hmm, hmm. It only works with Blogger. A shame, if not a surprise, as the idea is sound.
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