Bloggery Madness

Aside

This backend of this blog is continuing its descent into madness. Following on from the problems where no posts would accept tags, this seems to have fixed itself while simultaneously stopping the blog posting anything but the most recent article on the home page. All of this has taken place without user intervention. It seems the glue, velco and staples holding the back end together have finally given up the ghost. Hopefully we will be able to find time this weekend to fix things. Sorry for any weirdness until then and during the “improvements.”

WordPress upgrade mildly broken

Bits keep falling off this blog like so many bits of newspaper escaping from the recycling van cage. (E.g. the Atheist blogroll became landfill months ago, although I see it still works fine on dozens of sites.)

After bowing to WordPress’s nagging requests and upgrading WordPress to version x (I can’t remember) two days ago, I find that I can’t attach tags to posts.

Any ideas?

Bloggery

Come back flatterspam, all is forgiven.

For the past few days, the blog has been getting gibberish comment-spam, in oddly large numbers, almost at DDOS attack levels. (OK, I exaggerate but there were over 380 yesterday, 51 today.) Some of these comment spams are particularly weird, in that even the URLs are gibberish.

It’s not as if the random word generators have generated text in any known human language, that could trick the unwary into clicking on a link to onlinefakemeds.com or whatever. The URLS themselves are also random letter collections, with names like Mr._Mxyzptlk but less meaningful.

Charitably assuming that spammers have not completely taken leave of their senses, I guess that these suidfiojdfolsrkl.comstyle links go to redirects and do eventually take the unwary URL-clicker somewhere. (Obviously, I’m not going to try them out. I’m enough of a sucker for any worm or trojan anyway.)

But still, what is the point? It seems even less likely that people would click on a gibberish link in a mound of gibberish than that they would believe that a complete stranger in Africa would pay them ten percent for the assistance in transferring 64 million dollars.

A few more blog-related odds and ends, now I’m on the subject:

Apologies to anyone who expects to get email alerts about new posts here. This plug-in has just stopped working. We don’t know what happened so we have less than no idea how to change it.

The Atheist blogroll got broken so long ago, it’s almost a distant memory. Again apologies. We threw it away a few months after it got stuck permanently showing last August’s posts of about ten blogroll members. (Or something like that.)

Other things just randomly break anyway. For instance, there was a link to the Convention on Modern Liberty that only lasted a week or so.

Plus, this blog can load so slowly (even on my allegedly very fast connection) that It’s hard to see why anyone bothers waiting for it.

Except for all those visitors who are looking for Schwarzenegger, 5 fruit and veg, funny magic the gathering cards, Bodium castle, fairytale castles, fine art or morris dancing. These are the top search terms that consistently bring people here from Google. Every day.

Now, I am all for giving the public what they want, but there’s only so much that I have to say on any of these topics. So, most of these visitors must leave a little disappointed, to put it mildly.

This blog needs a serious “REDO FROM START.” It should happen soon…..

Spam Avalanche

I am not sure if it was a special event, but for some reason on 04 Feb 2009, this blog was innundated with spam comments.

Now, as any blogger will know blogs get spam comments. We get a fair few of which most (99.85% if you believe Akismet Stats) get caught by the anti-spam. It is, rightly or wrongly, one of the prices you pay for having a blog. It is slightly amusing that around a third of the spam comments are advertising spam-commenting systems but most are tediously repetetive. Every now and then Heather gets it into her head to read, and subsequently rant about, some of them but generally we are happy to ignore them.

However, on Wednesday we were flooded with spam comments. According to Akismet stats (which broadly mirror my recollections), we had 3.5 times as many spam comments as the previous peak (09 Jan 09) and a massive 16 times as many as the average spam comments. We had more spam in that 24 hour period than we’d had in the whole of August and September last year. Fortunately Akismet caught the lot, but it was bizarre. In the time it took to click on “delete all spam now” another 50-odd messages arrived. Equally odd, few were “normal” spam in which something was advertised, most were just strings of random letters and urls pointing to random letter domains. I really have no idea what the spammers hoped to achieve, unless it was an attempt to overwhelm Akismet worldwide…

Anyway, the main point is that the volume of spam meant there was no way we were going to read through it and see if any legit messages had been trapped. In the massively unlikely event that you had a message deleted, this is why.

