“Captcha is the bane of the internet,” says Matt Mullenweg, who runs the massively popular blogging site “I can’t figure them out myself half the time!” (from the Guardian technology page today)

This is from a Guardian piece discussiing how captchas are welll and truly broken – by algorithms and by cheap human labour -thus increasing the volume of blog comment spam. The writer suggests Akismet or the type of non-machine readable questions that you find on ApathySketchpad as viable alternatives.

I’m comment-impaired at the best of times. I’ll try and comment on a blog and find that my comment just disappears. Granted, this suggests the universe has an innate capacity for mercy. But, just occasionally, the words that disappear into the net’s black hole were comments that I really wanted to make. So, I’ll try and rewrite it, in a half-hearted fashion. It will disappear again. I’ll have a final stab at writing. And sending. But by this time, it’s incoherent garbage, sent only to show the comment-eating demon who’s boss.

And then the captcha is there mocking you. Matt Mullenweg is so right, except, on his own proud boast, at least he gets them right half of the time. Falling foul of captcha is a daily occurrence here at WhyDontYou Towers. And a score of 50% correct is just a fond dream.

The idea is that only humans can read the things. A reverse Turing test. This whole concept falls down on the point that any shapes that are too unlike characters to be read by a souped up OCR-style algorithm are much too unlike letters or numbers for human beings to interpret them.

Even when you can distinguish those shapes that are meant to be characters from the deliberately inserted wavy lines, you face something like:


There is no way to reliably distinguish between 9 and g, 0 and O, 1 and l and I.

So you type in zero zero nine one zero g, on the offchance. It rejects you. You don’t get another shot at the ambiguous letters.

Oh no. A fresh bleeding captcha. This time you find you have to choose between identifying a letter as either a very thin letter j or the letter i with a slight curve at the bottom. Failed again.

Next time it’s either an l with a slight curve at the top or an anorexic letter c. Ok, got the c right but then you thought that oddly shaped capital A was a 4, didn’t you? Robotic fool.

By this time, the human-detector software has often decided you are a bot cos you couldn’t even guess one out of 3. So your comment is bounced anyway.

If you’ve ever thought that you might as well go for the disabled option, don’t bother. That’s not worth it either. Captchas that claim to be for the disabled are actually even harder to use than their able-bodied comrades. Different experiences you can have with the accessibility captcha include:

  • A long silence. So you think it’s not working and cancel a fraction of a second after it kicks in.
  • so much feedback and background weird noises (to simulate the visual noise on the visual captcha) that you couldn’t even work out what it’s saying if you had a comic book aural discrimination superpower.
  • Voices so bizarrely accented and echoey that you are stunned by the novelty that this is suposed to represent speech. So you don’t notice, let alone memorise, the content as it racespast you in a jumble of syllables.
  • The disabled version sometimes matches the written one and sometimes doesn’t. Which one do you try? The wrong one, of course.

The whole concept of the disabled one seems stupid to me. You are assumed to be too blind to see the captcha image. So how do you see the captcha box and spot where the disabled button is? Are the blind fitted with memory enhancement chips that let them translate a string of meaningless letters and numbers from the native gibberese AND remember them long enough for their screen reader to kick in and tell them where to type?

Wittering on about blog spam again

This blog feels slightly shortchanged in the weird searches department. For example, if you look at HjHop’s site, he gets searches that are bizarre enough for him to make a funny feature of them.

Search engine choices that bring unsuspecting people here are generally just odd. Not entertaining, just odd. Normally, there are between 5 and 15 for Schwarzenegger (?) and similar numbers for pictures of guns. (??????) Sometimes, castles come top, usually Bodium castle – but there were only 7 searches for this today. Today’s search referrals also included Rorschach (?7) art and fine art, (?6) and (?5). 5 Fruit and veg is normally a front runner but came nowhere today. I defy anyone to make a readable post out of that lot.

I suspect noone has ever been directed by a search engine to what we fondly believe is the normal content of our posts.

But this blog could acquit itself well, if it ever gets in a competitive event relating to volumes of blogspam. According to WordPress stats for this blog, there have been 2,624 approved comments but

Akismet has protected your site from 13,409 spam comments already

Akismet doesn’t even cover the whole life span of the blog and it’s probably been reinstalled a couple of times – hence, reset to 0 – but even on these figures, that’s a good few times as many spam comments as there were legit ones.

There are clearly spam fashions. I quite admire the craftsmanship involved in the ones that have generic phrases designed to flatter you into allowing the comment through the filter:

Love your blog. I’ll bookmark it and return later.

or the old favourite from last year, with words to the effect that:

I didn’t quite understand what you said on [insert name of blog] but I’m interested to know more.

