Category Archives: internet

The death of spam

Remember spam? Our email inboxes used to be full of it, it clogged online forums and was a general nuisance. My blog used to receive dozens of spam comments every day.

Now with gmail’s agressive — but usually spot on — filtering, I get a spam email in my inbox once a month. I have about 300 mails in my spam folder, which is about half of what it used to be few years ago. My blog is protected by akismet, which feels even more effective than gmail at catching spam. It also looks like spammers are giving up a little as I only received 6 spam comments on my blog during the past two weeks (that, or they think my blog is dead (it’s not, believe me!)).

So is spam really dead, or has it just moved elsewhere?

Social networks don’t suffer from spam (if you define spam as unwanted message of commercial nature) but social news sites (digg, reddit, etc.) are a different story. People try to spam them all the time. But spam on social news sites has to be disguised very well because the community tries to defend itself. If anyone even suspects that something might be spam, they downvote immediately.

Search engine spam (aka half of SEO techniques) is also prevalent and I can’t see it disappearing anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s gotten much milder and nowadays you rarely see spam-sites which are just full of ads.

All in all, I think the future is bright. Brute-force spam is easy to catch, and more clever spam sometimes even includes useful or entertaining stuff (think of viral marketing as a clever, entertaining, user-distributed spam ;)).

Yours sincerely,
Captain Obvious

Firefox productivity tips

If you are like me, you spend a lot of time using firefox. Chances are that you don’t use it as effectively as I do. :)

Let’s start with the look. First, use a minimalistic theme. I use full flat, but whiteheart is also kind of cool. Such themes simply don’t get in your way, which is exactly what you need.

You probably use several toolbars which take way too much of your screen space. Right-click on a toolbar and select “customize”. Then you can drag everything around and hide the unused toolbars. I currently have three rows of toolbars:

  • First toolbar has File, Edit, View menu and others, back, forward, reload, cancel, home icons, location bar, and finally a search bar.
  • Second toolbar contains quick bookmarks – just the pictures without any text, so that I can fit in as many as possible.
  • Third toolbar is shared google toolbar (used mostly just for PageRank), webdeveloper toolbar, user agent switcher and adblock settings.

I often see people wasting their screen space by using the default configuration with menus in the first toolbar and action icons and location bar in the second one.

Speed up firefox by installing fasterfox or simply google around a bit to find out (enable pipelining, disable ipv6, etc.).

Learn to use keyboard shortcuts:

  • ctrl+T — open new tab
  • ctrl+L — go to location bar
  • ctrl+K — go to search box
  • ctrl+up/down — switch search engines when in search box (don’t forget to order them in a way that suits you)
  • alt+enter — open the search from search box in a new tab
  • ctrl+shift+T — open an accidentally closed tab (you can even repeat this shortcut — superb!)
  • ctrl+b — bookmarks
  • ctrl+h — history

If you use a mouse, install and learn to use mouse gestures. At least the few ones for back/forward and open/close tab. I personally prefer FireGestures, as that is the only gesture extension that actually knows what I mean when I perform the gestures. 8-)

Out of the helpful extensions that I use, I must mention at least Download Statusbar, Customize Google and Adblock Plus.

And I almost thought I wouldn’t make another post in March. ^^

I just sold my soul

After pondering about it for a long time, I’ve finally decided to sell my soul. Yes, this blog, the place where I share my thoughts and opinions with you, my dear readers, this very blog has become polluted by ads.

Now, before you leave for good, here are some quick tips on how to avoid being exposed to ads:

  • don’t browse old posts or
  • browse as a registered user or
  • use holy water to protect you from the devil

Any one of the above mentioned tips will help you stay on the safe side. The third one is the best option, as it will also protect you from the devil on most other websites…

KGS bureaucracy

I have to deal with unreasonable KGS users all day long. They argue about totally insane things ad infinitum. I try to be patient and understanding, as far as it’s possible. I am even trying to be nice to people who complain about escapers.

I got used to KGS users being unreasonable, but I at least expected a bit reasonable behaviour from admins.

tasuki: if I say pretty please, will you move “Photography” room to social? (yes, I know I own way too many rooms, but there’s no photography-related room on KGS and I think it’s a pity)
anonymousadmin: ok, what other accounts do you have?
anonymousadmin: … gotta put you through the hoops
anonymousadmin: yikes… tasuki owns several rooms!
anonymousadmin: how did you get allowed so many??

Haha, good one (you know, admins like to tease each other a little bit). After some more discussion, I check the room and it’s still in “New rooms”. Well, turns out this wasn’t a joke after all.

To explain what’s going on: there are various arbitrary rules on KGS. My theory about these rules is that whoever invented them thought “our admins are pretty dumb so I have to create very concrete rules for the admins to be able to follow them and not to have to apply their common sense”. Unfortunately, the inventor probably wasn’t much mistaken.