If anyone knows why 4 Feb was World Spam Day please let me know.

If it ain’t broke

I have tried blogging platforms apart from WordPress and have found them too restrictive or unpleasant to use. I had a few stabs at helping a friend develop a “network of networks” on another platform (N**g) I was reduced to helpless gibbering, as its counter-intuitive interface actually sucked out my previously adequate knoweldge of html and css and replaced them with complete incomprehension. So, I am a diehard fan of WordPress. It doesn’t leave you stupider than before you start using it.

But, the new WordPress upgrade is annoying. For silly things, granted, but it’s still infuriating.

The old admin interface discreetly offered you lots of choices that you could ignore except once every few months. This one puts lots of items (that you don’t care about) in your face, as soon as you login.

Usually, I open this interface to post. For instance, I don’t much care who has linked to the blog, if those links are just spam pingbacks or from sites with a working Atheist Blogroll (which you will no longer find here, for reasons we can’t fathom.) If it’s a real link, I’ll find it anyway. WordPress news doesn’t really interest me much. If I want to read it, I’ll look at the WordPress site. And so on.

When I started using the new interface, there was a confusing Quick Draft window in the top right corner. Confusing because I didn’t know if this was the new Post window. In which case, it feels so cramped that I really don’t want to use it.

It made me wonder – will my drafts be “quick” enough to match some conceptual terms of use? My long drawn out blogging process : finger-pecking characters, writing drafts, rereading, typo-searching, changing my mind, rewriting whole paragraphs only to make them worse – and so on. It ain’t “quick.”

Maybe the interface will give you five minutes and post things, when you don’t expect it. (That happens often enough anyway, by accident.) That would be “quick.” Because, otherwise, it looks as if writing in the Quick Post window might turn out to be slower than using the old-fashioned and more generously-proportioned Post Window.

Faffing about nervously with that little rectangle, I spot Posts – Add New. This mercifully brings me to a window much more like the old one. But it still puts disconcerting things all over the screen.

For instance, “Excerpt”, which tells me that Excerpts are “optional hand-crafted summaries of your content.” So, something like an Abstract, then? It’s hard enough to write an Abstract for an academic piece. Why would anyone want to write an abstract of their blog post? To my recollection, academic Abstracts exist mainly so that hard-pressed post-graduate research students can use them for “I’ve read that”- bluffing purposes. Is anyone going to bluff reading a blog post?

Phew, at least writing an Abstract Excerpt is still “optional.” You won’t lose marks if you don’t bother. But you can “use them in your template.” (Why?) With a “template” link that I choose not to follow, to avoid getting sucked further into a WordPress shadow world, in which a blog exists to make use of WordPress capacities, instead of the other way round.

I love WordPress. It’s brilliant. I am a bit sad that it seems to be about to fall into the canal that separates “useful new features” from “bloatware.”

Function creep means that any software revision has to have lots of extra features, way beyond the point at which they serve any purpose except to distinguish the new version from the one before.

I understand why this has to be so for commercial programs. If Adobe doesn’t convince buyers that the new Photoshop has many more desirable functions than the last version, unemployed software writers will be streaming out of their factory saying “The dream is over,” (like the workforce of the Baby-Get-Well-Cards factory, in the Simpsons episode in which Homer swathed all the Springfield babies in PPE.)

WordPress though? Surely, WordPress is partly a labour of love and partly an opportunity fro shit-hot coders to show their brilliance. In which case, hiding the upgraded stuff in the background and leaving the old-fashioned interface intact would suit me better.