However, it’s as if the heart has gone out of the spammers. This week’s “new black” for spam seems to involve sending some random syllables, occasionally with a load of links:

qkncihdf tjnprcd mitqlanp oznqx eaqrpzu imfwatulo sjmxrqgh

for example. Or, what about this, where even the links don’t make an effort to disguise their innate spammishness, let alone entice the unwary with promises of free meds or unfeasible bodily expansion?

biprong unbrimming martinetism bosn amative biota spongida expectingly
ziafm wnwwqwuy
ktuhbdk info
uosgu wcmqjs
kxrrd qzfkagqn

What’s going on? There are eleven of these in the Akismet spam queue today. Not one has an English word in it.

The Register had a long security post about blogspam, on Friday. The article was about a malware scam that claims to take the user to various legit sounding places.

Over the next several weeks I noticed a lot more of these, not only pointing to Google but also to Yahoo and MSN. The servers they pointed to all had the same basic structure, such as,,, etc. Every one resolves to the same IP address: That IP address is registered to in Singapore. The server appears to be hosted out of Kuala Lumpur. The domains, however, are registered in Ukraine:

(They’ve all moved since the article was written, of course.)

The rest of the article is fascinating. Click on one of these imaginary images and they run an executable. The article shows a series of legit looking screendumps, with the alerts very well designed. They put the fear of malware into you and offer you apparently Microsoft-approved solutions. There’s even a blag Microsoft Security Centre. The only intrinsic design flaw was that it said XP Security Centre, which was immediately suspicious to someone running Vista.

I’m as much of a mug as anyone. I just hope I haven’t fallen for any of these…….

One thing I’m pretty sure this blog been subject to (thanks to Firestats’ fund of fascinating information on referrers) is a hack of restricted WordPress content using the Google cache. It just involves asking for things from the cache by modifying the url request string. (I’ve done that by accident I suspect)

That password-protected site of yours – it ain’t
It’s one of the simplest hacks we’ve seen in a long time, and the more elite computer users have known about it for a while, but it’s still kinda cool and just a little bit unnerving: A hacker has revealed a way to use Google and other search engines to gain unauthorized access to password-protected content on a dizzying number of websites.

We don’t have any restricted or pay-per-view content,so no loss as far as this blog is concerned. But, it’s sort of blog-validating to be in there in a “dizzying number.” 🙂

Blog arrests

64 people have been arrested for blogging in the past 5 years, according to World Information Access report. The average jail time served was 15 months.

More than half the total came from China, Egypt and Iran, but the USA is in there with three and England, France and Canada can boast one blogger arrest each.

I understand most of the categories on a chart that’s made up of what appear to be casino chips, except for “other” and “violating cultural norms.” (Things like “using blog to organise political protest” speak for themselves.) The UK one is in the “violating cultural norms” category. Huh? Violating cultural norms? What on earth are they? Not saying “please” and “thank you”, not staying in line at the cash point, wearing brown shoes with a black suit?

Stopped in my tracks from an incipient rant about denial of freedom of expression when I see that the arrested UK blogger seems to be a turd in human form. The Luton and Dunstable On Sunday News says

Racial hatred arrest for internet blogger

So, I’m a bit torn. I get really irate about bigotry. On balance, though, I still think that these sorts of lunatics are a price we have to pay for “letting a thousand flowers bloom” on the Internet. It’s not as if they disappear when they can’t express themselves. It’s probably not even as if they’d get more than half a dozen hits a day. (Which is where I am sort of cheating, because I might feel more moved to think this was justified if he represented anyone but himself.)

But, what a buffoon.

His photo shows him standing next to a dummy in Crusader costume. I assume that he intends us to identify with the image of the Crusader (which would in itself show a truly pitiful grasp of medieval history) but I took it as him identifying with the dummy

Paul Ray, who uses the pseudonym Lionheart on his provocative online diary, was arrested two weeks ago after returning from South Carolina, America where he was seeking political asylum……..

“I was arrested on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred. They questioned me on parts of my blog. Compared to what’s happening out there I haven’t done that much.

“I’m a Christian – that’s my defence

Political asylum in America? I’ll have to use the LOL word, sorry.

And being a “Christian” is a “defence”? Excuse me while I LOL again. In this case, certainly he isn’t talking about the Christianity of Desmond Tutu or Martin Niemöller. He’s not even talking about the Christianity of the televangelists and creationists. He’s talking about the Christianity of the medieval crusader knights, which bears about as much relationship to a philosophical system as a light bulb does to an Ordnance Survey map of Luton.

All the same, it’s easy to defend the right of self-expression of people who oppose corruption or repression (most of the arrested bloggers.) It’s a lot tougher choice to defend the rights of fools and knaves, but it’s still probably necessary.

Who is stealing my life?

Idly browsing HJhop’s blog, I looked at the post What the critics are saying about HJHop.

As funny as ever, a mixture of plaudits and insults.

