January 27, 2005

The Glittering Eye

Thanks to Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye for his kind invitation to blog as his guest, I'll be ... um ... blogging as Dave's guest at The Glittering Eye. Please head on over, and thanks for reading.

Posted by Jeff at 10:01 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

Hiatus

Real life tends to intervene in blogging. With my brother out of reach of the Internet, and other people I've approached not really ready to blog, the result has been a near-silence here for a while. Yet, I've not been inactive: it takes a lot of time to de-spam the blog on an almost-daily basis. In fact, as Steph put it, that tends to actually take up my blogging time. I hate having the blog sitting around like this though.

So the question is, what am I to do about it? The answer is, I'm going to stop updating the blog for a while. In the meantime, I will be commenting on other blogs, and if I find a group blog (or a solo blog interested in going group) that needs a contributor on topics of interest to me, I may sign up for that. I'll keep you updated if I do find such an opportunity.

Posted by Jeff at 10:33 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

December 18, 2004

Fighting Comment Spam

This is probably the most useful article I've yet seen on fighting comment spam on MT weblogs, a topic near and dear to my heart.

Posted by Jeff at 11:24 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

December 07, 2004

Up and Down

If you're curious about the rather iffy availability of the blog lately, there are reasons. First, upgrading the server's OS had a couple of issues. In addition to the problem with PostgreSQL I mentioned before, I found another problem a couple of days ago.

It seems that the DNS configuration files changed rather dramatically between the last version and the current version. The changes weren't actually installed, because I had already customized my DNS quite a bit. This resulted in the DNS server crashing - but not until after it had come up saying it was OK. If you reached my backup DNS, you found me. If you reached my primary DNS, you didn't. Bleh. This is fixed.

But there is another problem: Lachlan. My server is plugged into a UPS so that it will survive a power outage. (There are lots of thunderstorms in Texas.) The UPS is under Steph's desk, next to the server. The power button on the UPS has a light on it. Lachlan likes to make the light go on and off. Sometimes he leaves it off. I'll fix this over the weekend (I'm going to use cardboard and duct tape :-), but in the meantime the server will just go down from time to time.

Sorry.

Posted by Jeff at 11:14 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

November 27, 2004

No More HTML in Comments

I've turned off HTML in the comments. It stinks, because it means that people can't leave real links, but I'm really tired of the comment spam, and since the goal of comment spam, I'm taking that away from them. The last time I did this, it worked really well, but annoyed people. Sorry, but it's my blog, and I'd rather not be annoyed myself, so off goes the HTML.

Posted by Jeff at 09:54 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

September 27, 2004

Real Life and a Preview

The posts here recently have been short linking pieces, rather than the analysis that I usually do. Real life (ending my project, moving back to Dallas and starting a new project) intervenes. Coming soon, though, will be an analysis on the state of the world, how the Western Left and the jihadis are spiritually kin, Thomas Barnett's "Pentagon's New Map" theory, how to win the Terror Wars without sparking genocide or inciting the Chinese or Europeans to oppose the US, and ending state-on-state war forever. That's actually all one post, because they are all tied together. Look for it in the next two weeks.

Posted by Jeff at 09:53 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

August 29, 2004

MT 3.1

Version 3.1 of Movable Type will be released shortly. Unlike 3.0, which was not a new-feature release, 3.1 will have a raft of new features. Of those announced in the linked post, the ones that most interest me are a per-template option of whether publishing should be static or dynamic, post scheduling, and the notifier plug-in (which may be available separately for earlier versions of MT - I haven't checked). Considering the pricing and terms, this may be a worthwhile upgrade.

In terms of my wishlist, features that won't be implemented - or at least haven't been talked about yet, include:

  • better anti-spam capabilities, such as the ability to delete a comment and block by IP at the same time, and the ability to ban comments based on keywords, poster email addresses and the like
  • a better interface - particularly for managing comments and trackbacks without having to go into individual posts (assuming they've dropped off the last five)
  • some kind of statistical reporting (such as how many comments have been posted by a given user and how many times a given post has been shown, which would make "most popular post" lists easy)
  • blogrolling tools, including the ability to keep track of recently-updated blogs
  • a "who links to me" feature, using the integration with Google and possibly integrating with Technorati and/or the ecosystem as well

Posted by Jeff at 09:27 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

August 28, 2004

The Silence of the LAN

I've been in Chicago on a contract for some time now, and had come back for two weeks to get some stuff done. Last Saturday, an hour before we left, everything was fine. On the way out, Steph mentioned that her webmail wasn't working. I figured I'd check it when we got back to Chicago.