One such rule is that for a room to be moved from “New” category to any other, it must have a description and the owner must not own any other rooms. Nice rule. Except that you can circumvent it by finding someone who has no room yet to create this one for you. Or you can simply stop being owner of your other rooms and only own this one.

In my humble opinion, these rules are being misused. For example, this particular rule was obviously designed to prevent certain individuals from creating many meaningless rooms. It was not created to prevent someone from creating a perfectly valid and useful room about something many people are actually interested in. But “we have to follow the rules”. Oh btw, the admin in question also owns several rooms. So sue me.

PS: Take this as an invitation to join the “Photography” room, under Social. :-)

Weekly flickroutine

As we all know, Flickr is the best photo sharing site (if you haven’t heard it yet, Microsoft is buying Yahoo, who own Flickr… so there’s a very real possibility that Microsoft will kill Flickr, which would make me hate them even more). Almost unbelievably, the flickr source is only 60k lines of php and 60k lines of templates… I’ve seen 10k lines files that didn’t do anything useful. The fact that all of the Flickr’s functionality can fit in 60k lines is simply amazing.

Flickr has the best features and — even more importantly — best photographers and best photos. Flickr Explore shows some of the most interesting, provoking and artistic photos.

And the best way to view any Flickr galleries (including Explore) is Flickriver. It’s currently my most favourite site on all the internets.

Why Flickriver rocks:

  • Infinite scrolling (aka river) enables you to get to see more photos simply by scrolling to the bottom. No more clicking “next” and “previous”! (I absolutely hate paging, having everything on one page is just perfect)
  • Black background just makes it look good. Show me a photo that looks better on white background and I’ll show you a hundred that look better on black background.
  • Larger image previews are much better than the small squares you usually see on flickr, you see the full uncropped picture, and you see it at a size which actually enables you to recognize what is displayed on the picture.

At least once a week, I visit Flickriver and go through at least top 50 explore photos from each day since my last visit. I’ve been doing this for several months yet I’m amazed over and over again how perfect photos there are.

Give Flickriver a try, I’m sure you won’t regret it!

Oh, and I can highly suggest viewing my favourite photos (mostly falling into at least one of these categories: hdr, landscapes, mist/fog, cities, conceptual).

Few WordPress-related improvements

In wordpress database, column comment_status is of type enum(‘open’, ‘closed’, ‘registered_only’). But for some reason, ‘registered_only’ is never used anywhere…

I use disable comments plugin, which is excellent because it is very simple. Here is the relevant part:

$wpdb->query(‘UPDATE wp_posts
SET comment_status = "closed", ping_status = "closed"
WHERE DATEDIFF(NOW(), post_date) > ‘
. $days);

And if you want it to set the comments to registered_only, you only need to change it to:

$wpdb->query(‘UPDATE wp_posts
SET comment_status = "registered_only", ping_status = "closed"
WHERE DATEDIFF(NOW(), post_date) > ‘
. $days);

Well… now if only ‘registered only’ did what it was supposed to, you’d be done with it. But as it doesn’t, we need to change some things. They are dependent on the theme you’re using, I’ll use the default theme to illustrate what needs to be changed. First, look into comments.php file for something this:

if (‘open’ == $post->comment_status)

and change it to:

if (‘open’ == $post->comment_status
    || ‘registered_only’ == $post->comment_status)

In the default theme, this needed to be changed at two places.

Then there’s one more thing:

if (get_option(‘comment_registration’) && !$user_ID)

should be changed to:

if ((get_option(‘comment_registration’)
    || (‘registered_only’ == $post->comment_status)) && !$user_ID)

After that, it pretty much works. You need to have user registration enabled in wordpress, though. Also, while I was at it, I decided to prevent against bots registering. So I installed Sabre. Sabre is nice, but its CAPTCHA rather sucks… well, anyway — more on that in the next post. 8-)

New design again

I didn’t plan it. I just woke up today and knew I’d have a new blog in the evening.

As for colours, a great deal of thinking went into that. Yesterday I read a lot about readability on the web. I think it’s something very important that many people completely miss. First, Verdana and Georgia, that’s a no-brainer. Almost everyone has them and they were designed for screen, are very readable, and also look good.

Then I read some controversial posts about white on black versus black on white. Well, I personally strongly prefer dark background and light text (it’s simply less tiring on the eyes). But somehow my experience from “green is cheesy” with #999 text on #000 background wasn’t good – at least on my system, the fonts didn’t get hinted properly. The “silhouette’s” #CC9 text on #443 background is a completely different story. The contrast is good enough (should be good enough even for people with crappy monitors) and hinting works great (ymmv, though).

As for the picture at the top – the right guy’s back looks kinda weird, I might have to change that. And the curly thingy is stupid, I know. I might change that, too (if anything it should curl outwards, but that would be much harder to do).