I was pleased to see this blog was in there, and even our uber-prestigious silver cup thing award was proudly displayed.  Idly thinking, “it’s about time I posted some new favourites. I might even Photoshop a novel silver cup” and ….

Oh shit. The date on his post was May 5, 2007….. Even assuming that this was somehow posted the day after he got the award, that means almost a year – a year – has passed. My life is circling the event horizon….

So, I suspect it’s taken me a year to even notice that HJHop post. It’s obviously taken me even longer to pick a new Top Ten, because I haven’t decided on one yet. I’ll set a new Top Ten date for this year’s, then, and pretend it’s an annual award.

Ah, I’ve just found my old top ten post, “October 27th, 2007” Phew. I’ve snatched half a year back.

Still, I’ve committed myself now.   I’m going to choose 1 May, because that is the day I always wash my face in the dew to stay beautiful forever.   Old English superstition folk custom. As far as I can tell, it works 🙂 (Rain usually has to stand in for dew.  Even suspected dog-piss at a push. OK, I’m not 100% sure that I can recognise dew, but it’s the thought that counts.)

So, 1 May it is.   If anyone wants to corrupt the judging panel – by offering cash incentives or posting brilliant blogs – you have  a couple of weeks or so left to try.   There may even be an updated award icon but that isn’t a promise.

I’m on a roll

That was such fun that I have to look at more GoogleAds appearing on the blogs of members of Mojoey’s Atheist Blogroll

No God blog has

the atheist’s riddle. so simple, any child can understand so complex, no atheist can solve

from I’m not sure what this is offering except 5 days of spam e-mails, You don’t even get to find out what the riddle is until day 4. (If it’s like any other riddle I’ve ever read, the answer is always “the moon” or “a man”.)

No God blog also has adlinks to an organisation that wants a referendum on the EU Constitution, the familiar “end-times” site and (Look, don’t spoil this now by having relevant links, please….)

And It has a few lines at the bottom of the index page, a prayer you are supposed to say and a big gold YES button you are supposed to click if you said the prayer. Bugrit, I’ll click anyway. Momentarily disappointed that choirs of angels haven’t appeared, I find it’s just a mailing list.

No explanation of the 2020 bit. I guess they were looking for a domain name and everything up to jesus2019 was already taken by Spanish-speaking men.

Just about to leave Nogodblog, when I see its links are going to eat up this whole post, all by itself. It’s got another tier of GoogleAds. More pantheism, Christianity in the UK, Catholic religion after Vatican II. Plus

My Son is Gay? One woman’s struggle with her son’s homosexuality and God’s answer.

(After he turns down her offer of a Christian un-gaying solution, she decides to hate the sin and love the sinner.)
Plus, from

Atheism against the law? Scientific proof that atheism requires a belief in miracles.

Do these Christian sites really have to demonstrate that “form follows function” so slavishly, by having such unattractive blogs? This is yet another site with an eye-burning colour combination. This combo might be OK in a different context. Such as, if it didn’t involve text. Turquoise on black with primary red links isn’t normally associated with readability.

After listing teh universal laws that atheism is supposed to break, the site concludes:

Atheism requires not only a tremendous amount of faith but also a belief in miracles. And not only miracles but natural miracles, an oxymoron. Both naturalism and supernaturalism require faith and which one you place your faith in is one of the two most important choices you will ever make.

Imagining for one moment that this stuff is actually meaningful, I still can’t see any logical connection between the arguments that (a) science doesn’t provide answers to everything and (b) therefore there is an all-powerful “god”.

Click link to “find out how life began.” Guess what, a magic man did it.

Yet more blogs listed

I still don’t know if this actually works to bump up Technorati’s rankings but I’m posting the last instalment of barefoot bum’s list, in the main page body so they aren’t in a Technorati-invisible sidebar.

I suspect that all this does is make Technorati think this blog is a spamblog … But you could forgive any search engine for reaching that conclusion from the number of times Akismet shows content from here has been duplicated on some comically inappropriate blog-content-stealing aggregator. (Usually attributed to some invented individual author or invented blog, although I can never decide if that’s better or worse. ) Continue reading

More good blogs listed in a spamlike way

More blogs on barefoot bum’s list. Have nearly posted them all now. I may have to start on a list of my own….

Australian Atheist
Author of Confusion
Axis of Jared
Ayrshire Blog
Babble, bullshit, blasphemy and being.
Bay of Fundie
Beaman’s World
Being Human
Ben’s Place
Berto: Philosophy Monkey
Bert’s Blog
Beyond Belief
BHA Science Group
Bible Study for Atheists
bits of starstuff
Bjorn & Jeannette’s Blog
Black Sun Journal
Blog of the Big E
Blogue de Mathieu Demers
Bob Kowalski
bore me to tears
Born Again Atheist
Breaking Spells
Buridan’s Ass
By The Book Comics
cabhara’s zeitgeist
Can’t make a difference
Choosing Atheism
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Circular Reasoning
Cogita Tute – Think For Yourself
Coming Out Godless
Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

A few more blogs to read

Here’s another pile of blogs borrowed from Barefoot Bum’s list. Some of them are very good.