Bless this blog

PCs’ demonic powers are self-evident to anyone who’s had to pay with their own blood for opening a case or for trying to get a cpu fan off its mount. So, it’s no surprise that there are religious ceremonies to propitiate the evil entities that haunt the average PC box. (h/t the Register)

There’s a Shinto shrine where you can get your PC blessed, according to iol.co.za

In high-tech Japan, not only programmers provide protection from viruses and other computer bugs, but also the gods.
At Tokyo’s Kanda-Myojin Shinto shrine, the faithful can bring their computer and have the priests use centuries-old ceremonies to ask the gods for help and protection for their computer, a shrine spokesperson said Friday.

Centuries old? Wow, if they protected 17th century PCs adequately, these are the ceremonies for me.

The site otakuinternational.com has a picture of laptops getting prayed over in the aforementioned Shinto shrine. Sadly, you have to go to Japan. They don’t do it over the internet, although I may have spotted a marketing opportunity there.

Among the traditional charms often found at a Shinto shrine, they offer a very unique one adorned with what looks like circuit boards and chips. You can even find one to bless your blog. I guess there is no such thing as too much protection!

Otakuinternational has a photo of what you need for blog protection.

From otakuinternational site converte dto jpg

From otakuinternational site converted to jpg

This may sound a bit pushy, o great and magic bloglord, but maybe you could see your way clear to sorting out the endless comments delay thing on this blog.

Toutatis knows I’ve poured enough coffee into the keyboard to slake the thirst of an army of vengeful spirits. And I am facing something that could easily be magnetic north, if only I had a compass.

*************
Aside

Someone called Chris, commenting on the Register piece, linked to a bbspot article about Bush supporting a faith-based firewalls from a couple of years ago. 🙂

WordPress Upgrade

For the techies amongst you, WP 2.6 is now on the streets. (and has been for over a week – but I’ve been away). The promo video is:

When I get back to my proper PC, real content will be blogged once more.

Comment spam up by 76% percent

I made up the number. Spurious statistics are so convincing.

Spam is definitely up though, as you know very well if you have a blog. If it weren’t for Akismet, this blog would be buried under the weight of it. A year or so ago, a few comment spams would be waiting in the Delete queue every couple of days. Now there are about 60 a day. And the buggers are growing in length. There are single spams with lists of keywords and links long enough to fill a few sides of A4. (Letter for those used to US paper sizes.)

Calculated across the whole lifetime of this blog, there have been 9 comment spams to every post. (That’s a real statistic. I didn’t just make it up, honest. I even used Calculator.) Given that Akismet wasn’t installed for a many months and that most of these spams have arrived in the past few months, the ratio of spam to post is currently very much higher.

My plan was to list the most ludicrous. But they aren’t even funny. They offer porn, online medicines, cars, loans, yada yada, yada. I imagine that even someone who is desperate to buy any of these would think twice about clicking on a link on a spam comment. In fact, is it even remotely possible that someone without an attested mental illness has ever clicked on one of these links in blogspam?

More sophisticated spams aim to pass a cursory blog-entry Turing test by using stock human phrases. Ofteb in a mechanical “translated-from-the-Finnish-using-Babelfish” way. E.g. two of this evening’s crop are “very true statement, we have gotten in much trouble on that notion historically.” and “Hi! Without taking into account the issue of establishing a stone by God, which he won’t be able to pick up, how do you think, may be something in this world, what can God never see?”

What? The characters come from the Western European standard characterset; the words are in an English dictionary; the sentences have nouns and verbs and punctuation – generally including a liberal use of the exclamation mark!!! But the phrases might as well be in a management report for all the sense they convey.

Some comments fake having read a blog post, with generic comments that could apply to any post – “Interesting post on *name of blog* today” – or claims that they haven’t quite understood what you were saying but want to know more. Well, they’re bots, ffs. Of course they haven’t understood your post. You were addressing a mammalian readership.