Except that I couldn't get into the server.

After a long conversation with Brian, it transpired that there was no bootable drive on the machine. And I didn't have any Linux boot CDs here. And the only CD burner left at home was in the garage. And the machine it attaches to was disassembled.

So here I am in Texas again this weekend, and thankfully was able to recover the data off the dead drive (the system wouldn't even recognize it at first). So I'm back - or at least the system is, and all is well, or soon will be.

Posted by Jeff at 02:30 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

August 19, 2004

How Odd

In the process of cleaning up spam, a couple of my posts have managed to get their dates changed to today. How odd. What a lovely MT bug. Please pardon the dust.

Posted by Jeff at 11:01 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 05, 2004

How to be a New Blogger

Kim du Toit has an interesting post about starting blogging, competition, page views and similar stuff. It's something I've been thinking about lately, actually.

When I started this blog, Steph tried to tell me to not expect a big audience. I think she thought I was doing it for ego - a reasonable thought for anyone who knows how big my head can get. I told her at the time that I would be thrilled to have 100 readers in a year.

It's about a year and a half later, and I am amazed and stunned to get an average of about 750 readers a day - about 1000 each weekday and commensurately less on weekends. Thank you, all; it actually makes me feel really good to be thought of as important enough for you to take your time reading. Largely, I judge my blog successful because I am enjoying writing it, and I have an amazing readership, judging by the comments and this.

I don't ask for links on others' blogs, nor do I try to write according to the tips many wonderful and giving bloggers have posted. For me, it's either get this out of my head by writing, or bore my wife and friends silly.

Thanks for reading.

Posted by Jeff at 06:19 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

June 03, 2004

Light Blogging this Week

Between moving (still in Chicago - different building), not having high-speed access hooked up yet at the new apartment, a major deadline at work and other such things, blogging will likely continue to be light until next week.

Posted by Jeff at 08:52 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 18, 2004

Spam Comment Killing

I got frustrated by comment spam tonight, so I tried this. I know it's temporary - they'll just start reading the page for the comment script name next - but after some 50 spams tonight - a month's worth of real comments - I have had enough.

Posted by Jeff at 10:42 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 17, 2004

More MT Commentary

I have my own complaints with the MT system, but not this one.

For me, disk space is cheap. (I host my own server at home, so it's no skin off my back to use up lots and lots of disk space if I have to.) The rebuild time can be annoying, even though with my setup it's a matter of 5 minutes for the full rebuild (3 blogs, 5 authors, 929 posts, 1311 comments, some number of trackbacks1, 7MB database, 23MB disk space for the flat files). I like having static pages, so that I can mess up my database if I am testing things, without actually messing up my real content, and I don't find the space daunting.

It does the job, and I may end up staying with MT2.661 for the time being. Slashcode is too much of a pain to use for a small blog; don't want to do it by hand; Wordpress seems single-blog oriented; Blogger is a joke; pMachine seems like overkill (and it's hard to take seriously people who talk about CGI as a programming language).

If worse comes to worst, I'll roll my own, using MT2.661 as a base and not distributing it (as it would violate the license). I've already thought about rewriting the interface in a few ways, adding the ability to delete comments and block IPs with one click and the like, adding comment and trackback management, and fixing a few other peeves (I'd love to get an LDAP backend together, for instance). But in the end, I like MT and if they can fix their pricing issues and add compelling features, I'd probably upgrade. It would be worth it to me to not spend the time on writing something that's done fairly well by what already exists.

1Lack of a good way to manage trackbacks and comments other than the last five is a definite issue for me with the software.

Posted by Jeff at 06:50 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 15, 2004

Always Hopeful, yet Discontent

When I started this blog, it was with the intention that Steph would write here as well. Steph was concerned that my political ramblings would drown out her more personal style of blogging, and in the end it was probably for the best that she instead has One Sixteenth, because her voice likely would have gotten somewhat drowned out, and that would have been a shame.

But I have always wanted there to be different voices here than just mine, and that is now going to happen. Brian, my younger brother and a frequent commenter, will also be posting here henceforth. I'm sure he'll introduce himself in due time. No doubt his voice will be different from mine, and I'm glad to have him here.

Posted by Jeff at 10:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

May 14, 2004

Now With Random Quotey Goodness

Thanks to Frank J, inquisitiveness, and an hour or so's work, the quotes at the top of my page are now random. I've never done Javascript before, but (I thought to myself), how hard could it be? The answer: about an hour.