Cosmic Variance
Crazy Christian Chain Emails
Culture for all
Culture War Foot Soldier
Daily Atheist
Dark Christianity
Dark Matter, USA
Dark Side of Mars
darwinian remiix
Darwin’s Dagger
Daylight Atheism
Debunking Christianity
Deep Thoughts
Deeply Blasphemous
Desperately Seeking Ethics and Reason
Deutschland Uber Elvis
DEVOUT Atheist Godless Grief
Diary of a Teenage Atheist
Did a guy named Phil start Philosophy?
Die Eigenheit
Dikkii’s Diatribe
Dime a dozen
Disaffected and it Feels So Good
discernible chaos
Discussions in Existence
Disgusted Beyond Belief
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
do not read this blog
Dorset Humanists blog
Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge
Dragged From the Bottom
Drunken Tune
Dubito Ergo Sum
Duplicitous Primates
Dwindling In Unbelief


We’ve been tagged by the excellent no more hornets blog with another meme. This time it is the Evolution” meme. I am tempted to say that whydontyou blog actually disproves Intelligent Design by its very nature, as it definitely seems to be the product of chance events.

It’s a pity that we don’t have visual records because the look of the blog has changed a good few times, losing visibility a good few times when we’ve tried to change the theme. We tried a few themes, altered them a bit and finally decided it would be better to have control over the appearance of the site. Hence, we’ve had to learn how to create WordPress themes in the meantime and have even released some into the wild. This has brought us a weird collection of blogs that carry our name in the “designed by” bit at the bottom, with most ironically, a number of religious and even fundamentalist blogs, as well as (I kid you not) a penis enlargement blog.

The very first post here basically said Welcome. The next post was a recommendation for a book on philiosophy. I see a bit of a theme starting there:

Throughout the book Jamie Whyte uses logic to expose the common fallacies
that surround us day to day – ranging from the false authority given to victims of tragedies through to sheer evasive lies from the rich and powerful.

TW’s next few posts are also pretty interesting, a lot more astronomy and tech-centred than they tend to be now. My own posts soon degenerated into whinges about search engines being rubbish, so I’ll draw a veil over them.

We were much slacker about blogging in 2006. Whole months passed without many posts. But then nobody ever commented except on Ajax or Linux posts and we had no idea if anyone else ever read the blog.

I know the meme wants 6 posts but I’d listed too few, so now I’m going to list too many. A few selected posts from the old ones are Atheist belief, Prove or disprove, Linux partial success Happy Easter

The earliest post that is still unaccountably getting hits every day is a couple of lines pointing to an online source for Viking names with a sister post about Anglo-Saxon kings’ names that never gets hits although it has some actual content of its own. A lesson there maybe.

Other unaccountably still-hit-daily posts are the ones on food, imaginary megaliths in Liverpool and our alltime favourite, How to defend religion because it got us called an “entertaining blog” on the Times (We were planning to get t-shirts made) and got so many hits it temporarily broke our server.

Throughout the rest of the 2006, the blog rambled along, with some good posts, some rubbish ones. Very early in the blog, TW started posting on some of themes that he’s stuck to – including rubbish shops, internet magazines and digital photography. On one post, showing a photo of the Mithraic Temple on Hadrian’s Wall, he made this blog’s possibly first reference to the Biblical rains that have become a feature of the UK in the past year or so.

There were also plenty of anti-religion, anti-ID-cards and anti-1984-in-the-21st-century posts. The anti-ID stuff is starting to feel increasingly like flogging the proverbial dead horse, as more and more civil liberties disappear down the pan, so I think we’ve eased up on that a bit – not through optimism that the issue is dead but through despair that anyone can prevent it.

From January 2007, we were on the Atheist Blogroll, courtesy of an invitation via the sainted Nullifidian. This started to bring in some actual regular commenters, who constantly put us to shame, almost always outdoing the post they are commenting on, with their wit and wisdom,. (Bastards.)

This inspired us to try to hold a comment week, in which we commented on everything we read and solicited comments from anyone who was willing. This worked out pretty well except for me, at least, having to interpret “comment on everything” I read as meaning comment on blogs I read that have an easy-to-submit-a-comment capacity. (Registering with a google username or registering to read someone’s blog don’t count as “easy” for me.) After a few abortive attempts to comment on blogs that I really enjoyed, I also realised that it’s very lame to just say “I really enjoyed this” or “good post” so I often didn’t. It’s much easier to comment when you strongly disagree, of course, but I did little of that either, not much caring to argue the toss with nutters.