Others shamelessly flatter your writing style or your blog in general. (“Good portal!” “I like this work!”) The idea must be that the recipient is so blinded by recognition of their innate genius that they fail to notice it’s a spam and let the comment through. My head is at least as easily turned by dumb admiration as anyone’s, but even I have to pass this unsolicited admiration through reality filters.

In fact, these spams really annoy me because sometimes I do just want to comment on someone’s blog to say “Good post.” I’ve got nothing witty or pertinent to contribute. I just want to let the writer know I enjoyed it. But, the fact that it makes me seem like a comment spammer puts a stop to that.

A major irritation caused by spams is that we often accidentally delete real comments that have ended up in the spam pile. If you are commenting from an academic IP, it’s pretty certain that your institution’s email has been used to pour out spam, so Akismet is likely to block you. For a blogger, s it’s sometimes too much effort to pore through 40 comments on the offchance that one is a real person. So, real comments get thrown out, in a baby and bathwater scenario.

Comment spam costs pretty well nothing to create, so whatever the producers charge their customers must be pure profit. Bah. Some bugger is making money while you’re wasting your precious life-force deleting the latest missive from “daniel@msn.com” (a regular spam commenter whom we’ll probably all recognise).

Akismet does a fair job of dealing with it. I don’t know what other solution there is – or if it even matters as more than a stupid waste of bandwidth.

I obsessively look up the IPs and locations of the worst ones. Toutatis only knows why. (Most of the IPs will be spoofed anyway.) But I can glare at Riga or direct withering scorn at Hong Kong on Google Earth and feel that “I’ve got your number”. That must count for something…

Bodiam Castle? Google Is Your Friend…

I have been looking through the website logs to see just what it is that drives people to this site and, while lacking in raw comedy value (unlike some), it has been interesting.

Running a combination of Firestats, Feedburner and Google Analytics it seems this blog is getting around 400 visits a day. From these around 80% are new (which shows just what a non-loyal readership we hold…) and of those around 70% come here from a search engine – nearly all from Google. For the numbers-fans, this translates to about 200 hits a day from Google searches. Given the insanely varied nature of topics here, you would be excused for thinking this was reflected in the search stats. Not so.

Of the top ten search terms used to come here, seven are image searches, and this accounts for about 90 of the incoming hits. Even stranger, of these over a third are all searching for images of Bodiam Castle.

Now, Bodiam Castle is a gorgeous, fourteenth century fairytale castle in East Sussex, run by the National Trust, so I can understand why people are interested in it. In fact, I understand this well enough to have uploaded another photo!

Bodiam CastleIf you have come here searching for Bodiam Castle, I hope you like this, and you can even see more on Flickr. It has been a long time since I have been to Bodiam so please, forgive me for the photos being out of date now. If you have links to other pictures of this gorgeous castle, please let me know and I will be more than happy to link to them from here.

Back onto the search topic, there is the determination issue to consider now. Will my posting of a new Bodiam article increase the amount of hits I get for this? Are people massively disappointed when the Mighty Google sends them here rather than elsewhere? Why dont people use Yahoo to search for Bodiam?

The other common terms people use for an “images search” are:

  • Schwarzenegger
  • Nice Art
  • Fine Houses
  • Holy Wafer
  • Jesus Toast (around 5 people a day come here using that search term… MADNESS)
  • Future Castles

Now, some make more sense than others, but I can only guess at the disappointment people must feel when their searches lead them here.For completeness, the most common search terms that bring people to this site are:

  • HDR How To (use Photomatix)
  • Cool Viking Names (well all of them)
  • Bad Journalist (again, all of them)
  • Firefox Memory Hog (it is)
  • Pipex Download Speeds (almost non-existent)
  • McCanns Blog (wrong place, I didn’t even know they had one)

One last point, a bit of an oddity is a search term Feedburner has identified leading some poor unfortunate here: “blog: I cannot read, feel distracted” – I have no idea what this blog has to offer this poor person.

Camera Shops?