And I don't want to hear about it if "quotey" isn't a word.

Posted by Jeff at 10:43 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

New Version of MovableType

MT has upgraded to v3.0 - at least in an early-adopter version. I will check this out, but I have a few reservations on the surface:

  • Price - At $100 for 5 weblogs/3 authors - and we'll want the 6/8 option eventually because of our large family, at $150 - this is getting to be expensive software. (Yes, there's a free version - but it's far too limited on users/blogs for my family's needs.) On top of that, this is a price that doesn't include major-version upgrades (not too surprising). With the introductory price and the credit for previously-purchased keys, we would end up paying about $25 for the lowest-end personal license (with the two older kids having a shared account for their blog), or $75 for the license we'd really need. Frankly, I'm not sure that's worth it to us, when in extremis we could just use 2.661 from here on out - it serves.
  • TypeKey - Why do I have to register for TypeKey to even download the product to try it out? I'm not sure I want to do that and I am sure that I don't have time to investigate it in the near future.
  • LDAP - There is still no LDAP database support, which would if implemented be enough of an incentive to get me to upgrade regardless of other issues.
  • Comment Spam Features - I cannot see any effort having been put into the product to fight comment spam. I don't want to implement user registration (which I seem to recall seeing on the feature list) because some people want to be anonymous, and that kind of thing is a headache. It would be nice to be able to, say, delete and comment and block it's IP at the same time, though, or to integrate shared IP blocking among participating blogs.
  • Comments and Trackbacks - I see no indication that there are improved features to view comments or trackbacks (similar to, say, the edit entries function). This is a major pain right now for comments or trackbacks that are not among the last 5 entered.
  • Blogrolling - Blogrolling - particularly detection of recently-updated blogs - should be integrated into the product. It doesn't appear to be, so I'm still stuck editing the template by hand instead.

In short, I don't see any compelling reason to upgrade, I do see some reasons not to upgrade, and it won't be as easy for me to try out the software as I'd like. As a result, I'll probably give this a miss for the time being.

And judging by the feedback, I'm not the only one.

It's nice that they've finally fixed their licensing so that people can make money supporting MT, designing sites and the like. And it's nice that they've apparently improved the interface for plugin developers. That's not compelling to me, though it will doubtless be compelling to those who will gain increased revenue from this.

UPDATE: It should be noted that much of the feedback is coming from people who don't want to pay for software. As someone who makes his living in IT, I certainly don't feel that way. I'm willing to pay for good software if there isn't free software that is as good, and if the software's licensing meets my needs. While I prefer unlimited authors and blogs (and certainly see that as the way to go for 6A from a business perspective), my minimum is 6 authors/6 blogs. I can't afford their price for that, so unless they change, I'll continue with 2.661, find an alternative, or build my own.

UPDATE: The other interesting feature is how many MT users are recommending or investigating alternatives to MT in their commentaries.

Posted by Jeff at 04:37 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

May 03, 2004

Comment Spam

Comment spam is the most annoying thing about blogging. I've was going to try MTCloseComments, but that only works on SQL-hosted blogs, and mine is currently sleepycat. Anyone know of a similar solution that works on sleepycat-hosted MT blogs? (I'll move everything over to Postgres if I have to, but I don't want to.)

UPDATE: Actually, converting everything to Postgres was not difficult - though it was time consuming - because SixApart has a script for the purpose. I had to delete the IP ban lists from all of our blogs, and also the activity log. I've installed MTCloseComments, but it won't take effect for another week because now all of the posts are newly modified (as a side-effect of being moved to the new db). On the other hand, this should make the site a little faster to load, too, so the time was worth it even if MTCloseComments doesn't end up doing what I want.

Posted by Jeff at 02:55 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

April 19, 2004

Woo Hoo!

So my Powerbook died due to an influx of liquid while operating. CompUSA nicely told me what was wrong with it ($140), resulting in me buying a new logic board on eBay ($125) and a Torx #8 driver (thanks, TSA, for making me throw away my previous one the sixth time I took it through security), spending an hour or so tonight to replace the logic board followed by having my Powerbook running again. I know it's somewhat psychological, but it's as if my computing possibilities have come alive again.