We are supposed to tag another 6 blogs and, obviously naming already-tagged ones would be pointless. There’s a good chance that the tagged blogs won’t thank us either. And I can think of a good few more that I’d like to pick, but Ill stick with the first half-dozen that come to mind. So here goes.
Atheist Perspective
X is ….
Atheist ethicist
Black Sun Journal

You’ll thank me later

I am following the lead of Migrations blog and pasting the Atheist Blogroll.

Number 21 of 50 Signs you’re a blogaholic reminds me that, for a true blogaholic:

# You care more about what Technorati says about your authority than what your children do.

Given that Technorati treats the Atheist Blogroll as having no effect on ranking anymore – possibly because it usually appears in a sidebar or it uses a script or both – I decided to give everyone on Mojoey’s Atheist Blogroll a link (as Migrations did) and up everyone’s authority a tad:

Continue reading

Media in chains

There’s an excellent post on Hell’s Handmaiden about internet censorship.

Following a link from there to about Sonoma University’s censorship project brought up information that was a few years old, so I tried to find the most recently updated Project Censored.

This is an interesting and crucial project, with Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008 released within the past few days. The rankings of specific items may be debatable but the whole collection is well worth looking at and thinking about. They deserve our support for making this information available.

Confusingly, Project Censored seems to be reporting on the future, though. It seems to put us in 2008. (I checked my PC date. No surprise to find that it is indeed still 2007, although maybe the International Dateline has become stronger due to the magical power of the Internet to collapse time and space and the US has leapt 3 months ahead.)

Hell’s Handmaiden remarked upon the complacency shown by so many people’s comments on Internet censorship and the associated lack of civil liberties. This pervades most people’s responses to any threats to hard-won freedoms.

I tried to tabulate the reasons why people don’t seem to care, from apathy through an unwillingness to interfere in other countries to a feeling of powerlessness to change anything. The last is probably the most powerful motivation for those people who care. It’s worth remembering that societies change all the time, sometimes – but not necessarily always- for the worse.

DotNetty Ramblings

Well, it has been a while since I have ranted or raved about technological topics so this is a bit overdue. Fortunately this months .net magazine has managed to provide something of interest (although I think this was actually unintentional on their behalf).

Towards the end of the magazine they have a tendency to waste two – three pages on a normally pointless section called “Big Question.” In this, .net asks a selection of .net figureheads (such as people from Adobe, Actinic, ISPs, Nielsen//NetRatings etc., as well as people like Oxblood Ruffin) a question which gives them a lot of latitude to wax lyrical about all things internety.

This month, the question is “If you could remove one thing from the internet, what would it be?” Surprisingly there are several well thought out answers and most stay away from the pointlessly obvious ones like child porn and crime. For example, Chris Barling (Actinic) earns several WhyDontYou Karma Points for his response:

It would have to be any trace of Michael Winner. He gets over 74,000 hits on Google, so there’s lots to remove. he appears to have no redeeming qualities. A quick Google search for his image is even worse, particularly the Daily Mail photo of a swimming trunk clad Winner. There should be a law against it.

Seriously, what else needs to be said? The only way this could be improved is to remove all traces of Winner from everywhere in the universe. Well done Chris Barling of Actinic fame.

Anyway, this wouldn’t be a WhyDontYou rant if there weren’t some annoyingly odd comments to complain about. Let us take a look at this snippet from Steve Burnard (Adobe):

I would remove blogs, for the following reasons: They’re personal opinions, usually by people who are unqualified to have an objective opinion. They can be out of date, yet will still be referenced as valid.

Blimey. Now as this is a blog obviously I am going to strongly disagree with the nonsense Burnard is spouting here.

Sadly, he is echoing comments which I have heard over the last few weeks from a variety of media sources and, with a lot of caveats, I agree with part of the gist myself.

There is, in recent times, a strange public approach towards blogs and internet information (at least there is in the UK). Some people work on the principle that everything on a blog is 100% scientifically proven fact, while others fall in the exact opposite camp. Obviously both are off the mark by a long way. There are lazy journalists, there are lazy researchers and there are lazy commenters – all of whom will do a quick web search, find a blog which agrees with what ever point they are trying to make and then pass the blog off as if it is peer reviewed research resulting from a double blind study.

However, as Burnard points out, these blogs are actually personal opinion. The problem is not their existence but lazy and stupid people expecting more from them. I am somewhat intrigued as to how a person can not be qualified to have an “objective opinion” when they are writing a “personal opinion” blog. It strikes me that Burnard simply dislikes blogs and has tried to throw two arguments together in his dismissal of their value.

If I read a blog which talks about Stanislaw Lem (for example), this tells me more about how the author of the blog understands the person, what he has done and so on, rather than going to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica and hoping he has an entry. I do not expect every single detail to be 100% factually accurate (although I am disappointed if I find mistakes – not that I have found any in the Black Sun Journal post I mention) and I do not for one second expect editorial commentary to be impartial. I have yet to find any editorial content which is actually impartial.