Well, I am in the market for a new camera – ideally a Nikon D300 however trying to find somewhere that is:

  1. Reliable
  2. Affordable

Is easier said than done, especially as this camera costs over £1000 in most UK shops (both on- and off-line). Even the best deals I can find (other than weird eBay offers) has this camera at a lot more than I can afford. This gives me some limited options.

One thing I have considered was a Froogle search (or Google Product Search as it seems to call itself now) which found an online retailer called “Apex Galaxy” who claim to sell this camera plus lens (18-135mm) for a mere £775 (really). The paranoid cynic in me screams all manner of alarm bells at this price point – surely something must be wrong here. I have done a (limited) search on Google but can’t find anything conclusive as to their legitimacy. Does anyone have any ideas? I really don’t want to throw away money I can barely afford.

Plan B is to simply not get a new camera. This is depressing so I would rather not have to resort to this!

Plan C is something I have recently concocted.  If anyone knows of a camera shop or other retailer that would like to sponsor me then I am more than happy to sell my soul! If you, or someone you knows, thinks they could do with regular reviews here – including regular images showing the camera and its capabilities then I would be prepared to go out and regularly take photos and post them – along with a write up. Likewise, if you know of a travel company who would like to sponsor someone to go around the world taking pictures and blogging about the place – I am your man! You wont need to ask twice…

So, pinning all my hopes on plan C (eternal optimist that I am), please feel free to pass this on to anyone you know who might be willing to spend some money on an excellent quality sponsorship deal. The only line I will draw is veracity of my comments, if a service or system sucks I want to be able to say that – this probably means Jessops and eBuyer will not want to sponsor me…

Null return

In case you’ve missed it on the blogroll, the ever funny, witty and well versed Nullifidian has posted again! Hopefully this is a sign he is back to blogging. Please take a moment to pop over there and say welcome back.

Another plagiarised contribution to humanity

More atheist AND/OR progressive blogs filched from Barefoot Bum’s list:
(

  • Because I think it’s a good idea to boost their authority
  • Because I am too idle to find my own and most of his are better than ones I could come up with
  • This idleness sadly goes hand in hand with also being too lazy to remove “last updated”s which are out of date.
  • I’ve started so I’ll finish. It’s about halfway through the list now.
  • Wow. I feel like I’m spamming for Good. Is this some sort of Devil’s Advocate style moral trap?

)

Easy to be Entreated
Ecstathy
Edward T. Babinski
Elaine Vigneault
Elliptica
EnoNomi
EonBlue
evanescent
Everyday Atheism
Everyday Humanist
Everything Is Pointless
Evolution
Evolutionary Middleman
EvolutionBlog
Evolved and Rational
exapologist
ExChristian.Net
Excursions into the mundane and the revealing…
Exercise in Futility
Expletive Deleted
Explicit Atheist
f think
faith in honest doubt
Fear No Atheist
Feersum Endjinn
Fish Wars on Cars
Five Public Opinions
Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars
Flex Your Head
Flumadiddle
Free Infidel
Free Mind Joe
FreeThought by a FreeThinker
Freethought Weekly
FreThink

WordPress Upgrade

Well, this blog has finally cracked and gone to WP 2.3.3 (as heather mentioned previously). However this has not been without problems, so please be patient if it occasionally seems weird here. We are trying to rectify the tagging but as I am not convinced many people used it a lot I doubt that will cause many problems. There are one or two other hurdles to cover that may mean things display strange for a while but (fingers crossed) we have caught most of them! Thanks for your patience.

Whine, whine and sorry

The Internet is broken. That’s what it feels like from my egocentric perspective.

This blog has become as slow as slow thing that has to be routed via one of Saturn’s moons before it even contemplates loading on my pc. I was already annoyed at not being able to see the content of a fair number of real comments, while being inundated with ever more subtly- Akismet-dodging spam comments. Add the irritation of not being able to comment on other blog’s posts – any comments I make are apparently sent but disappear into the ether(net) unless they are so short and irrelevant that they might as well be spam.