And finally: a competishun! Who are the guys in the picture? When was the game played? First to write the correct answer into comments gets a beer. :)

Fuytayblees

It all started about a year ago, at a go tournament in Blansko, where I played a game called “fujtajblíci”. I enjoyed it a lot, so I thought I could create online version. But as you might know, it is quite a huge leap from thinking about doing something to actually doing it.

Anyway, now I really couldn’t resist anymore… And I thought “fujtajblíci” might be a bit difficult for a lot of people to pronounce or remember, so I rewrote the name as “fuytayblees” (insert fanfares here).

There’s much more info (including the rules, for real) at the fuytayblees site itself, so just visit it, register and start playing. ;-)

How I didn’t get a Google shirt

Thanks to Orwen who notified me (crap, I just reread the email and noticed that the part “I’m not going to be there because I have lectures at the time” was not written by him but quoted because of forwarding, and that he asked me if I was going to be there) I attended a presentation by Google’s VP of engineering Douglas Merrill called “Secrets of search”.

First thing that I noticed was VUT’s incompetence (not too much of a surprise) – they thought that a rather small room (for cca 200 people) was enough for presentation of someone important from Google. Turns out it was not. So it was a bit difficult to fit in even though I came 10 minutes earlier.

Douglas had about an hour long talk about how Google works. While I already knew most of the things (as did everyone else in the room), I wasn’t bored at all as Douglas was extremely entertaining. I think there’ll be a video of the whole event, so you can watch it (I’ll put the link in here as soon as I find it).

Douglas’ personal blog is surprising in several ways. First thing that struck me was pagerank 2. Anyone who has anything to do with Google has blog with pagerank about 7-9, two is ridiculously low. Second thing was almost total absence of computer related stuff. And the third thing that struck me was how personal things Douglas shares on his blog. This is easily by far the most sincere blog I have ever seen.

Well, as I was leaving the presentation, they were giving out very nice black t-shirts with Google logo… I was near the end of the crowd, and they ran out of shirts just about three people before me. Bad luck. Or not – I got a Google pencil.

Is “eBay Live Chat” a chatbot?

I tried registering on eBay today. Their help pages say that there are two ways to verify an account — either credit card (I don’t have any) or certain email address. First I tried my gmail account, which obviously didn’t work. The next step was an email on the domain tasuki.org, which I own (it is easily possible to verify that by a whois search).

That didn’t work either, so I decided to contact eBay Live Chat for help:

Vit Brunner hello
Vit Brunner I want to register
Marnie B. I’d be glad to assist you on that!
Vit Brunner I don’t have a credit card, I have a paypal though
Vit Brunner and I wonder what kind of email address I have to enter so that it verifies me
Vit Brunner I tried a gmail address, which didn’t work, then I tried address on my domain that I own, didn’t work either :(
Vit Brunner I have a school address, but I’d prefer not to leak the information out
Vit Brunner (I don’t want my school to have any info about my ebay account, that is)
Marnie B. I’m sorry to hear of the trouble. Let me see what I can do on my end.
Vit Brunner could you tell me what kind of email is enough to verify me?
Marnie B. Thanks for asking. What I can suggest you to use is your work email or paid email address if you have one.
Vit Brunner well, the email address on my own domain is not enough?
Vit Brunner I think that is a paid email address :)
Vit Brunner and the owner info for that domain is publicly available
Vit Brunner but it still asked me for credit card information
Vit Brunner the domain is tasuki.org, if it helps you :)
Marnie B. I see. Actually paid email address can be use as an alternative because it may reduce the chance of being asked for a credit card…
Vit Brunner a whois search shows that tasuki.org is indeed owned by me
Vit Brunner isn’t that enough to verify me?
Marnie B. But if you’re still being asked for it, I believe you really have to enter those information. But you can try your school email if you want.
Vit Brunner how is it decided which email is good enough?
Marnie B. Honestly I’m not sure because our system is the one who verifies the email address.
Marnie B. You would only know if you won’t be asked for a credit cared.
Marnie B. *credit card
Vit Brunner sigh…
Marnie B. I appreciate your interest in doing business with us.
Vit Brunner so I am going to try my various random email addresses… but I think it’s pretty strange that my email address on a domain which I apparently own is not good enough
Vit Brunner that’s actually about the best verification you can get

The rest of the chat sadly got lost because the chat was ended by Marnie B. which caused the window to close suddenly. Anyway, I think this is enough to see what the conversation looked like. The answers were either rather general or completely off. The typo and its correction is a bit suspicious though — would they really create a bot this sneaky? To be sincere, I am not sure.

I tried it once more and got to talk with Joy D. That was quite tiring, as Joy D obviously didn’t understand my problem with verification very well and kept insisting on me trying a different browser (I use firefox and Joy D said I should try Internet Explorer). This is exactly what bots do — when they don’t know, they switch to a different topic. On the other hand, Joy D seemed a bit too confused to be a bot. So, I really don’t know.

I hope I persuaded you to try eBay Live Chat yourself, please share your experience! :)