As to this mysterious “objective opinion” – where does Burnard suggest we go for this? (He doesn’t make any suggestions in the article) None of the “traditional” media sources could ever hope to be considered “objective” in their coverage, especially when it comes to technology. Nearly ever piece I have ever seen on TV or in the print media turns out to be little more than a regurgitated press release, manufacturers / designers websites are no better. I have yet to see anything even hinting at being objective on the Adobe website.

With blogs you can often work out where their bias lies (if you see a penguin logo, you know MS products will get short shrift for example… 🙂 ), and the more you read the blog, the easier this becomes. While there is a risk of getting press-releases in blog forms, this too can be spotted by visiting the blog frequently. Other than the occasional high profile blogger who gets paid to comment on products, you can normally be reasonably sure that when a blog writes about a product, the manufacturer isn’t calling the shots.

What, I wonder, is the source of the mystical “objective opinion?”

One last odd comment on the “Big Question” is from Ian Pearson (slightly insane, high profile Futurologist with BT). Now, dismissing the frankly off the wall predictions he makes, this is what he thinks should be removed from the internet:

I’d remove holiday cottage agencies. The net doesn’t need them, I don’t need them, the cottage owners don’t need them and the tourist industry as a whole suffers greatly because of them. I and many other potential customers now go overseas instead, They’ve overstayed their welcome.

I get the feeling I am missing something here because this makes no sense to me at all. First off, this is a big bout of hubris by Mr Pearson. Just because “he” doesn’t need them doesn’t mean no one else needs them. I have used one to book a fantastic holiday to Hadrians Wall a few months ago and the cottage owners I have spoken to about them (admittedly only three) have had good things to say about them.

More importantly though, is the idea that the tourist industry is suffering because of online holiday cottage agencies. What madness. The idea that because of the existence of holiday cottage agencies people now decide to travel overseas instead is just too weird for words. Is Ian Pearson (and these mysterious “others”) incapable of booking a UK holiday without going through a cottage agency? Surely the final decider is the reality of economics. If these agencies really add no value, and do nothing but discourage tourists, they will go out of business and the weird happy state he seems to look for will return.

Personally, I just think all this “futureguessing” has sent him insane. (But this is just my non-objective, personal opinion…)

[tags]Technology, Blogs, Blogging, Steve Burnard, Chris Barling, Ian Pearson, BT, Adobe, Actinic, DotNet, .net, Magazine, Web Design, Web Design Magazine, Nonsense, Drivel, Rambling[/tags]

Satano-Christian link farm

There was a link to an anti-Harry Potter blog in a post on the New Atheist blog a while back – 27 July, in fact. It takes me a while to catch up…

But it was still too good to pass up. Although it’s pretty obviously a joke. Well, I mean a deliberate joke here. Although that would be a pity, because it would be much funnier if it wasn’t.

The site is called Exposing satanism Here’s a representative sample:

I have heard many bad things about these books and movies, there would be countless instances of witchcraft, cursing, brewing of drugs made by boiling alive babies pulled from the earth, sexual congress with goats and many more things not fit for young readers’ and viewers’ eyes, but what I found was much worse still than I had feared.

(I haven’t seen Harry Potter 3 yet, but the goat thing suggests a change in style of several orders of magnitude.)

I’m just smugly thinking to myself “All very amusing but it’s a bit too over the top to be a credible parody” when I spot a link to something called Christian Resources Net Directory with a suggestion to vote for this site as a top Christian site.

“What a spiffing wheeze!” I think, momentarily transported to an alternate 1940s boarding school universe. “I will vote for this fine parody site as my top Christian site.”

Gratifyingly, on CRN this is indeed Number One, with an impressive number of votes (5462), although I must confess that my own inept attempts at keeping the right Firefox tab open increased the total by 3.

What other gems hide behind that CRN list of links to Christian sites? I try “creation vs evolution”. Only one link and that it is the Answers in Genesis This concept would work very well if you are trying to do a homework assignment with questions like “Name the band that Phil Collins used to be the drummer of?” Otherwise, it’s quite difficult to see what use it would be so I’ll skip it. I don’t know enough about Genesis to even frame any more questions. It’s just not my style of music.

What about cults? That has an impressive 6 category entries. (Impressive because most categories have 0.) Bah, the first two are links to the site that took me there in the first place. Skip them.

