Captcha

“Captcha is the bane of the internet,” says Matt Mullenweg, who runs the massively popular blogging site WordPress.com. “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:

oo9I0g

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
http://jdskmnffl.com
ktuhbdk info
http://jlvxkeva.com
uosgu wcmqjs
http://sgqwajre.com
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 google-homepage.google-us.info, msn-us.info, yahoo-us.info, etc. Every one resolves to the same IP address: 124.217.253.8. That IP address is registered to Piradius.net 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 cosmicfingerprints.com. 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 atheist.net. (Look, don’t spoil this now by having relevant links, please….)

And Jesus2020.com. 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 ChristianityToday.com/marriage/

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 anointed-one.net

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
Aye!
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
biblioblography
bits of starstuff
Bjorn & Jeannette’s Blog
Black Sun Journal
Bligbi
Blog of the Big E
Blogue de Mathieu Demers
blurp
Bob Kowalski
bore me to tears
Born Again Atheist
brainstorms
Breaking Spells
Buridan’s Ass
By The Book Comics
cabhara’s zeitgeist
Can’t make a difference
CaroLINES
CHADMAC Speaks
Choosing Atheism
CHRISTIAN PWNAGE 101
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Circular Reasoning
Cogita Tute – Think For Yourself
Coming Out Godless
Confessions of an Anonymous Coward