Posted by Jeff at 11:02 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 10, 2004

Top Ten Things Comment Spammers Should Know

10.I loathe comment spam.
9.Everyone that I know loathes comment spam.
8.No one comes here to find out about penis enlargement techniques/products
7.or how to get Viagra without the embarassment of admitting that you need it (or the inconvenience of getting a prescription)
6.or any other legal drug, even if it's really cheap because it's imported, or stolen, or a sugar pill made to look like a legal drug
5.(or, for that matter, any illegal drug).
4Or even porn, though I'll probably start getting hits from all kinds of strange searches after posting this list.
3.Comment spam is rude. It takes up room on my server, time for me to delete (or my readers to scan past it if I don't delete it fast enough), and causes the pool of IP addresses that can post to the blog to shrink, because I ban IPs used for spamming. You don't have a property right to my blog, so at best you're scrawling digital graffiti.
2.I'm not a prude; I don't care what the spam is about. I just don't like spam.
1.I delete comment spam within a very short number of hours (as soon as I see it) and ban the address it came from, so it's not like it's even effective.
Posted by Jeff at 06:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

February 23, 2004

Blogiversary

This blog is one year old today.

Posted by Jeff at 07:11 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

December 24, 2003

Automatic Updates of Threat Level

Here is a simple perl script I wrote to update the threat level in the right-hand sidebar. It is in perl, and should work just fine on NT machines as well as on UNIX systems, so long as perl 5.004 or better is installed. Feel free to steal it.

This requires you to have a graphics file for each of the threat levels. It reads the DHS website to get the threat level, then copies the appropriate graphic. I have this scheduled to check once per hour, but you can schedule it as you like. (Note that this doesn't change your webpage - you still have to have a reference on the webpage to display the current threat level image file.)


#!/usr/bin/perl -w

# 2003 by Jeff Medcalf, http://www.caerdroia.org/oldblog/

# This script detects the current threat level by scanning the DHS site, and
# updates the current threat graphic accordingly. This graphic can then be
# included in web pages as an image.

use LWP::UserAgent;
use File::Copy;

%threatgraphics=(
'severe' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-severe.gif',
'high' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-high.gif',
'elevated' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-elevated.gif',
'guarded' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-guarded.gif',
'low' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-low.gif',
);

$currentgraphic='/var/www/images/hs/threatlevel.gif';

$dhswebsite='http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/index.jsp';

$ua=LWP::UserAgent->new;
$ua->agent('getthreatlevel/1.0');

# get the DHS home page
$response=$ua->get($dhswebsite);

# process it to determine the threat level
if ($response->is_success)
{
$response->content =~ /src=.\/dhs\/images\/dhs-advisory-(.*?)\.gif./;
$level=$1;
}
else
{
die "failed to get DHS website at $dhswebsite\n";
}

# update the graphic
copy ($threatgraphics{$level},$currentgraphic)
or die "could not copy $threatgraphics{$level} to $currentgraphic\n";

Posted by Jeff at 02:28 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

October 25, 2003

Not Dead Yet

Realistically, it will probably be the end of November before this blog starts getting updated again. The contract I am on is 100% travel right now, and is consuming all of my time. When I'm home on weekends, I want to spend it with my family. As a result, I don't really know what's going on in the world; and I don't want to write just to write.

Anyway, I'll be back, but probably not for a bit.

Thanks for reading.

Posted by Jeff at 10:50 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 11, 2003

Not Slow

Well, I got myself a faster server, while spending almost no money on it (about twice as fast, for about $50 total), and I've put together a migration checklist. The practical upshot of all of this is that this coming Friday, 8/15, the server will be down from about 7pm CT to somewhere after midnight, while I upgrade.

Posted by Jeff at 09:49 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 04, 2003

SpamSpamSpamSpam

OK, so this is interesting. Well, it's interesting to me, anyway. It seems that this blog has started getting spam in the comments. I've gotten a "make money fast" spam posted and an "increase the visibility of your website in search engines" spam, both in the last couple of days. Both "comments" were deleted, and their IPs banned, but I wonder how common this is?

Posted by Jeff at 09:54 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

Slooooow

This site is run on a lowly 300MHz Pentium II, with 64MB of RAM. All in all, it does a fine job as a mail server and a web server, but it is hitting its limits with MoveableType. Specifically, some of the archives are now large enough that rebuilding them (say, when I make a post in that category) exceeds the memory capacity of the machine. MT's reaction to this situation appears to be to spawn a large number of mt.cgi processes, each floundering in memory-swapping digital hell. A more powerful machine is on the way, but in the meantime, please forgive the occasional tendency of the site to go belly-up for a few minutes.

Posted by Jeff at 10:41 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)