Altruistic or Cult claims to be:

Confronting the altruistic values of Christ to the Seventh-day Adventist Church while recovering from their delusive power strugglings of falsified teachings

Huh? Does that have a meaning? In the site preface, the language is no closer to English:

This book is being printed of necessity for all such as it may pertain to, and to all others of public freedom of speech and expression; believing and advocating these liberties as equalitarian, and further refuting the idealist concepts and butcherings of the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus Christ – the authentic Christian’s Saviour, Master and Friend.
Like most cults, Seventh-day Adventist cultic practices have identical terminological definitions similar to doctrinal prerequisites – but diction them abstractedly different in contextual realism and verity to Biblical interrogations and conductive evaluation – signifying an astringent and interpretive critical analysis from Biblical unmixtured sequencing and paradynamical reasoning of common sense.

The literary reference here must be that baffling spam that floods your email inbox with random collections of verbs and nouns to trick you into opening a Trojan attachment, while convincing the spam filter that it’s a real email because it uses words that are in the dictiionary. (Some of them anyway, although maybe not as the same part of speech.) Oh, bugger. I realise that I’ve already gone to this site and of my own free will. I’ve probably opened my PC to yet another incursion.

What about Bible – The real world then? Wasn’t that the name of a TV “reality” programme? The Biblical version, perhaps disappointingly, doesn’t stick a load of teenagers in a shared flat and watch them argue about the interpretation of Leviticus 17:4.

The page just has a quote from Revelations and a few links to other similar pages with even less content. They all have shedloads of Google-Ads though, maybe to trick unthinking Christians into assuming that these are in fact the site content. It’s clearly meant as a parable, then. It’s saying “Welcome to the real world, kids. It’s run by Mammon.”

Charmed as I am by the idea of Ex-witch Australia, it hasn’t had a post since January. Its posts start with the quaint “G’day” just in case you doubt its antipodean ex-witch authenticity.

Watchman Fellowship
is so visually busy it’s hard to see what it’s about. It’s got a montage of celebs with cultic associations and a list of their names. Is it dedicated to saving celebs from cults, then? No, its “mission” statement says it’s an

independent, nondenominational Christian research and apologetics ministry focusing on new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age.

The most common request Watchman Fellowship receives is for advice on how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with friends and families who are members of cults and new religions. We are also often asked for recommendations on the best resources to prepare for, or use in, evangelism. In response, we’ve created these special sections linking to some of our best resources to help you in reaching out to friends and loved ones.

There follows a list of “sections” on “Witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses”, “Witnessing to Mormons”, “Understanding those in the New Age” and “Recovering from Spiritual Abuse.”

Witnessing to Witnesses? It’s got to be a tongue twister. Not that I can’t improve on the original. Try saying “Witness witless witnessing to witless Witnesses” aloud a few times. Fast. Ha. Couldn’t, could you?

Bloody Hell. You have to buy these special sections to find out what’s in them. And there I was admiring the almost uniquely altruistic lack of Google Ads. But I didn”t pay enough attention to the forest of other ads lost in the jumble of the page. (I have to say “almost unique” beacuse the antipodean former magic user seems advert-challenged, to his/her credit.)

Which topic brings me neatly to a link at the bottom of the Bible-the Real World page. A link to the Top 1000 Christian Sites. Top thousand, that was. The heart sinks as the mind boggles.

JCSM’s Top 1000 Christian Sites is a free, traffic sharing program. We welcome the best Christian sites in the world, so we can bless them and share traffic with them.
Join for free or visit one of the sites below, today!

There aren’t a thousand, yet mercifully. The lowest ranked site is in the 109 position. Its stats make depressing reading indeed. It would possibly constitute cyber-bullying to actually post its url here but I have to tell you that its average weekly number of page views is 0.1. Its total number of page views EVER seems to be 3 and it’s not a new site.

Well, you will be pleased to note that Christian-esque charity exists even in the cold rationalist heart. I clicked.

Shari’a family values

It’s just over 6 months since Abdul Kareem got sentenced to 4 years in jail for blogging. There’s a website in support of him. You can also read a wikipedia entry although there is a caveat at the head of the page saying

This article has been nominated to be checked for its neutrality.

.. He was arrested by Egyptian authorities for posts on his blog that were considered to be anti-religious and insulting to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. On February 22nd, 2007 in his native city Alexandria. Kareem Amer was sentenced to three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition and one year for insulting the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Not neutral? Maybe the very mention of the sentence contravenes “neutrality”. Presumably because no sane person would think this was OK?

(If only he had just been the officer in charge of a military unit charged with war crimes, he’d be free today.)

It’s one thing – and a very pleasurable thing it can be, too – to insult Baptist evangelists from the comfort of the Atheist Blogroll. However, if you live in the Middle East, challenging Islam in your blog posts is definitely hazardous to health .

The campaign website is maintained by Kareem’s friends who disagree with what he said about Islam but still uphold his right to express his views. Unlike his family apparently.

From the Kareem FAQs:

What did his family say about all this?
Days before the jail sentence, his family publicly disowned him, and his father called for applying the Sharia on his son by giving three days to repent, followed by having him killed if he did not announce his repentance.