TW assumed that the blog had to upgrade to the latest WordPress. Unfortunately he now has a connection that will stay on-line for about 2 minutes before it drops packets, and/or throws him offline, making my tortoise seem like a comparative gazelle with a rocket in its butt.

He upgraded. The blog promptly broke.

He fixed it. The blog dropped all its UTW tags for the past week. In fairness, the tag cloud had become well a mushroom cloud rather than a modest cumulonimbus. There were getting on for 3 thousand tags, with hundreds of semi-duplicates.

I culled them by about a hundred, insofar as it was possible, because it takes about a minute to delete one. (You have to wait while the page refreshes after each deletion. Think about that while you blithely tag everything to within an inch of its life…)

I recklessly reimported the tags using the UTW compatibility upgrade. I didn’t do any of the procedures that claimed to be “scary.” (I am a coward.) It now seems that I’ve lost the tags off a few more posts. And there is definitely no sign of the tag list that used to let us (at least try to) assign existing tags rather can carry on creating misspelled version and plurals of perfectly serviceable tags.

Bah.

So, sorry if this blog seems to be acting unpredictable. It will get sorted soon… … … …

Was it something we said?

Our ranting has become notably less authoritative recently. (Odd, as I feel at least as authoritative as I have ever been. i.e. not at all.) And consistently less visible.

Maybe somebody has an explanation. The whole blogternet can’t have (slightly) broken, can it?

  • A week or so ago, I tried to post a comment on a student post on Pharyngula – to be told repeatedly, in the face of the evidence – that I needed to have a name and an email address. Checked. Yes they were definitely there. I copied and pasted. I rewrote them several times.

    The helpful message (I paraphrase here, and use leaden sarcasm while I’m doing it) said I was probably being blocked as spam, but that I could try enabling javascript or cookies or allowing/ deleting the science-blog cookies. Tried them all. My comment stayed unposted. It wasn’t a great loss to twenty-first century thought, to be honest. Still…

  • This blog has been leaking Technorati “authority” like an authority-leaking sieve. Over the past month, we’ve been dropping a few links a day, according to Technorati.

    One day, it was something like 40 down today from the previous day. I’m pretty certain I would have noticed three months ago, if the blog had suddenly accumulated 40 links in one day, . So how could we lose them all in one day?

    Oddly, firestats and feedburner show that blog hits are much higher than they were when we had twice the “authority”, three months ago.

  • We’ve been intermittently vanishing from the Atheist blogroll over the past few weeks. This now seems to have become a permanent affliction. I hovered over the blog’s name on an Atheist blogroll site that has a static list. It said the the last post was on Friday at 12:38. Well, no. There have been a good few posts since then.
  • When the blog has appeared on the blog roll, over the past few weeks, it has taken at least an hour to appear. If the posts are queued somewhere for an hour, where is that please? Because it doesn’t seem apply to other posts that just appear after they are posted.

    When we’ve looked at the time stamps of blogs that appear long before ours, we find they’ve been written later. And magically appeared without falling into some warp dimension on the way. Maybe it’s crossing the Atlantic then? No, that doesn’t work either. There are UK-based blogs that pop up seemingly almost as soon as they are posted.

    We were even testing an ongoing hypothesis that the blogroll would only display this blog name when there were another more recent three blogs to put ahead of it. We never managed to falsify this.

    However, being ungrateful at being consistently fourth started to seem a bit churlish when we vanished completely.

  • TW has tried pinging the blogroll, in various ways, without any effect. Pinging Technorati seems to have an effect, in that Technorati will usually list a post within a few minutes of a ping. Or even respond to the auto-ping function and find the blog posts, all by itself.

As a side-effect, an increasing proportion of visitors are coming directly from search engines. There is a fair amount of entertainment value in working out how some of these searches would have led to here, unless every other blog in the known world had already been taken straight to heaven in the Rapture.

Anyone with any ideas about what’s going on?