Give them a bit of leeway for trying to protect themselves, as I imagine they are under a fair bit of pressure to distance themselves from their wayward freethinking offspring. But still. A father who thinks his son deserves a death sentence for publishing a few challenging words is definitely so far off the scale of harsh that you would need to invent a new scale. And he’d still fall of the edge.

Disappointingly, the only UK politician mentioned as having spoken out about Kareem is from the UK Independence Party*. Euro-MP Derek Clark, raised the case in the European Parliament.

If you live in the sort of country where you might get arrested or your dad might call for your execution, Reporters sans frontieres have a page about how to blog anonymously without putting yourself in the firing line of your state’s repression.
(You can’t say this blog doesn’t give out any useful information.)

* If you’re not from the UK, there is/was (?) a joke political party called the Monster Raving Loony Party (It’s alternative comedy- it’s not funny, to steal an old Ben Elton quote.) UK Independence Party are generally considered less serious and even less funny than the MRLP. UKIP tends to substitute comical zenophobia for the MRLP’s standard slapstick approach. Luckily, they are completely unelectable and spend their time in internal squabbles. It is enough of a shock that they must have a Euro-MP, let alone that he seems to have actually spoken sense in the European Union.

Ministry of Truth

Imagine you work for the Australian government. There you are, sitting in your work cube in front of your PC, staring into space. You’ve finished estimating next year’s value of Western Australian lamb exports per acre. What will you do in the seemingly infinite 40 minutes till lunch-time?

Ah ha. Skim through Wikipedia. Try for the “random” entry. See something you know something about – your specialist subject, in fact – the development of the Perth Railway Modellers’ Club, 1990 to 2002.

But the entry shows the name of the 1997 Chairman as Ken Brewster and you know it was Ben Baxter!…. Blimey, you can’t allow this blatant misrepresentation of the facts. Future historians of the Perth Railway Modellers Club will be completely misled. So you make a quick correction.

Go forward a few weeks. Wikiscanner becomes available. Everyone can find out what organisation’s IP address has been used to make a wiki-edit.

This sparks a media-led conspiracy frenzy over evidence that people from various corporations or government agencies have edited encyclopeadia pages.

Oh look, surprisingly (not), people from the CIA have edited entries. People working for the BBC. And, – oh my Poseidon! – people working for the Australian government have edited entries. Oh dear…. You get called into the boss’s office and shouted at. …Misusing your internet privileges…. Bringing the government into disrepute, and so on…..

Largely because some people eitehr never learned, or are incapable of applying, the most basic tests to judge the validity of information. E.g:

  • Does this seem inherently reasonable?
  • Who said it?
  • Is this information contradicted or supported by other sources?
  • Who benefits if I believe this?

Are you surprised that CIA employees have edited pages that concern the CIA or that workers for the Australian government have toned down critical articles?

If so, then it’s about time you took some courses in critical thinking and analysing information. Because you lack even the most basic skills at identifying propaganda.

Indeed, Wikiscanner might serve as a basic tool for identifying potential misinformation or propaganda, going some way towards giving an answer to the second question above.

But even so, some people sit in work reading, even editing Wikipedia, Some of these people work for corporations or government agencies. Some of them are carrying out their master’s instructions. Most are just bored workers tryng to interject some purposeful activity into the boring functionary’s day.

Some are even acting as whistleblowers.

Do we want to shut up the whistleblowers just because we are too idle to develop the thinking skills to detect spin or outright lies?

The outcome of this editing-Wiki frenzy is, surprise, surprise, that more workers get their internet access circumscribed.

In a BBC story, the Australian Prime minister reacted to the story that government employees had made edits by ruling that:

…. the department said on Friday that it had acted to block staff from editing the site.
“Defence has closed personal edit access down, though employees will still be able to browse Wikipedia for information purposes,” a spokesman said.

Throughout the world, internet access is getting curtailed for employees. In the UK, for example, at the beginning of August, the Defence Department ordered members of the armed forces to get the permission of superior officers before they blog.

The Ministry of Defence last week ordered British soldiers to stop blogging, putting videos on YouTube, joining online chats or sending text messages without a superior officer’s permission. But the soldiers carried on regardless, posting caustic commentary on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a mini digital mutiny.
I’m surprised the MoD has taken so long to deal with the problem of khaki samizdat. Censorship is part of military life. Imagine if Tommies had been able to blog about the trenches in October 1914. There would have been an outcry back home. The war could well have been over by Christmas.

“Oh look, this is from a government computer. It must be part of an evil government plot!” Come on. Let’s learn to evaluate information properly to protect ourselves from propaganda, rather than shut people up or jump at the first half-baked conspiracy theory that fits our prejudices.

Will ill-judged kneejerk conspiracy theory reactions based on the IPs of Wikipedia editors become the pretext for more internet censorship? Well, yes, it looks like they have. What a great win for free speech…